Paralegal had police history

WARREN – The city’s law department paralegal who is facing a felony drug possession charge after police said they found him with suspected drugs and drug paraphernalia while at work last December is expected to face a disciplinary hearing next week that could lead to his termination.

Jason Burns, who has addresses in Boardman and Warren, has a history of run-ins with the law, including a conviction two weeks after Warren Law Director Greg Hicks hired him July 18, 2012.

Warren Safety Service Director Enzo Cantalamessa said he did not know the exact time or date of the disciplinary hearing, but emphasized that it has nothing to do with the felony charges Burns faces in Trumbull County Common Pleas Court.

”He has a right to have an employment hearing with union representation,” Cantalamessa said.

Burns’ strange behavior while at the city law office on Dec. 23 led to a fellow employee calling Hicks, who said he wanted police to take Burns home.

When police arrived about 1:30 p.m., Burns admitted to taking OxyContin. Officers found a hypodermic needle, dirty spoon, two crack pipes, a plastic white prescription bottle that contained four yellow capsules, several ”pieces of miscellaneous pills,” and one grayish rock-like substance suspected to be crack. Lab tests were negative for crack.

Burns appeared in Warren Municipal Court on Tuesday, and after waiving a preliminary hearing, Judge Thomas Gysegem bound the case to common pleas court and freed Burns on $2,500 personal recognizance bond.

On Wednesday, Hicks told the Tribune Chronicle that he was unaware of any legal or drug problems in Burns’ past. On Thursday, Hicks declared that he would no longer talk to a Tribune reporter, but he told other media that he was aware of Burns’ criminal and drug history and hired him anyway.

None of Burns’ criminal and drug history, however, appears in his city personnel file.

In July 2002, Boardman police charged Burns with carrying a concealed weapon. In October 2002, Burns pleaded no contest and was found guilty of a charge reduced to a minor misdemeanor disorderly conduct.

On Feb. 4, 2012, Burns and James R. Bests were accused of buying an $8.84 item with a counterfeit $100 bill at the Country Fair, 1143 Canfield Niles Road in Austintown. Burns was charged with complicity to passing counterfeit currency. He pleaded guilty Aug. 1, 2012, to a reduced charge of obstructing justice.

On March 3, 2012, Beaver Township police report stopping Burns at Market Street and Interstate 76 after he was spotted driving erratically. While Burns was searching through papers in his car for his driver’s license, police noticed he had multiple cell phones and watches on the passenger seat.

During a vehicle search, police said they found two syringes and an elastic underwear-band tourniquet under the passenger side floor mat. Burns was arrested, booked and charged with possession of drug abuse instruments / paraphernalia.

In May of 2012 he was convicted of disorderly conduct for the Beaver Township incident. Court records show Burns was participating in an in-patient, substance-abuse program at the time.

On Friday, Hicks told a Tribune Chronicle reporter that he was aware of the instances that occurred in Mahoning County.

”We had a long discussion about what happened,” Hicks said. ”We felt he had made a mistake. It is not a bar to employment.”

Prior to his city employment, Burns had been doing unpaid work for the law department’s prosecutor’s office in the municipal building. Hicks said he was unaware of Burns’ volunteer work until two months later when he happened to see him there one day.

”I asked who he was,” Hicks said. ”That is when I met him.”

The law director said it is not unusual for his department to give law students and others experience by allowing them to do some work in the department.

Hicks said Burns was one of four people who applied for the paralegal position.

”This young man’s work product was extraordinary,” Hicks described. ”I’m sorry to lose him. He was that good. It’s a shame, but there’s zero tolerance in my office for this behavior. That is why this is so sad.”