John F. McCaffery, a lawyer for two Cafaro Co. affiliates, points Monday to a page from The Vindicator’s vindy.com website, which prominently displays the former defendants in the now-dismissed Oakhill Renaissance Place criminal case. He is questioning Barbara Paynter, a Cleveland public-relations practitioner, about the negative publicity generated by the indictment.
Visiting Judge William H. Wolff Jr. of Mahoning County Common Pleas Court huddles with special prosecutors and lawyers for the Cafaro defendants and defendant John Zachariah during a Monday hearing concerning whether records in the now-dismissed Oakhill Renaissance Place criminal conspiracy case should be sealed from public view.
Visiting Judge William H. Wolff Jr. listens intently during a Monday hearing on whether records in the dismissed Oakhill Renaissance Place criminal conspiracy case should be sealed from public view.
Marion H. Little Jr., left, lawyer for The Vindicator and 21 WFMJ-TV, examines court documents with Anthony Cillo, an assistant Lorain County prosecutor and a special prosecutor in the dismissed Oakhill Renaissance Place criminal conspiracy case.
Judge hears arguments over fate of Oakhill records
By Peter H. Milliken
Lawyers for former defendants in the Oakhill Renais- sance Place criminal conspiracy case argued the case records should be sealed from public view to protect privacy interests, now that the case has been dismissed.
However, the special prosecutors and Marion Little, the lawyer for The Vindicator and 21 WFMJ-TV, argued against sealing the case records.
The arguments were presented in a nearly five-hour hearing Monday before visiting Judge William H. Wolff Jr. of Mahoning County Common Pleas Court, who said he’d take the matter under advisement and rule at a later date.
Without presenting any of his own witnesses or being specific, David Muhek, an assis- tant Lorain County prosecutor and a special prosecutor in the Oakhill case, said sealing the case could hinder “an ongoing investigation” because it is a fourth-degree misdemeanor to disclose infor- mation from a sealed official record.
“There is no accusation before the court, and there should be no accusation before the public,” said Martin Weinberg, lawyer for Anthony M. Cafaro Sr., former president of the Cafaro Co.
In the Oakhill case, five people and three companies were charged with conspiring to impede the county Job and Family Services’ move from Cafaro Co.-owned rented quarters to the county-owned Oak-hill.
The county bought Oak-hill in 2006 and moved JFS there the following year. Oakhill is the former Forum Health Southside Medical Center.
Judge Wolff dismissed the criminal conspiracy case at the request of the special prosecutors, who said they couldn’t proceed because the FBI refused to provide tape recordings necessary for pretrial evidence sharing with the defense. The case was dismissed without prejudice, meaning the charges could be refiled.
Little argued that some defendants in the case are public officials and some are public figures, whose privacy rights are limited, and that the Cafaro Co. and its affiliates don’t have privacy rights. “A corporate entity does not have a right of privacy,” Little said.
“You can’t close a file as to those defendants who have not filed a motion” to close it, Little said, noting that not all defendants in this case are seeking sealing.
“All of the information that the defendants are complaining about is already in cyberworld. It cannot be removed,” Little said. “They are asking you to go though an act of futility,” he told the judge.
The case is of substantial public significance in the Mahoning Valley, and the Cafaros have issued news releases to convey their views about the case, he added.
John Zachariah, former JFS director, testified that, since the indictment was filed, he has had difficulty obtaining employment commensurate with his education and experience and that some people have distanced themselves from him socially.
Since the dismissal, little has changed, he said, noting that the indictment was more widely covered in the media than the dismissal. “I just want my privacy. I want to be left alone,” Zachariah told the judge, adding that he had issued no news releases concerning the Oakhill case.
“I don’t want people to be reading about John Zachariah again and again and again in papers,” Zachariah added.
Anthony M. Cafaro wasn’t in the courtroom, but his lawyers gave the judge an affidavit he signed saying he has no prior criminal record and no criminal charges are pending against him.
Barbara Paynter, a partner in Hennes Paynter Communications, a Cleveland public-relations firm, who was called as a witness by the Cafaro lawyers, testified that further reputation damage to the Cafaro defendants would occur from future media coverage if the case isn’t sealed.
Timothy Hagan, a former Cuyahoga County commissioner; former 11th District Court of Appeals Judge Donald Ford; and David Johnson, Columbiana County Republican Party chairman, testified that Anthony Cafaro had a good reputation in the local business and philanthropic communities, which was tarnished by the Oakhill indictment.
The judge permitted Little to argue against sealing the case on behalf of the newspaper and TV station, but he did not permit Little to call or cross-examine any witnesses because the newspaper and TV station were not parties engaged in the prosecution or defense of the case.