By David Skolnick
The appeal of Martin Yavorcik, convicted last year for his involvement in the Oakhill Renaissance Place corruption scandal, rests in the hands of three judges.
David Doughten, Yavorcik’s attorney, said after Tuesday’s hearing in Cleveland in front of a three-member panel of the 8th District Court of Appeals he expects a decision in two to four weeks.
Appellate Judge Kathleen Ann Keough, who earned a bachelor’s degree in English and history from Youngstown State University, asked numerous times during the hearing why the case wasn’t heard in Mahoning County “where everything happened,” rather than Cuyahoga County.
“Why do you have to take Cuyahoga County resources when you had perfectly good ones in Mahoning County?” Judge Keough asked.
Dan Kasaris, senior assistant attorney general, and Matthew E. Meyer, Cuyahoga County assistant prosecutor, said Mahoning County is known for public corruption, and they proved to a jury during the criminal trial the conspiracy that involved Yavorcik had a connection to Cuyahoga County through a Cleveland law firm.
“Mahoning County [has a] rich history of corruption, and people in Mahoning County sell their offices,” Meyer said. “Corruption is essentially a minor offense” there.
The two other appellate judges hearing this case are Sean C. Gallagher and Anita Laster Mays.
Doughten and the state both have appealed Yavorcik’s conviction and sentence.
Doughten said the case should be dismissed because of improper venue and because a juror in the trial told the judge he was biased against attorneys – Yavorcik was one and defended himself – and was seated anyway.
Judge Janet R. Burnside of Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court sentenced Yavorcik on April 22, 2016, to five years’ probation, including the first year on house arrest – he’s got about a month to go – as well as having his law license suspended for five years, requiring him to undergo alcohol-abuse treatment, 200 hours of community service and ordering him to serve a seven-year prison sentence if he violates any of the conditions while on probation.
Yavorcik, a failed 2008 independent Mahoning County prosecutor candidate, was found guilty March 25, 2016, of eight felonies: one count each of engaging in a pattern of corrupt activity, conspiracy and tampering with records, two counts of money laundering and three counts of bribery.
In court, Meyer argued Yavorcik should be sentenced to prison for his crimes and not given probation.
His sentence “demeans the seriousness of the conviction,” Meyer said.
Prosecutors alleged a conspiracy started in 2006 to impede the move of Mahoning County’s Department of Job and Family Services from a Cafaro Co. subsidiary-owned property on Youngstown’s East Side to the county-owned Oakhill Renaissance Place, the former Forum Health Southside Medical Center on the South Side.
Prosecutors say Yavorcik joined the conspiracy in 2008 when he ran for prosecutor. The jury convicted Yavorcik of illegally taking about $140,000 in bribes to kill the Oakhill probe if he was elected. He lost that election by 38 percentage points to incumbent Democrat Paul J. Gains.
Youngstown Mayor John A. McNally, in his previous capacity as a county commissioner, and ex-county Auditor Michael V. Sciortino, both Democrats, took plea deals in the Oakhill case and were each sentenced to a year’s probation.
The connection to Cuyahoga County is Ulmer & Berne, a Cleveland law firm, Kasaris said.
McNally was convicted of four misdemeanors related to his faxing the county’s confidential offer to buy Oakhill in 2006 to attorneys at Ulmer & Berne and for making false statements during a sworn deposition.
Sciortino was convicted of one felony and two misdemeanors connected to his receiving free legal services from Ulmer & Berne, paid by Anthony Cafaro Sr., then president of the Cafaro Co., in 2006, and, like McNally, for making false statements during a sworn deposition.
Neither Ulmer & Berne nor any of its attorneys were charged. Kasaris said Tuesday that’s because the statute of limitations had expired.