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Frenchko attorney denies violation

YOUNGSTOWN — An attorney for Trumbull County Commissioner Niki Frenchko has filed a court document stating her client did not violate a gag order imposed by a federal judge over a lawsuit filed by a commissioners office employee.

Dawn Guarino Gedeon’s lawsuit alleges Frenchko expressed “anti-Italian prejudice and bigotry” toward her and “others of Italian descent.” Guarino Gedeon was receptionist for the commissioners for about 10 years until Oct. 25, 2021, according to court documents. At that time, she was given a position as payroll secretary and receptionist.

At a July 18 case management conference before Judge Benita Pearson, an attorney for Guarino Gedeon mentioned a potential violation of the gag order that Pearson had ordered in the case.

According to a filing by Frenchko’s attorney, Kathleen Minahan, filed July 25, the alleged violation dealt with a reply from Frenchko to a constituent’s social media post. The constituent had asked for the names of the commissioners’ office employees who were suing Frenchko so that “the constituent could send them a box of big-girl panties,” the motion stated.

Before providing the names, the motion stated Frenchko told the consituent she “can tell you who they are because it’s public record, but I don’t condone sending them anything at work …”

The motion states the content of Frenchko’s reply did not violate the gag order. The document also argues the alleged violation was not willful on the part of the commissioner.

“She wanted to avoid a possible violation of the gag order and pre-emptively explained her reasoning for why her disclosure did not violate the injunction,” the defense motion states.

Minahan also argues in the document the “scope of the gag order is unconstitutionally vague and unenforceable.” It also violates the parties’ First Amendment rights.

“To silence Commissioner Frenchko is to silence the constituents who voted for her,” the filing states, saying the order also leaves her powerless to address public attacks on her reputation by other plaintiffs, witnesses, media sources and members of the public not bound by the judge’s order.

The filing specifically points out Guarino Gedeon’s brother David twice has run unsuccessfully for Trumbull County commissioner, most recently for the Democratic nomination that was won by Michael O’Brien in May’s primary.

‘EXPERT’ DEADLINE

Pearson set a deadline of Sept. 20 for the parties to provide reports from expert witnesses. The case has no trial date.

In an earlier response, Frenchko’s lawyer admits she made comments on social media “to the effect that Trumbull County employees are ‘henchmen,’ ‘minions,’ and ‘hacks.'” But that response denied Frenchko used derisive and derogatory terms when “making reference to Italian American employees of Trumbull County,” including calling them “greasy” and other terms, or saying some county employees were “akin to Michael Corleone or Don Corleone from ‘The Godfather’ movie.”

A similar federal lawsuit against Frenchko and the other commissioners was filed July 6 in U.S. Northern Ohio District Court by commissioners’ employee Lisa Denunzio Blair. That case has been assigned to Judge John Adams and Magistrate Carmen Henderson, who have not set any deadlines or hearings on the federal docket.

A lawsuit filed last December against Frenchko and commissioners by employee Christine Glenn charges age and ethnic discrimination. The last briefs from both sides in that case were filed in May. Federal Judge Charles Fleming has not set a trial date for that action.

When contacted about the lawsuits, Frenchko offered no comment on the Gedeon lawsuit, citing the gag order. In responding to the charges made by Glenn, Frenchko said she did not use derogatory remarks toward Italian Americans.

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