Judge set to unseal case files

By David Skolnick



A judge is expected today to make public documents that have been under seal in the Oakhill Renaissance Place criminal case.

Marion H. Little Jr., an attorney for The Vindicator and 21 WFMJ-TV, told visiting Judge William H. Wolff Jr. at a Monday hearing there is no legal reason to keep the pretrial documents under seal.

To avoid pretrial publicity he said might bias potential jurors, Judge Wolff ordered in September that all nonroutine documents in the case be filed under seal so he can screen them before making all or parts of them public.

The Vindicator and 21 WFMJ-TV objected at a Monday hearing, which started at 9 a.m. and lasted until about 4 p.m.

The judge’s decision came after a private meeting with lawyers representing those accused in the Oakhill case, Little and a special prosecutor.

A decision on whether to make public bills of particulars, documents that detail specific illegal acts prosecutors claim were committed by the accused, for three of the defendants will be made shortly, the judge said.

The bills of particulars were the primary documents discussed at Monday’s hearing.

In open court, Little argued the press and the public’s right to know under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution is of equal importance to the Sixth Amendment, which guarantees the right to a fair trial.

Martin G. Weinberg, attorney for Anthony M. Cafaro Sr., one of the seven people indicted in the Oakhill case, along with the Cafaro Co., and two of its subsidiaries, said not providing time to review documents before they were made public would violate his clients’ Sixth Amendment rights.

Cafaro’s attorneys were trying to keep some records from the public, saying The Vindicator’s decision to publish the information could make it difficult to find an unbiased jury.

Several times Monday, Little recommended the judge move the case to another county if there is concern about a fair trial in Mahoning County.

Several times, Weinberg objected, saying having the trial elsewhere would be a hardship on his clients.

The only witness at Monday’s hearing was an Ohio University professor called by Cafaro’s attorneys.

Hugh J. Martin, director of undergraduate studies for the university’s Scripps College of Communications, said The Vindicator has “a virtual monopoly on the print newspaper market” in Mahoning County.

Martin, hired Wednesday by Cafaro’s attorneys as an “expert witness,” said his review of the newspaper’s coverage of Oakhill showed bias against the defendants.

But on cross-examination by Little, Martin admitted most daily newspapers have similar presence in their home counties, and “it is not unusual for newspapers to be criticized for [their] coverage.”

Also, Martin said he did no review of local talk radio or any other media in the area, except for a limited look at some of Youngstown’s TV network affiliates’ news programs.

Martin, who testified for more than two hours, said he has “no idea” if coverage by the newspaper and the TV station would impact potential jurors.

“That’s not my area of expertise,” he said.

In the 73-count Oak- hill indictment, five people and three companies are charged with conspiring criminally to impede the move of the Mahoning County Department of Job and Family Services from Cafaro Co.-owned rented quarters to Oakhill.

Oakhill is the former Forum Health Southside Medical Center, which the county bought in 2006. JFS moved there in 2007.

A motion to dismiss the indictment by Cafaro, the retired president of his family-owned company, as well as the Cafaro Co., and two affiliates, the Ohio Valley Mall Co. and The Marion Plaza Inc., was to be held Monday. Because of the time spent on the sealed records issue, the arguments on dismissal request were postponed and not yet rescheduled.

Besides the companies and Cafaro, facing conspiracy and other charges are Mahoning County Commissioner John A. McNally IV; county Auditor Michael V. Sciortino; former county Treasurer John B. Reardon, and ex-county JFS director John Zachariah.

Among the items still sealed are the bills of particulars detailing the charges against Zachariah, Reardon and Sciortino.

Two defendants, Flora Cafaro, part-owner of the Cafaro Co. and sister of Anthony Cafaro, and attorney Martin Yavorcik, are charged only with one count of money laundering, and not with conspiracy.

The money-laundering charge pertains to an allegedly concealed $15,000 gift from Flora Cafaro to Yavorcik’s unsuccessful 2008 campaign for county prosecutor.


First, Sixth amendments

Here are the First and Sixth amendments to the U.S. Constitution, which are at the core of the free press and fair trial debate over the sealing of documents in the Oakhill Renaissance Place criminal conspiracy case:

First Amendment

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

Sixth Amendment

“In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the assistance of Counsel for his defence.”

Source: Bill of Rights

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