By Peter H. Milliken
The Islamic Society of Greater Youngstown has asked a federal judge to unseal documents and audiotapes submitted as evidence in a lawsuit by an assistant city prosecutor who alleged his boss and the city discriminated against him based on his Muslim faith.
The sealing order was agreed upon by the parties in the lawsuit by Bassil Ally, who is of Middle Eastern descent, against the city and its prosecutor, Jay Macejko. The suit was settled without a trial last fall.
In the March 6 Democratic primary, Macejko is challenging Paul J. Gains, who is seeking a fifth four-year term as Mahoning County prosecutor.
In the settlement, Ally received a $110,000 lump sum and a $4,000 annual pay raise, boosting his annual salary to $65,621.
The lump sum came from Midwest Claims, the city’s insurance company, because the city already had met its $50,000 deductible by paying fees for the outside lawyers chosen by the insurance company.
Macejko wrote a letter of apology to Ally, who is a member of the Islamic Society, but no settlement money came from Macejko’s pocket.
Macejko said he hadn’t read the Islamic Society’s unsealing motion. As to whether he would oppose that motion, Macejko said, “That’s a decision for the city’s lawyers, not for me, and I cannot comment on something I haven’t seen.”
As for the impact of unsealing the documents and tapes in the race for county prosecutor, Macejko said Friday afternoon: “I don’t answer questions about the campaign on city time.”
Invited to call after the 4 p.m. closing of City Hall to discuss the matter further with a reporter, Macejko did not do so.
“I don’t think we have any great secrets,” said city Law Director Anthony Farris, adding that he would discuss the matter with Macejko and Mayor Charles Sammarone before deciding how to respond to the motion.
As for the political impact unsealing might have, Farris said: “I wish I had the political wisdom to answer those questions,” and he declined to comment further.
“They are presumed to be public, and any of these records should be opened up,” except for medical records, Gains said. “I think it’s important for the public to see what behavior led up to the judgment,” in the lawsuit, Gains said.
“Without full access to the materials filed or presented to this court, the society and the public at large will be hindered in their goal of promoting tolerance of the Muslim religion,” Atty. Scott R. Cochran wrote in the society’s Friday motion.
“Records filed in a judicial proceeding are presumptively public, and may not be sealed unless there is a compelling need to do so,” Cochran argued.
Because there will be no trial, an argument can no longer be made that sealing is necessary to protect fair trial rights, Cochran argued.
“The public has a right to know what occurs in its court system. It is even more important in this matter, a civil action involving a public entity and a public official,” Cochran wrote.
“The depositions of public officials and the recordings of Jay Macejko made in the course and scope of his public duties should not be sealed,” Cochran added.
The Islamic Society’s motion also asks U.S. District Judge Christopher A. Boyko to issue an emergency order to all parties in the case to maintain possession of the sealed materials until Judge Boyko issues a further order.
As of 5:20 p.m. Friday, Judge Boyko had not issued any order or scheduled any hearing concerning the unsealing request.
“The public right of access to these materials far outweighs any grounds the defendants may have to keep them from the public eye,” Cochran concluded.
In his lawsuit, Ally said he had been harassed because of his Muslim faith and Middle Eastern descent and that Macejko threatened his job because he took a late lunch break at 1:30 p.m. each Friday to attend a mosque service.
The suit said Ally was subjected to derogatory comments regarding his religion and national origin by a co-worker and another city employee.
Ally said he told his supervisors when he was hired that he’d need an accommodation to his work schedule to attend Friday mosque services, the suit said.
The suit said that arrangement changed when Macejko called a Friday afternoon meeting and told Ally he’d be fired if he didn’t attend.
Ally was placed on administrative leave after he went to the mosque instead of the meeting, but was returned to work after he filed a religious discrimination charge with the Ohio Civil Rights Commission.
After he filed that charge, Ally claimed he was harassed when he was reassigned to a courtroom that regularly meets Friday afternoons.
Farris said Ally is now permitted to attend religious services on Fridays, and his lunch-break schedule is adjusted to accommodate his mosque attendance.