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Sciortino, McNally claim right to Valley trial

Published: Fri, December 10, 2010 @ 12:10 a.m.


Mahoning County Auditor Michael Sciortino


Mahoning County Commissioner John McNally

By Peter H. Milliken



The two incumbent Mahoning County officeholders under indictment in the Oakhill Renaissance Place criminal conspiracy case insist they have a constitutional right to be tried here, where their alleged crimes were committed.

Auditor Michael V. Sciortino, who was re-elected with 55 percent of the vote Nov. 2 despite being under indictment, and Commissioner John A. McNally IV asserted their position in a Nov. 30 court filing by their lawyers, which was made public this week.

Atty. John B. Juhasz represents Sciortino, and Atty. Lynn A. Maro represents McNally.

“These defendants are entitled to a trial in this county by an impartial jury, a personal constitutional right that they intend to enforce. They are entitled to the assistance of the court in ensuring that right,” Juhasz and Maro wrote.

Juhasz and Maro were referring to the right of defendants to be tried in the jurisdiction where their alleged crimes were committed, which is articulated in the Sixth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

Juhasz and Maro were arguing in favor of the September order from visiting Judge William H. Wolff Jr. that nonroutine pretrial documents in the Oakhill case be filed under seal so the judge can review any objections from the parties to the case and screen the documents before making all or parts of them public.

Judge Wolff said he issued that order to avoid having pretrial publicity bias potential trial jurors.

In a Monday hearing, Marion H. Little Jr., the lawyer for The Vindicator and 21 WFMJ-TV, argued to unseal bills of particulars and a motion by Cafaro Co. interests to dismiss the indictment, saying the free-press right in the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and the fair-trial right in the Sixth Amendment weigh equally.

If the defendants can’t get a fair trial in Mahoning County, the remedy would be to move the trial to another county, he argued.

The Cafaro motion to dismiss and the special prosecutors’ response to it were unsealed this week, but the bills of particulars the prosecutors have filed detailing the charges against Sciortino, former county Treasurer John B. Reardon and John Zachariah, former county Job and Family Services director, remain sealed.

To safeguard the defendants’ due-process right, which is articulated in the Fifth and 14th amendments to the U.S. Constitution, Juhasz and Maro wrote that a trial judge has a duty to minimize the effects of prejudicial pretrial publicity.

Little said, however, the Sixth Amendment is made applicable to the states through the due-process clause of the 14th Amendment, and the free-press and fair-trial issues are fundamentally First and Sixth Amendment issues, respectively.

“The citizens of Mahoning County, if insulated against innuendo that may cause them to prejudge the matter, can afford these defendants a fair trial,” and can be the kind of impartial jurors “that due process commands,” Juhasz and Maro said.

“A change of venue presents numerous costly practical problems, such as transportation of witnesses to and from the trial,” and extra costs for parties to the case and their lawyers, Juhasz and Maro wrote.

Sciortino is charged with engaging in a pattern of corrupt activity, bribery, filing a false financial disclosure statement with the Ohio Ethics Commission, soliciting or accepting improper compensation, and two counts each of conspiracy, perjury, and conflict of interest.

McNally is charged with engaging in a pattern of corrupt activity, bribery, disclosure of confidential information, soliciting or accepting improper compensation, two counts each of conspiracy and conflict of interest, and three counts of perjury.

McNally, Sciortino, Reardon and Zachariah are among eight defendants charged in the indictment with conspiring to impede the move of JFS from Cafaro Co.-owned rented quarters on the city’s East Side to Oakhill.

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

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