Hearing set on sealing of Oakhill records

By Peter H. Milliken



Lawyers for the Cafaro defendants in the now- dismissed Oakhill Renaissance Place criminal conspiracy case say they’ll present a corporate public-relations practitioner as an expert witness in a Monday hearing on their motion to seal the case records from public view.

In a notice filed Thursday, the lawyers said they intend to present testimony from Barbara Paynter, a partner in Hennes Paynter Communications of Cleveland, which describes itself as “the only firm in Ohio focused exclusively on crisis communications.”

Paynter “will testify regarding the likelihood of harm to the reputations of the Cafaro defendants from further coverage in both traditional and nontraditional media should the official record in this case not be sealed,” the Cafaro lawyers wrote.

Marion H. Little Jr., lawyer for The Vindicator and 21 WFMJ-TV, which oppose sealing the case records, said he would rigorously cross-examine Paynter, but he declined to discuss details of his legal strategy to keep the case records public.

“The undisputed governmental interest in providing public access to criminal proceedings and records would be completely thwarted by an order permanently sealing court records,” Little argued in a court filing.

The special prosecutors have objected to sealing the case records because they said sealing hampers the public’s understanding of the case and right of access to it.

The Cafaro lawyers also filed Thursday a motion to quash Little’s subpoena to Joe Bell, the Cafaro Co.’s director of corporate communications, to bring to court with him all Oakhill-related news releases and infomercials issued on behalf of the corporation.

Little said he wants to question Bell on the witness stand concerning those items during the hearing, which will begin at 9 a.m.

The Cafaro lawyers say the newspaper and TV station don’t have legal standing to subpoena Bell and his news releases, that the subpoena seeks irrelevant materials and that the subpoena is overbroad and untimely.

Bell e-mailed to the media statements from the Cafaros immediately after the Oakhill indictment was issued in July 2010, followed by the Cafaro lawyers’ motion for bills of particulars shortly thereafter. Bell also issued a news release on corporate letterhead when the case was dismissed July 11, 2011.

Judge William H. Wolff Jr. dismissed the 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 visiting Mahoning County Common Pleas Court judge dismissed the criminal case without prejudice, meaning the charges could be refiled.

Anthony M. Cafaro Sr., former president of the Cafaro Co.; the Cafaro Co. and two of its affiliates; Flora Cafaro, part-owner of the Cafaro Co.; and former Mahoning County Job and Family Services Director John Zachariah have called for sealing the case records to protect what they said are their privacy rights now that the case has been dismissed.

In the Oakhill case, five people and three companies were charged with conspiring to impede JFS’ move from Cafaro Co.-owned rented quarters to the county-owned Oakhill.

The county bought Oak-hill in 2006 and moved JFS there the following year. Oakhill is the former Forum Health Southside Medical Center.

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