Mahoning Co. won’t take part in court program
By David Skolnick
To much fanfare because of brutal murders on the city’s South Side, Attorney General Mike DeWine announced a year ago that a program offering those with criminal warrants a chance to have their cases adjudicated at a community church was coming to the Mahoning Valley.
Though Fugitive Safe Surrender programs will take place in Trumbull and Columbiana counties July 26 to 28, there won’t be one in Mahoning County.
Youngstown Municipal Clerk of Courts Sarah Brown-Clark said she and Judge Elizabeth A. Kobly felt they should have been asked by the attorney general’s office for input in organizing and planning the event.
Brown-Clark and Judge Kobly are vital to the success of the program, DeWine said, and without them, it can’t be done.
“I’m disappointed, not upset,” DeWine said. “I know we can do a lot of good here.”
The event — which would have included numerous local and Mahoning County agencies — was to take place at Union Baptist Church on Lincoln Avenue in Youngstown.
“We had concern with space,” Brown-Clark said. “I thought it would be a fire hazard there. It didn’t feel comfortable to me or to Judge Kobly. Also, we were very willing to do that program, but not the cookie-cutter model they proposed.”
Every other person, except Brown-Clark and Judge Kobly, who was asked to participate — and there were about 40 of them — in Fugitive Safe Surrender in Mahoning County agreed, said DeWine, who first brought up the issue at a Youngstown/Warren Regional Chamber lunch Tuesday at Ciminero’s Banquet Centre in Niles, and then discussed it further during an editorial-board meeting with The Vindicator.
“I’m not going to get into an argument with a clerk [of courts],” DeWine said.
But he added that the original complaint was about having the event at a court rather than a church.
Brown-Clark said that was an issue but not the only reason she didn’t want to participate.
The rate of people with outstanding warrants who turn themselves in for programs such as Fugitive Safe Surrender is greater at churches than at courthouses, DeWine said.
“I respect her opinion, and we’ll do it in the other two counties,” he said. “They don’t want to do it. That’s fine.”
Brown-Clark said, “We felt we should have been brought in before they had a tentative date and location. They also required everything we use [at the court] to be wired [at the church]. We wanted to have the consideration of input on the local level. Their plan didn’t suit us. You have to invite people for the planning.”
Fugitive Safe Surrender is a program that offers those with felony and misdemeanor warrants the ability to turn themselves in and have their case adjudicated at a community church in a court system with judges, prosecutors and public defenders.
The Trumbull County program will be at First United Methodist Church in Warren, and the Columbiana County program will be at Lisbon Church of the Nazarene.
DeWine announced the program at a May 25, 2011, safety summit at St. Dominic Church on the city’s South Side.
Two of the church’s parishioners were victims of brutal murders in 2010 leaving St. Dominic, including one gunned down in the parking lot.