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Judge Asks Editors for Advice

February 23, 2001

ELYRIA, Ohio (AP) _ A judge asked newspaper editors and jurors for advice on how to sentence a suburban Cleveland mayor convicted of corruption charges.

The newspapers all declined any recommendation to Richard Markus, a visiting judge from Cleveland. Markus declined to comment Friday.

It couldn’t be determined if any juror in the case had recommended a sentence. Juror names are confidential and cannot be disclosed, the Lorain County jury commissioner’s office said Friday.

The prosecutor called the request illegal and improper.

Avon Lake Mayor Vincent Urbin was convicted on Feb. 2 of having an unlawful interest in a public contract, tampering with evidence and being complicit in evidence tampering. Prosecutors said he tried to cover up evidence during a police investigation and channeled city business to a banquet hall his brother managed.

Urbin could get up to 13 years in prison.

At the judge’s request, a parole officer wrote letters this week to editors of newspapers that covered the Urbin case ``to inquire whether you have any comment or recommendation regarding an appropriate sentence.″

The letters went to editors at the Avon Lake Press, The (Cleveland) Plain Dealer, the Chronicle-Telegram in Elyria and The Morning Journal of Lorain.

Andy Young, the Chronicle-Telegram’s editor, said he supported open public records and meetings and did not want to put the newspaper’s credibility at risk by offering confidential advice in the case.

Mike Ferrari, editor of the Press, also passed on the chance to recommend a sentence. ``It is our job to report the news, not create it,″ he said Friday.

``I’m sure whatever the judge does will be the right thing,″ said Plain Dealer Editor Douglas C. Clifton.

Morning Journal Editor John G. Cole said he had decided not to respond and would comment on the sentence after it’s handed down.

Prosecutor Gregory White filed an objection Thursday, asking Markus to rescind his request.

``This case is too important to this community to even appear to have been reduced to a political exercise or public popularity/opinion poll,″ Jonathan Rosenbaum, chief assistant prosecutor, wrote in the court motion.

A legal educator also suggested the letter was out of line.

``I just don’t think that a judge should be influenced by how the press feels about a particular sentence,″ said professor Louis Katz of Case Western Reserve University Law School. ``His job is to sentence, and their job is to comment, if they choose to, after the sentence.″

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On the Net:

Lorain County: http://www.loraincounty.com

Chronicle-Telegram: http://www.chronicletelegram.com

Morning Journal: http://www.morningjournal.com

Plain Dealer: http://www.cleveland.com

Press: http://www.bright.net/(tilde)thepress