County appoints outside prosecutor for high-court action in Oakhill case

By Peter H. Milliken


Mahoning County commissioners have appointed an outside prosecutor to represent a visiting judge in an action at the Ohio Supreme Court.

On Thursday, the commissioners approved a resolution to appoint the Montgomery County Prosecutor’s Office in Dayton to represent Judge William H. Wolff Jr., the judge hearing the Oakhill Renaissance Place criminal-conspiracy case, in an amount not to exceed $10,000.

The Vindicator and 21 WFMJ-TV have asked the high court to issue a writ of prohibition that would bar Judge Wolff from sealing documents or closing proceedings in the Oakhill case.

Linette Stratford, chief of the civil division in the Mahoning County Prosecutor’s Office, told the commissioners her office has a conflict and can’t represent Judge Wolff because she and county Prosecutor Paul J. Gains are witnesses in the Oakhill criminal case. Therefore, she said, outside counsel must be used.

County Administrator George J. Tablack told the commissioners he believes Judge Wolff has only 10 to 12 days to respond to the filing by the newspaper and TV station.

“I would have preferred to have seen a resolution in support of open proceedings as opposed to a resolution to further help close the proceeding,” said Marion H. Little Jr., the lawyer for the newspaper and TV station.

Although Judge Wolff, of Kettering, has unsealed some documents in the case at the request of the newspaper and TV station, he has kept the bills of particulars, which detail the charges against the defendants, sealed from public view.

In the Oakhill criminal case, five people and three companies are charged with conspiracy and other charges in an alleged effort to impede the move of the Mahoning County Department of Job and Family Services from Cafaro Co.-owned rented quarters to Oakhill.

The county bought Oakhill in 2006 and moved JFS there a year later. Oakhill is the former Forum Health Southside Medical Center.

Defense lawyers in the Oakhill criminal case have asked that the bills of particulars remain sealed until after the trial.

In ordering that the bills stay sealed, Judge Wolff said they contain information that may not be admissible in the trial; their release would make the selection of an impartial jury here unlikely; and the effort to seat an impartial jury should begin here.

If the judge is correctly concerned about prejudice, the remedy is to move the trial to another Ohio county, the Ohio Supreme Court said as recently as last April, Little argued.

Those charged in the July 28, 2010, indictment with conspiracy and other charges are Anthony M. Cafaro Sr., former president of the Cafaro Co.; the Cafaro Co. and its affiliates, the Ohio Valley Mall Co. and the Marion Plaza Inc.; county Commissioner John A. McNally IV; county Auditor Michael V. Sciortino; former county Treasurer John B. Reardon; and former county JFS Director John Zachariah.

McNally abstained from Thursday’s vote, and the resolution to hire outside counsel was approved with Commissioners Carol Rimedio-Righetti and Anthony T. Traficanti voting in favor of it.

The Oakhill criminal trial is set to begin with jury selection June 6 in Mahoning County Common Pleas Court.

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