Judge right to challenge hiring
The Vindicator is off the mark in criticizing the common pleas court for its refusal to accede to the request by the Mahoning County commissioners and the Mahoning County prosecutor to hire outside counsel in connection with the Oakhill indictments. Your rationale is based upon what you perceive as the hypocrisy of the court in dealing with county funds, its budget, and the historical record of hiring outside counsel.
The issue before the court is whether outside counsel is needed or necessary in connection with the production of certain documents requested from the prosecutor and the commissioners and whether those documents are public records. The applicable law permitting the hiring of outside counsel is Ohio Revised Code Sec. 305.14 (A) which provides that upon the application of the commissioners and the prosecuting attorney the court may authorize them to hire outside counsel to assist them in various legal matters. Note that there is no mandatory duty on the part of the court to grant the application and its decision is discretionary.
Subsection (B) of the statute is quite different in that it provides that the board of county commissioners may employ outside counsel to defend it (only the board — not the prosecutor) and does not require the consent of the court. The commissioners could have made that choice in this instance but would be responsible for the high fees charged by the Columbus law firm without the blessing and cover of the court.
The only real grounds cited by the prosecutor for seeking assistance is that there is a conflict of interest. He has failed to tell the court the basis for such claim. Moreover, if Mr. Gains is correct in his claim that he is confronted with a conflict of interest, which the court is required to look at, how does the hiring of an outside law firm to represent both the prosecutor and the county commissioners resolve that conflict? It does not. It is a flimsy excuse for fobbing off work that he is elected and paid to do; work that journeymen lawyers do every day in this state. Deciding what is a public record and thus must be produced is not rocket science.
There is no reason to hire outside counsel from Columbus or Cleveland, at outrageously high fees, to do work that can be competently performed by local lawyers and at much lower rates. And while the mandamus case, seeking the production of the documents, is pending before the Ohio Supreme Court, very little work will be done in Columbus. The bulk of it will be done in Youngstown, causing increased fees due to travel if non-local lawyers are hired.
David C Comstock, Poland
The writer is a retired attorney.