The challenger said she stands by her television
By PETER H. MILLIKEN
VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER
YOUNGSTOWN — Mahoning County Prosecutor Paul J. Gains has denounced a local television commercial in which his opponent, Atty. Heidi Hanni, charges that the prosecutor’s office has shown a decrease in criminal convictions despite an increased budget.
Hanni is challenging Gains, who is seeking re-election in the March 4 Democratic primary.
Gains held a news conference Friday in which he showed an increase in guilty pleas by criminal defendants in all but two of his 11 years in office, starting with 455 in 1997 and ending with 1,395 last year.
However, he attributed the jump from 857 in 2006 to 1,395 last year to an increased disposition of criminal cases as the county common pleas court “has been working diligently’’ to implement recommendations to improve court operations. The recommendations were made by the Ohio Supreme Court early last year. “Our judges are working harder. My prosecutors are working harder,” Gains said.
“The allegation that convictions have declined is an insult to the hard-working men and women of the common pleas court and of the Mahoning County prosecutor’s office,” Gains said. “To say that the budget has increased and less output has occurred is completely erroneous.”
The prosecutor’s office budget rose from $2,509,729 in 2005 to $3,030,913 in 2006, $3,276,981 in 2007 and $3,423,000 for 2008. Much of the increase from 2005 to 2006 is explained by the hiring of five new prosecutors in the fall of 2005 to expedite the criminal docket, Gains said.
Hanni said the numbers of cases disposed of with guilty pleas each year includes cases pending from prior years. She noted the slowness of Mahoning County Common Pleas Court’s criminal docket compared to other Ohio counties as shown in statistics published by the Ohio Supreme Court.
It’s the prosecutor’s job to expedite criminal justice, Hanni said. “We’ve got inmates or people that are released from jail that are awaiting trial for periods of one, two, three or even four years,” she added.
“I stand by my commercials, and I stand by my opinion that Paul Gains is one of the most ineffective prosecutors we’ve ever had in Mahoning County. ... He’s desperate,” Hanni said.
“He wants to point the finger at the court administrator, at the court assignment office and the courts themselves, when, in actuality, it is incumbent upon the accuser to watch the speedy-trial clock,” Hanni said.