By David Skolnick
Attorneys for Youngstown Mayor John A. McNally and Mahoning County Auditor Michael Sciortino, who are facing political-corruption charges, filed a motion asking for transcribed minutes of the grand jury that indicted their clients for review.
The issue is errors in the original indictment that mixed up two unidentified Cleveland-based law firms in three of the criminal counts against McNally and Sciortino, both Democrats. The two, along with attorney Martin Yavorcik, an independent, are charged with a total of 83 criminal counts, including engaging in a pattern of corrupt activity, conspiracy, bribery, money laundering and tampering with records.
In a late Thursday motion filed with the clerk of the Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court, where the case is being heard, Lynn Maro, McNally’s attorney, and John B. Juhasz, Sciortino’s attorney, said a transcript is needed to ensure the “indictment is truly a product of grand jury presentment.”
The mistakes may be legitimate or the indictment may be what the grand jury found, which would bind prosecutors to try the case based on that document, they wrote.
“One tool will answer the question easily, accurately and constitutionally: an in camera review of the grand jury testimony,” they wrote.
In camera is a legal term meaning in private with the judge.
“Obviously, the safest and most prudent procedure which will protect the constitutional rights of the defendant[s] is to disclose the proceedings to the defendant[s], through counsel,” they wrote. “With no disrespect intended, counsel are far more familiar with the case [than] is the court.”
The decision on the request rests with Cuyahoga County Judge Janet R. Burnside, who is overseeing the case.
Yavorcik’s attorney didn’t file any objections by Thursday’s deadline to the amended indictment.
In a July 1 motion to amend the indictment, Senior Assistant Attorney General Daniel Kasaris, the lead prosecutor on the case, wrote the three counts — engaging in a pattern of corrupt activity against the three defendants and two counts of telecommunications fraud against McNally only — contained “typographical errors which do not affect any element of any crime” the three face.
Also, Kasaris wrote that in the bill of particulars, two unidentified Cleveland-based law firms, including one in the indictment, are mixed up because of typographical errors.
“Amending this indictment as requested will not cause any prejudice to befall upon these defendants,” he wrote.
Maro and Juhasz used their motion to criticize the media for its coverage of this case and others.
“Most people could care less about the idea of protecting an accused from the decline in reputation that comes from being accused of a criminal offense. Indeed, in this case, the attorney general called a press conference to announce the indictments. There is no counter-balancing statement in the ‘voice over’ or reporter’s story reminding viewers that the cornerstone of our criminal justice system is that a defendant is presumed innocent,” they wrote.
They added: “No longer is someone indicted and tried before a jury of unbiased citizens of the community. Now, the trial in the media takes place long before the court trial. In the media trial, rules of evidence, designed to promote fairness and reliability, are seldom mentioned, let alone employed.”
The indictment alleges a conspiracy involving the three along with numerous others — most not identified by name — to impede the move of the Mahoning county Department of Job and Family Services from then-Cafaro Co.-owned rented quarters at Garland Plaza on Youngstown’s East Side to Oakhill Renaissance Place.
Oakhill is the former Forum Health Southside Medical Center, which the county purchased in 2006 and moved JFS there in 2007.
McNally, a county commissioner at the time, was the sole dissenter when the other county commissioners, Anthony Traficanti and David Ludt, voted in May 2006 in favor of the relocation.
A similar, but less expansive, indictment was handed up in 2010 by a Mahoning County grand jury. It was dismissed a year later, with the provision it could be refiled, because prosecutors then were unable to obtain FBI tapes of at least one defendant that would have had to be shared with the defense in the evidence exchange, known as discovery.