Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor of the Ohio Supreme Court has appointed a special three-judge commission to consider the suspension of Mahoning County Auditor Michael V. Sciortino, who has been charged with 16 felony counts in the Oakhill Renaissance Place case in Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court.
The three retired judges the chief justice named Friday to the panel are Thomas J. Grady of the 2nd District Court of Appeals, David C. Faulkner of Hardin County Common Pleas Court and Timothy S. Hogan of Hamilton County Common Pleas Court.
The commission must make a preliminary determination whether Sciortino should be suspended from office within 14 days.
Sciortino may contest the preliminary determination, if it recommends a suspension, within 14 days of being notified and appear at a commission meeting to present his case.
That meeting must occur within 14 days of the notice by Sciortino to contest the preliminary findings.
After that meeting, the commission would issue its final determination and a written report.
At least one member of the commission must be of the same political party as Sciortino, who is a Democrat. Grady is a Democrat.
Under state law, all commission meetings and records are off limits to the public until the commission issues its written report.
If Sciortino is suspended, state law says the Mahoning County Democratic Party’s central committee would select his replacement.
A suspension would not bar Sciortino from remaining on the Nov. 4 ballot as a candidate for re-election.
Sciortino could not be reached to comment.
“It’s a relatively new and untested statute,” Sciortino’s lawyer, John Juhasz, said of the law that enables three-judge panels to consider suspensions of public officials charged with felonies. The law took effect in 2005.
“My hope would be that the constitutional presumption of innocence would enter into the process” as the matter is considered by the three-judge panel, Juhasz said. Juhasz said he does not know any of the judges on the panel.
Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine, who brought the indictment, asked the state’s top court on May 29 to commence the suspension proceedings against Sciortino.
The felony counts Sciortino is charged with are one count of engaging in a pattern of corrupt activity, two counts each of conspiracy and bribery, four counts of tampering with records, six counts of perjury and one count of money laundering.
Besides Sciortino, those indicted in the current Oakhill case are former Mahoning County Commissioner John A. McNally, who is now Youngstown mayor; and Atty. Martin Yavorcik, an unsuccessful candidate for county prosecutor in 2008.
The indictment alleges a criminal conspiracy to impede the move of the county’s Department of Job and Family Services from rented quarters at the Cafaro Co.-owned Garland Plaza on Youngstown’s East Side to Oakhill Renaissance Place.
Oakhill is the former Forum Health Southside Medical Center, which the county bought in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in 2006 and to which JFS moved in 2007.
Sciortino, McNally and Yavorcik were indicted by a Mahoning County grand jury in the Oakhill case in 2010, but that indictment was dismissed in 2011, with the provision that the case could be refiled, because prosecutors then were unable to obtain FBI tapes that would have had to be shared with the defense in the evidence exchange, known as discovery.