Visiting judge to preside over Sebring water-crisis trial


Staff report

SEBRING

Judge Diane Vettori of the Mahoning County Area Court here recused herself from hearing the James V. Bates water-quality criminal case scheduled to begin Jan. 22 because of a conflict of interest.

Judge Vettori filed a judgment entry to that effect Dec. 28, but The Vindicator was unable to obtain information on the nature of the conflict. Judge Vettori could not be reached to comment Friday. Documents, such as filings on this matter, are not available online.

Judge Scott D. Hunter, administrative and presiding judge of the Mahoning County courts, has asked the Ohio Supreme Court to provide a visiting judge in the case, saying the other Mahoning County judges cannot hear it “due to managing their dockets.”

The case is expected to take three to five days to hear, Judge Hunter told the high court in a recent letter.

The Supreme Court has not yet assigned anyone to the case, a Supreme Court spokesman said.

Bates, 61, of Carey Road in Salem, is Sebring’s former water-system operator.

He is charged with failing to timely notify Sebring water customers in late 2015 and early 2016 of excessive lead levels in Sebring’s drinking water.

The Ohio Attorney General’s office is prosecuting the case on behalf of the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency.

The late notifications came on the heels of the Flint, Mich., drinking-water crisis and resulted in Sebring-area water customers being told to consume bottled water for several weeks until the problem was fixed.

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