Defendant in lawsuit works in Niles court

WARREN – The man who owns the building that was once the Sunset Lounge has been working part-time as a security guard in Niles Municipal Court since just shortly after his work at the same job in two other courts stopped over questions about his role with the now-closed bar.

Joseph Sankey Jr. of Warren was hired by the court Feb. 22, records from the city Auditor’s Office show.

He resigned his position as security guard with Central District Court in Cortland in January, and his employment in Newton Falls Municipal Court was suspended a month earlier after judges in both courts raised concerns about his connection to the bar.

On Tuesday, Sankey was one of the defendants named in a lawsuit filed by the corporation that runs Sunrise Inn of Warren against the Sunset and people associated with it.

The lawsuit claims in part, the group – Sankey; LaShawn Ziegler, owner of Dream Team Promotions, the management company that leased the building; Bob Cregar, owner of the property listed as the business address for Dream Team Productions; and others – engaged in a pattern of activity to ruin the Sunrise.

The Tribune Chronicle tried last week to reach Niles Municipal Judge Tom Townley and again multiple times Wednesday. The clerk of courts, Paul Lawrence, said the judge wouldn’t be available to comment until Monday.

In the part-time position, Sankey works about 20 hours every two weeks, according to Lawrence, and is paid $9.25 an hour, according to Auditor’s Office records. The job was not advertised by the court before Sankey was hired, Lawrence told a reporter.

Two members of City Council in Niles said they had concerns after learning Sankey was working at the court.

”Strange. Very strange. There are some red flags there that I think (Townley) needs to address,” said at-large Councilman Michael Lastic, a Democrat.

Said Reggie Giancola, another Democrat at-large, ”I will look into that. I didn’t know anything about that. I’ll check into that first thing tomorrow morning. Wow.”

An agreement between Sankey and Warren has closed the bar, and the liquor permit is being held in what’s called ”temporary closing authority” by the Ohio Division of Liquor Control. The agreement came days after a 25-year-old Warren man was shot to death during a New Year’s party there, but the bar never reopened after the shooting.

Ohio code says temporary closing is for a permit holder unable to operate or who desires to discontinue the operation for more than 30 days, but closing authority is not allowed to extend beyond 180 days from the last date of operation, except for ”good cause.”

Also, no other businesses are allowed to occupy the space during the period.

Matt Mullins, spokesman for liquor control, said the 180 days expires July 1. In the meantime, a decision by the state about Warren’s objection to the permit renewal is expected in the near future, Mullins said.

Mullins said the permit holder must request to have the permit removed from holding, and if that happened, Warren Law Director Greg Hicks said the city would challenge the request.