Mahoning Matters reached out to candidates running for local office with a standard list of questions aimed at helping voters make an informed decision in the 2020 election. Each campaign's response will be published in the Mahoning, Trumbull or Columbiana County Voter Guide as it is received and all responses are subject to minimal editing for clarity and/or length. Mahoning Matters does not endorse any candidate.
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Candidate Name: Paul J. Gains
Office Sought: Mahoning County Prosecutor
Candidate's Party Affiliation: Democrat
Candidate's City of Residence: Boardman Township
As a native of the Mahoning Valley, I attended local schools and am an Ursuline High School graduate. I served a six-year enlistment in the U.S. Air Force Reserve, during which time I became a patrolman with the Youngstown Police Department. During my law enforcement career, I received four meritorious service commendations and the firefighter’s lifesaving award. I was also elected by my peers to serve as President of the police union, the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 28. While working a full-time job with YPD, I attended and graduated from college at Youngstown State University and later attended the University of Akron School of Law where I earned my Juris Doctor degree in 1982. Upon earning my law degree, I left the police department to practice law where I practiced in both State and Federal Courts. My practice consisted of criminal defense, the civil defense of police officers, public sector labor law, and the prosecution and defense of personal injury claims. In 1992, I, along with the late Mary Jane Stevens were named Mahoning County Lawyers of the Year for our joint efforts freeing a wrongfully convicted man. After maintaining a private law practice for 15 years, I successfully ran for Mahoning County Prosecutor after learning from clients that cases were being fixed by my predecessor, the late James A. Philomena. After refusing money and assistance from local members of organized crime, a contract was placed on my life to keep me from taking office. On Christmas Eve, 1996, an intruder entered my home, shot me and left me for dead. Through the grace of God, I survived, and was sworn in as the new Mahoning County Prosecutor. I have served in this capacity since.
1. What qualities do you possess that qualify you for the job you are seeking?
The survival of my attempted assassination resulted in successful state and federal prosecutions of over seventy people, including lawyers, judges, law enforcement officers, and many others for acts of public corruption. I removed the For Sale sign from the Prosecutor’s Office and restored honesty and integrity to that office, which resulted in a major reduction in the number of violent crimes in our community since I assumed office. I firmly believe that justice should be administered honestly, fairly, and impartially. In fact, the Vindicator Printing Company recognized this attribute when they endorsed me in my re-election campaign, stating: In examining Gains’ service in office, we came across this simple but revealing admonition from him to his staff of assistant prosecutors: Follow the law. There’s nothing in his record to indicate that he does not practice what he preaches. My reputation of honesty and integrity has also resulted in the transformation of the Mahoning County Prosecutor’s Office into a full-service law firm for all of my statutory clients. Prior to becoming prosecutor, many township trustees and members of the various county boards refused to use the Mahoning County Prosecutor’s Office for legal advice, opting instead to hire outside counsel at considerable hourly expense. Now, under my leadership, all fourteen townships and the various county boards rarely hire outside counsel, opting instead to rely my office to provide legal representation.
2. If you are elected, is there anything in particular that you hope to accomplish? And briefly, what is it and why is it important?
Once re-elected, I intend to work with law enforcement and local officials to integrate a fully functional electronic case management system. In 2019, my office implemented the Matrix case management system. Its key functions include: digitizing thousands of paper files making them readily accessible to prosecutors, judges and law enforcement; creating an electronic portal to allow law enforcement to upload their reports and evidence; and, allowing my office to upload and track criminal discovery packages to defense counsel, all of which eliminate the need to print, copy and hand-deliver voluminous paper files. During my next term I will seek to integrate the Matrix system with other existing Mahoning County databases including the jail management program known as IMACS and our clerk of court’s electronic filing system known as Courtview. Such integration will allow for increased accuracy of information, will avoid a duplication of efforts, and will also serve to expedite the prosecution of cases. Expedited prosecution of cases is and has always been a top priority of mine. As is often said, justice delayed is justice denied. Through the efforts of my office working with law enforcement, I am proud to report that violent crimes are down, making our community a safer place today than it was before I took office.
3. What do you feel will be the top issue facing this office over the next term? How would you focus your efforts to tackle it?
Given the economic downturn caused, in part, by the Coronavirus pandemic, our local economy will suffer, causing people to lose jobs and income. Unfortunately, history has shown that a loss of jobs and income leads to an increase in alcohol and drug abuse, domestic violence and crime. During my next term, I will continue to support alternatives to prosecution including, the Mental Health Court, Drug Court, Honors (Veteran’s) Court, and Theft Diversion. In addition, my office will continue to collaborate with the County Commissioners, the Courts, the Mental Health and Recovery Board and all county and community partners to ensure the success of programs designed to treat addiction and other related health issues. As an example, the Mahoning County Commissioners, working with my office, acquired the former Youngstown Developmental Center property from the State of Ohio to create the Mahoning Valley Campus of Care. This property and its programs will allow participating non-profit corporations to expand housing and treatment for the most vulnerable members of our community.
4. What are your plans to ensure that all of your constituents would have access to the same resources and opportunities, regardless of race or socioeconomic status? In your view, where does the system fall short?
In light of the advancements made to digital media over the last few years, the biggest struggle facing governments, including a county Prosecutor’s Office, is how to ensure the accurate dissemination of information. Now more than ever, all members of our community have the right to know what the Prosecutor’s Office is doing to keep them and their families safe. In order to accomplish this goal, I plan to create a public information officer position whose primary responsibility would be to keep accurate statistics on the resolution of criminal cases and to further coordinate and disseminate information from the Prosecutor’s Office to the media and members of the public. Historically, people received their news from print and electronic media. Today, with the increase in the public’s use of social media and other forms of digital communication, it is necessary for my office to use all available media outlets to keep the public accurately informed. Of course, this position is contingent upon adequate funding. However, if funding is not readily available, I intend to reach out to Youngstown State University to create an internship position to fulfill this function.
5. What are you doing to disrupt the status quo of politics? If you had the power, what one change would you make right now?
I am a firm believer in a person’s right to vote. As such, I fully support the restoration of the Voting Rights of Act of 1964. According to this Act, changes in voting regulations were required to be approved by the United State Department of Justice, a process known as preclearance. This process was designed to reduce discrimination, to increase voter turnout, and to ensure that each and every citizen has equal power to elect their representatives. In Shelby County v. Holder 570 U.S. 529, the court abrogated preclearance. In doing so, local governments are now permitted to enact statutes like the one passed by the Ohio Legislature where a voter’s registration is automatically removed if he or she hasn’t voted in four years. When this occurs, the impacted voter is notified by mail at his or her last known address. This practice troubles me for several reasons. First, while advocates of the removal process claim it is necessary to prevent widespread voter fraud, I personally don’t recall ever seeing a case where a voter impersonated a deceased voter. Second, because notification is sent to a voter’s last known address, I believe this practice will have a disproportionate impact on the poor and minorities, as this demographic is more likely to move more frequently than the more affluent, and are thus less likely to receive the notification. Every citizen who wants to vote, should be permitted to vote. As the late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said in the Court’s dissent in Shelby County: “[t]hrowing out preclearance when it has worked and is continuing to work to stop discriminatory changes is like throwing away your umbrella in a rainstorm because you are not getting wet.” I agree with Justice Ginsburg in that the right to vote is a fundamental right in our society and the Voting Rights Act of 1964 helped to protect this right, and it should be fully restored.
6. Are you satisfied with Ohio's response to the COVID-19 pandemic? If yes, why? If not, what do you think should be done instead? Can more be done at the local level? The federal level?
This has been a challenging year for state and local governments as no one could have predicted the impact that the Coronavirus would have on nearly every aspect of our lives. I applaud the efforts of our state and local officials for adapting to this challenging situation quickly and for working together to develop new policies and procedures to support and protect the health of our employees and community. Unfortunately, no one knows what the future will bring, but I am confident that we will continue to work together each day to discover new ways to work and solve whatever issues may arise due to this ever-evolving medical health crisis.
7. The state is expected to make cuts in its upcoming budget in light of the reduction in tax revenue because of the pandemic. How should the state and local government set budget priorities? How deeply should cuts be made? What should your office be doing, or is doing, to prepare?
Currently, the only source of state money to be cut that will impact the Prosecutor’s budget for 2021 is the Victims of Crime (VOCA) grants flowing through the state from the federal government. It is my understanding that the current administration cut VOCA funding to the states before the COVID-19 crisis. For my office, this will result in a budget cut of approximately thirty percent of VOCA funding for fiscal year 2021. VOCA provides essential services for victims of crime including notification of hearings, consultation and assistance with seeking reparations for damages, loss and expenses attributed to the crime for which they were a victim. This office just received the funding to add an advocate for the county courts in 2019. It will be truly unfortunate if this position is lost especially in light of the passage of the Victim’s Rights Amendment to the Ohio Constitution, more commonly known as Marsy’s Law. It provides, among other things, that a crime victim shall have the right, "which shall be protected in a manner no less vigorous than the rights afforded to the accused," . . . "to be heard in any public proceeding involving release, plea, sentencing, disposition, or parole, or in any public proceeding in which a right of the victim is implicated[.]" Ohio Constitution, Article I, Section 10a(A)(3). In order to fulfill the mandates of Marsy’s Law, it is now more important than ever to be able to provide victim advocates to carry out this important work and we are hopeful the loss in revenue can be absorbed into the Prosecutor’s budget for 2021 in order to avoid reducing victims’ services.
8. What do you think is the most pressing matter that pertains to the next generation of Ohioans who may be voting for the first time?
After speaking with many young people, they are most concerned with their ability to repay massive student loans they have incurred to obtain their college education and post-college degrees. Currently, the federal government offers a loan forgiveness program for certain public sector jobs if they are maintained for a certain number of years. It is my understanding that undergraduate and post-graduate school loans can total upwards of $160,000. The minimum payments on such loans is overwhelming and without programs like those mentioned, it would be virtually impossible for some individuals to obtain a higher education. Hopefully, this program will continue and possibly be expanded to facilitate the future hiring of qualified staff.
9. Are you frustrated by the political sniping, exaggeration and even lies between the parties and their supporters that has diminished respect and reasoned compromise? If so, what will you personally do to make the situation better?
The most frustrating part of politics today is the inability to hold candidates responsible for false statements made during campaigns. Prior to 2016, the Ohio Elections Commission had authority to accept and prosecute complaints filed in response to false statement claims filed during political campaigns. Unfortunately, the Elections Commission’s authority was deemed invalid by the case styled Susan B. Anthony List v. Driehaus, 814 F.3d 466, wherein the court held that laws impacting statements made during election campaigns violated the First Amendment. Unfortunately, while I appreciate the rights afforded to individuals under the First Amendment, the holding in this case left honest candidates with no remedy to stop their opponents from making false statements. In my experience, just the mere fact that the Ohio Elections Commission could hear a false statement claim and make a determination, tempered would-be dishonest candidates from crossing lines of decency and lying. This situation could easily be made better by the Ohio legislature enacting a new statute that would satisfy First Amendment scrutiny while still affording candidates with a remedy in the most egregious cases.
10. Who is your hero, and why?
The most obvious answer to this question is my father. Though he passed away years ago, the lessons I learned from him continue to impact my daily life and work. He taught me to never give up, to work hard, and above all to be honest. As a tail gunner on a B-29, he saw combat in China and Japan in 1944-1945. Despite losing his best friend to anti-aircraft artillery fire, he refused to quit. This determination is what has kept me going throughout each phase of my life. In addition to my father, from what I witnessed during the Coronavirus pandemic, I must also include as my heroes each of the individuals who worked through this pandemic in order to provide essential goods and services to members of our community including, the medical personnel who helped those who fell ill, the members of our military who have been called out to serve, the retail staff who worked to keep our grocery stores open, the truckers who delivered food and merchandise necessary to keep our households going, first responders and so many others. I thank them for their service and want them to know how much they are appreciated. They and so many others inspire me to keep up hope and positivity that this community, country and world is filled with good people who care about each other and will work together to overcome any adversity.