Oakhill case opens this week — at last

Many things have been in full swing since about Labor Day.

Football, school, “The Apprentice” and the Oak-hill corruption case.

Would you have bet in September that of the four, you’d be most shut out of the largest corruption case in years involving four government officials and one of the richest families in the Valley?

The hardest tickets to get in the Valley are 50-yard-line seats at a Steelers game, and those would have been easier to come by than learning about this vital Mahoning County case.

This week, visiting Judge William Wolff reversed his decision from September to seal vital records in the case until he could review them.

The reversal this week made for interesting news in many ways — especially how The Vindicator was part of that news.

Most important to know is that you had stories to read and watch about Oakhill because of us and 21 WFMJ-TV. We were the only media companies to pursue a correction of the court process.

Just us.

Mind you, all Valley media reported on the records’ being closed in September, and all Valley media reported on the records’ being opened this week (And all media were cordial enough in those reports to note it was our lawyer at work opening the files).

But no other media invested the wisdom or the wallet to get the records opened.

In some of the most critical decisions in life, people often don’t back up their wants with their wallets.

Americans will say they despise products from China and overseas, yet Wal-mart — laden with overseas products — has few empty parking lots in America.

Some Valley residents will say they tire of the Cafaros and their clout. But the Eastwood Mall registers ring up regardless.

So bucking up is easier said than done. My bosses — owners of WFMJ and The Vindicator — thought this was important for the Valley to see proceedings as they happened. And that should not go unmentioned.

So what did we see this week? Well that was interesting too — especially in how The Vindicator was painted.

I was caught off-guard by the painting in court records of this clandestine, Holiday Inn meeting between The Vindicator and county officials. I was at that meeting — it was Bertram de Souza and me, to be exact.

Had I known that three years later, it would be such a storied event, I would have posed for photos and swiped a towel.

It was not clandestine. It was Paul Gains and George Tablack. They’re a different breed, to say it politely. I had no idea why they wanted to meet there.

But I was new in town; it was a news source meeting like 200 others I have in a year; and I was told that Holiday Inn has the best free mint-swirl candies. So I’m in.

In fact, it was so unclandestine of a meeting, that a few days later, we met with Commissioner John McNally to hear his side of the claims.

Other charges from the defense lawyers come off snarky and chippy. But most of it, I suppose, is proper lawyer posturing.

The most ironic of it, upon reflection, is this:

In one of the many motions we could finally read this week, a lawyer sniffs his nose at us: “The Vindicator’s claim that it represents the ‘public’ may be wishful thinking on its part, at best.”

That was in regard to county Auditor Mike Sciortino’s 60-percent showing at the polls in November despite a Vindy editorial that recommended he not be re-elected due to this trial.

I, personally, have no problem with Sciortino, and my view will not change unless he’s proved guilty. But, child please ...

Perhaps his 60-percentage showing is also due in part to blocking the public from details of the trial in the two months leading up to the election. We still have yet to be allowed to read the specific allegations about him in the bill of particular that could be shared as early as this week.

And that he got 60 percent in spite of us can also make one wonder:

Why the heck did so many lawyers plead with a judge to block us in the first place?

Todd Franko is editor of The Vindicator. He likes e-mails about stories and our newspaper. E-mail him at tfranko@vindy.com. He blogs, too, on vindy.com.

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