Judicial panel that reviews office-holder defendants shrouded in secrecy
The closed-door process by which a panel of three retired judges decides whether to suspend Ohio public officeholders charged with job-related felonies is shrouded in secrecy until the panel makes its final determination, state and local officials say.
The case of Mahoning County Auditor Michael V. Sciortino, who is charged with 16 felony counts, is now before such a panel, appointed June 13 by Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor of the Ohio Supreme Court.
Bret Crow, a top court spokesman, said, however, state law doesn’t permit him to disclose even when and where the panel deciding Sciortino’s fate is scheduled to meet.
Crow said the law doesn’t permit him to release any information until the panel makes its final determination.
Some aspects of the law are clearly stated in the text of the statute, however.
If Sciortino is suspended, it will be with pay, but, if he’s convicted of any felony, the law says the county may sue civilly to recover money paid to him between his suspension and his conviction. Sciortino earns $89,109 annually.
County Prosecutor Paul J. Gains said the suspension-pay recovery provision conflicts with another Ohio law that says the salary goes with the job title, which Sciortino would retain even during any suspension.
“I’m not sure that Section 3.16 [of the Ohio Revised Code] would
actually withstand constitutional muster,” Gains said. “It’s kind of an odd statute.”
If the panel makes a preliminary determination to suspend him, Sciortino is entitled to a hearing, at which his lawyer, John Juhasz, may accompany him.
Juhasz, however, wouldn’t be permitted to advocate for Sciortino or present evidence or examine or cross-examine witnesses in that hearing.
Atty. David Betras, chairman of the Mahoning County Democratic Party, objects to the process as outlined in a 2005 enactment of the state Legislature.
“It smells because, in this country, you have a presumption of innocence, and this totally takes that concept and sets it on its head,” he said.
Read more about the panel and the process under which Sciortino is being reviewed in Sunday's Vindicator or on Vindy.com.