Have news bloggers prejudiced jury pool in Niles public-corruption case?
By Ed Runyan
One week before former Niles Mayor Ralph Infante Jr. is scheduled to go on trial on public-corruption charges, his attorney has asked the judge to move the trial out of Trumbull County, called a change of venue.
The reason: Bloggers who are posting their opinions on news articles on media websites about the case has tainted the pool of prospective jurors, thus making it difficult to seat a jury in the county, wrote defense attorney John B. Juhasz in a court filing.
The filing calls the comments “a relatively new feature in technology,” adding the writers typically post their remarks without using their real names.
The filing quotes from a frequent poster on The Vindicator website who uses the name “Billdog,” who commented after a hearing in the case that former Niles auditor, Charles Nader, may have agreed to testify against Infante out of concern for his safety in prison.
“These days, with interactive media, it is not just the media that can spread maliciousnesss against the defendant. This is not the Sam Sheppard case, where the circus atmosphere was media created. These days, the public’s comments, widely read just as is the media coverage itself, can be brutal,” the filing says.
Infante, 63, is accused of 41 criminal charges including taking bribes, receiving inappropriate gifts, tampering with records, illegal gambling and engaging in a pattern of corrupt activity during his 24 years as Niles mayor.
His wife, Judy Infante, 68, faces seven counts of tampering with records. She’s accused of failing to report – and trying to conceal – “income from gambling and other sources.”
Nader recently pleaded guilty to reduced charges in the case and agreed to testify at Ralph Infante’s trial, which is scheduled to begin at 10 a.m. Monday in Trumbull County Common Pleas Court before Visiting Judge Patricia Cosgrove of Summit County.
Dan Kasaris of the Ohio Attorney General’s Office is serving as special prosecutor. He has not yet replied to Infante’s request to move the trial.
The Juhasz filing says “the pool of prospective jurors has been tainted, poisoned even, by some of the coverage and postings,” Juhasz said.
“The media, including the posting provisions that permits amateur commentators to add to the specter of community prejudice, has effectively poisoned the fountain of justice even before it begins to flow,” Juhasz wrote.
The filing contains more than 100 pages of printouts of news coverage, including photographs and advertisements, of the Infante case from a variety of news sources.