Candidates for Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Face Off at Debate

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A competitive field of candidates for the post of county prosecutor is pretty unusual in Cuyahoga County. This time around, incumbent Bill Mason has decided not to seek re-election after his third term. WKYC's veteran TV journalist Tom Beres says the last time the county prosecutor's race was this competitive was 1957.

Tom Beres: I was six years old the last time there was a meaningful race for Cuyahoga County prosecutor, sobering thought....

Beres was the moderator at the debate sponsored by the Brecksville/Broadview Heights Democratic Club. Beres' first question focused on the County corruption scandal now playing out in former County Commissioner Jimmy Dimora's ongoing federal trial in Akron. Current county prosecutor Bill Mason's office has been noticeably absent in the ongoing federal investigation. Beres asked the candidates what they would do to make sure this doesn't happen again. Candidate Tim McGinty is a recently retired judge from the Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas.

Tim McGinty: I will create a public corruption unit with the responsibility of having aggressive oversight to look for the clues so these things do not repeat themselves, so history does not repeat itself.

But the prosecutor for North Royalton and a former private defense attorney, James McDonald, disagreed. McDonald argued that prosecutor's office needs to improve relations with the US Attorney's office and set a tone of ethical leadership from day one, but costs would prohibit anything larger.

Jim McDonald: The unpopular answer that I'm going to give, but is the pragmatic one, is that the Cuyahoga County office with their budget as it is doesn't have the resources to do what the US attorney's office does.

Candidates also discussed how law enforcement could improve handling sex crimes. Last year, reports of how Cleveland and local police departments may have mishandled rape cases came out during the trial of serial killer Anthony Sowell. Stephanie Hall, a former Cleveland police officer, county prosecutor and court magistrate, said law enforcement needs regular training to handle these cases.

Stephanie Hall: We should have assistant prosecutors and police officers receiving updates, being a part of the law enforcement team, knowing how to deal with culture sensitive issues, being sensitive to our victims so we do not victimize them twice.

Candidates also talked about some of their own plans for office. Subodh Chandra, a former federal prosecutor and law director for the city of Cleveland, talked about the need for clamping down on truancy and helping smooth the reentry of former criminals. Chandra says working with private businesses to help ex offenders find jobs would help with what he called a local "criminal refugee crisis."

Subodh Chandra: So if we do these things, if we move beyond a paradigm of tough talk and declaring war and all of those bellicose things and say, 'No, how do we be smart on crime?" You'll be safer and that's how we'll measure success.

Moderator Beres challenged candidate Robert Triozzi on his record of high profile cases taken on while Cleveland law director. Among other cases, Triozzi's office filed a headline making lawsuit against 21 Wall Street banks arguing that the subprime loans they financed were public nuisances that damaged the city of Cleveland. That suit has gone nowhere, and Beres asked if Triozzi was elected would he take cases that were solid or ones that lived up to personal ideals.

Robert Triozzi: It was creative, it was innovative and yes, I will say to you quite frankly that if I see the opportunity to think out of the box to use the law, I've been in this profession 30 years. I see how the law works for us and I will take every advantage to hold people accountable, whether it be it in the criminal context, the civil context, using every method I have at my disposal to ensure that that gets done.

The sixth candidate for prosecutor Cleveland City Councilman Kevin Kelley did not attend. The democratic primary is March 6. There are no Republicans in the race. Mhari Saito, 90.3.

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