Mahoning prosecutor fires assistant, citing distrust



Mahoning County Prosecutor Paul J. Gains has fired his longtime assistant criminal prosecutor, Martin P. Desmond, effective today, after having placed him on paid administrative leave March 23.

Gains announced the dismissal in a news conference Wednesday afternoon and informed Desmond in a one-sentence letter.

“He had discussions concerning a case that he was not involved with, with others outside the office. That’s a violation of my policy,” Gains said, adding he could no longer trust Desmond.

Gains explained that Desmond was initially assigned and later removed from that homicide case at Desmond’s request in August 2015, before those discussions with outsiders occurred.

Another issue was research on civil law Desmond performed using a county legal research account.

“He denied doing the research. Westlaw records show he did it,” Gains said, referring to the research Desmond did on Dec. 16 concerning the civil law claims that appeared in a federal lawsuit filed against the county that same day. Westlaw is a computer tool used in legal research. The research was performed on the county’s Westlaw account, Gains said.

“Mr. Desmond is assigned to the criminal division. I don’t see why he would be researching these issues,” Gains said. “I was shocked,” to learn of this research, Gains added.

Gains, however, said he doesn’t believe Desmond’s conduct rises to the criminal level.

The county requested dismissal of that lawsuit, and a federal judge has said she will dismiss it.

Desmond, 43, who prosecuted major murder and drug cases in recent years, joined the county in April 2004. His final salary was $78,000 a year.

“Marty has always been a dedicated, skilled and highly ethical prosecutor that the residents of Mahoning County should be proud of. He maintains he’s done nothing wrong, and we’re exploring all of his options,” said Desmond’s lawyer, Ira Mirkin of Youngstown.

Gains said every assistant prosecutor in his office serves at his pleasure, and he has the authority to dismiss any of them, as long as doing so doesn’t violate any law.

Gains said he afforded Desmond a hearing last Friday with Mirkin present, even though he wasn’t required to do so.

Desmond could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

The federal lawsuit was filed on behalf of Kalilo Robinson, a former witness in a murder case that was dismissed.

Robinson, who was held as a material witness in the murder case of Marquan White, sued Gains; his assistant prosecutors, Dawn Cantalamessa and Shawn Burns; and the county, alleging wrongful arrest and malicious prosecution.

The suit alleged that Robinson, who invoked his right to remain silent under the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution during a pre-trial hearing in the murder case, was indicted on charges of tampering with evidence and obstruction of justice based on the “misrepresentation of facts” to a county grand jury.

Robinson was jailed for several days until his lawyer, James Wise, could secure his release through the 7th District Court of Appeals.

The charges against Robinson were later dropped.

Prosecutors in December dismissed the case against White, who was accused of killing Antwon Lee Martinez, 17, in November 2014 on the city’s North Side.

Gains said Desmond admitted to him that he discussed these legal matters with Wise, who filed the federal lawsuit against the county for Robinson; and Wise confirmed in a Vindicator interview Wednesday that he had discussed these matters with Desmond.

Topics Desmond researched between 9:54 and 10:12 a.m. Dec. 16 included malicious prosecution, ethics and prosecutorial immunity from civil lawsuits, according to a Westlaw log Gains supplied to reporters.

Gains said Wise’s lawsuit on behalf of Robinson was filed in federal court at 11:38 a.m. that morning.

“He (Desmond) never provided me any information or assisted me with any preparation or any research regarding the lawsuit,” Wise said, adding that the lawsuit text was fully written before Dec. 16 and not changed that day.

“I have no evidence that he (Desmond) gave it (the research results) to Wise,” Gains acknowledged.

The suit was based on affidavits and documents, but none of those came from the prosecutor’s office, Wise said.

Wise said he had told many people in August 2016 about the federal suit he intended to file, and that many judges and defense lawyers knew of the forthcoming suit, and he assumes prosecutors were also aware of it.

Wise said he told Gains by telephone he was preparing to sue, then hand-delivered a copy of the lawsuit text and attached exhibits to Gains’ office about a week before it was filed, together with a letter inviting Gains to discuss the matter further with him.

Wise said Gains never called to discuss the letter with him.

In a written statement he provided to Gains Jan. 27, Desmond said he told Cantalamessa that Robinson could not legally be indicted for obstructing justice and tampering with evidence without a judge’s order compelling Robinson to testify and without Robinson’s being offered immunity from prosecution in the homicide case.

“Without the statutory immunity requirements being met, we would be indicting Robinson for invoking his right to remain silent, which is not permissible or proper,” Desmond wrote.

Wise told Desmond in the fall of 2016 about the federal civil lawsuit Wise would file, Desmond wrote.

Gains said Desmond never told him or other top supervisors in the prosecutor’s office about the impending lawsuit.

“I wish he had informed me,” Gains said. “I think I was entitled to know that.”

Desmond said he advised Wise to contact Gains directly about this matter.

“It violated well-established rules that a lawyer does not discuss cases with adverse parties,” that could have an adverse impact against colleagues in his office, Gains said of Desmond’s discussions with Wise.

“Based on the conduct and his statements to me in response to this internal investigation, I determined that I could no longer trust him to act in the best interests of Mahoning County as an assistant prosecutor,” Gains said of his reason for firing Desmond.