Nearly three months after the indictment of Mahoning County Auditor Michael V. Sciortino, the process of deciding whether he should be suspended from office is embroiled in a procedural dispute at the Ohio Supreme Court.
Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine has filed a complaint with the top court asking it to order the three-judge panel deciding whether to suspend Sciortino from office to follow the procedure DeWine says is prescribed by state law.
In legal parlance, the filing was titled a complaint for a writ of mandamus.
The panel of three retired judges ruled that Sciortino’s lawyer, John B. Juhasz, is entitled to participate fully in its suspension hearing as Sciortino’s legal representative. Not allowing full participation by defense counsel is a denial of due process, the panel ruled.
State law, however, says Sciortino has a right to be accompanied in the hearing by his lawyer, but that lawyer is not entitled to advocate for him, present evidence or examine or cross- examine witnesses, DeWine said in his Thursday filing.
The three-judge panel isn’t entitled to declare the state law an unconstitutional violation of due process, DeWine said.
DeWine is trying to get Sciortino suspended under a state law that allows suspension with pay of public officials charged with job-related felonies.
Sciortino was indicted May 14 on 16 felony counts and six misdemeanor counts for what prosecutors say was his role in trying to impede the move of Mahoning County’s Department of Job and Family Services from Cafaro Co.-owned rented quarters on Youngstown’s East Side to the county-owned Oakhill Renaissance Place.
Sciortino was indicted in this year’s case, along with John A. McNally, Youngstown mayor and a former county commissioner, and Atty. Martin Yavorcik. All three have pleaded innocent.
Felony charges against Sciortino are one count each of money laundering and engaging in a pattern of corrupt activity, two counts each of conspiracy and bribery, four counts of tampering with records and six counts of perjury.
The county bought Oakhill in 2006 and moved JFS there in 2007. Oakhill is the former Forum Health Southside Medical Center.
The Oakhill indictment, which was dismissed in Mahoning County Common Pleas Court in 2011, was refiled this year in Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court. The next event in the Oakhill criminal case is a 9 a.m. Monday pretrial hearing in Cleveland.
The three-judge suspension panel, whose proceedings are secret under state law until it announces its final decision, made a preliminary determination to suspend Sciortino, which Sciortino appealed to the panel, according to DeWine’s Thursday filing.
When that panel met July 18 to consider Sciortino’s appeal, it offered DeWine the opportunity to file a complaint with the state’s top court to clarify the hearing procedure, Matthew J. Donahue, an assistant special prosecutor assigned to the Sciortino case, who was at that meeting, said in an affidavit.
The suspension panel consists of retired Judges David C. Faulkner of Hardin County Common Pleas Court, Thomas J. Grady of the Second District Court of Appeals and Timothy S. Hogan of Hamilton County Common Pleas Court.
If Sciortino is suspended, he will continue to receive his $89,109 annual salary during the suspension, and the Mahoning County Democratic Party Central Committee must appoint an interim auditor at the same salary.
Sciortino, a Democrat, remains on the Nov. 4 ballot as a candidate for re-election.
The Mahoning County Republican Committee will meet at 2 p.m. Sunday to select a candidate to replace Bill Reese, who withdrew as the GOP candidate for county auditor for health reasons.
The deadline to file the GOP replacement’s name with the county board of elections is 4 p.m. Monday.
“Obviously, there’s a problem with the statute. These three judges don’t think the statute is fair,” said Atty. David Betras, Mahoning County Democratic Party chairman.
In the mandamus case, “You have to have a trial about whether or not the statute’s any good,” Betras concluded.