Mahoning auditor should be suspended, panel says

A panel of three retired judges considering suspension of Mahoning County Auditor Michael Sciortino – who faces felony political corruption charges – made a preliminary ruling that he should be suspended from office, according to a filing Thursday in the state’s highest court.

That same court document also shows the Ohio Attorney General’s Office, leading the investigation that so far has resulted in indictments against Sciortino, Youngstown Mayor John McNally and attorney Martin Yavorcik, has objected to another ruling made by the commission: allowing Sciortino’s attorney to act as counsel or advocate on Sciortino’s behalf during a hearing to challenge the preliminary determination.

The document filed with the Ohio Supreme Court seeks to compel the bipartisan judicial panel ”to hold its meeting in accordance with provisions” of Ohio law that creates and oversees actions of the commission by not allowing Sciortino’s attorney, John B. Juhasz, to actively participate in the hearing.

Dan Tierney, spokesman for Attorney General Mike DeWine, did not comment on Thursday’s motion.

Meetings and records of the commission are not available to the public until the commission issues its written report. However, attached to the state’s motion is the panel’s July 22 ruling that states the restrictions Ohio law puts on attorney participation in these matters ”deprive the public official of the due process requirement of a fair opportunity to be heard.”

Also, the restriction is ”wholly arbitrary,” the ruling states.

No reason for those restrictions is apparent,” according to the panel’s ruling.

The state’s motion says the panel notified Sciortino of its preliminary decision on June 23 and that on July 7, Sciortino filed notices contesting their decision and requesting that his attorney be allowed to ”actively engage” the panel at the challenge hearing.

On July 17, the state and the Cuyahoga County Prosecutor’s Office, which is helping with the investigation, filed notice objecting to Sciortino’s request and on July 22, the panel issued a ruling letting Juhasz fully participate in the hearing.

However, there is a discrepancy between the panel’s ruling and state’s motion on the hearing to contest the preliminary determination against Sciortino.

The panel’s entry that gives Yuhasz permission to participate in the hearing states the panel held the meeting to contest the preliminary determination on July 18.

Tierney could not comment on whether the hearing has happened or is scheduled to happen.

The matter against Sciortino stems from an 83-count indictment related to Mahoning County’s 2006 purchase of the Oakhill Renaissance Place, where the Mahoning County Department of Job and Family Services was relocated from the Cafaro Co.-owned Garland Plaza.

The law on suspension from office does not apply to McNally, who was a county commissioner at the time of purchase, because he is no longer a commissioner.