After his case bounced from Shaker Heights Municipal Court to Chardon Municipal Court and back to Shaker Heights, Beachwood City Councilman Mike Burkons may end up facing a jury of his peers in Geauga County Court of Common Pleas in Chardon.
It also appears the case will get a new prosecutor. However, Burkons’ lawyer says the case may die.
Stephanie B. Scalise, University Heights prosecutor, who was acting as a special prosecutor for the city of Beachwood, told the Cleveland Jewish News April 8 she was uncertain who would prosecute the case and referred comment to the city of Beachwood law department.
Scalise had initially taken the case without payment after Beachwood Assistant Law Director Nathalie Supler asked to be removed from the case because of a conflict of interest.
“It’s up to the city of Beachwood,” Scalise said. “At this point, I’m in a holding pattern, too.”
In a three-page letter delivered by email March 26, Geauga County Prosecuting Attorney James R. Flaiz wrote Scalise that she has no authority to prosecute the case in Geauga County Court of Common Pleas.
“Once this matter was transferred to the common pleas court, your authority as a municipal prosecutor to handle this case terminated,” Flaiz wrote. “The statutory limits on your authority trump any provisions in the rules of criminal procedure.”
Flaiz said his office is now the prosecuting authority.
“Upon receipt of this correspondence, I would greatly appreciate it if you could forward your file to me so that my office can review it,” he wrote.
Burkons was arraigned in Chardon Municipal Court Oct. 16, 2020, on a single count of interfering with the civil rights of another person after he contacted the employers of Beachwood resident Alix Noureddine at the city of Cleveland Heights July 13, 2020. The incident followed public complaints Noureddine made regarding a Beachwood police officer’s interaction with a Black teenager. Burkons was censured by Beachwood City Council in the same matter Aug. 17, 2020.
Noureddine, the alleged victim in the case against Burkons, is assistant law director for the city of Cleveland Heights.
If convicted in the first-degree misdemeanor, Burkons could face up to six months in jail and a fine of up to $1,000, or both.
Burkons hired attorney Peter Pattakos of the Pattakos Law Firm LLC of Fairlawn to represent him. Pattakos has filed two appeals in the case: one regarding the change of venue to Chardon Municipal Court, and the second about the authorization of the special prosecutor assigned to the case.
In an appeal with the 8th District Court of Appeals in Cleveland, Pattakos challenged the appointment of Scalise as special prosecutor in the criminal proceedings against Burkons. He argued Scalise was not authorized to work as a special prosecutor for the city of Beachwood because Beachwood council had not voted to appoint her, as required by Beachwood ordinance.
He lost that challenge in a March 24 ruling by the three-judge 8th District Court of Appeals. Judge Larry A. Jones Sr., writing for the panel, found Burkons “has an adequate remedy at law to contest the appointment,” specifically in the trial court, without resorting to a writ of mandamus at the appeals court level. Burkons was ordered to pay costs in that appeal. Kenneth J. Fisher of Kenneth J. Fisher Co., LPA, of Cleveland represented the city of Beachwood in that appeal because of a conflict of interest by Beachwood Law Director Diane A. Calta,
On Feb. 11, Pattakos won his appeal in the 11th District Court of Appeals in Warren challenging both the jurisdiction of Chardon Municipal Court Judge Terri A. Stupica over the case as well as the change of venue to Chardon.
On March 25, for a second time, Shaker Heights Municipal Court Judge K.J. Montgomery transferred the case out of Shaker Heights, this time to Geauga County Court of Common Pleas.
Montgomery’s basis for transferring the case both times has been the same: Burkons is a Beachwood city councilman; jurors are drawn from the city of Beachwood for Shaker Heights Court; and fines imposed in Beachwood cases by this court are distributed to Beachwood’s general fund.
“Additionally, this case has received publicity,” Montgomery wrote in her March 24 order transferring the case out of Shaker Heights to Geauga County. “Based upon all the foregoing reasons, it is apparent that a fair and impartial trial cannot be held in this court.”
When contacted by the CJN, Calta referred comment to Scalise and Flaiz.
Calta’s last day as law director was April 10. Beachwood engaged Mansour Gavin LPA and Calta as interim law director as of April 10, following an April 5 city council vote.
Pattakos said he expects the case to die.
“Now that the case has been transferred to Geauga County, I don’t expect that anything’s going to happen. I think this case is over,” Pattakos said. “Because I don’t think there’s another prosecutor in the world who would have brought these charges, and I don’t think the Geauga County prosecutor is going to do anything.”
Multiple attempts to reach Flaiz for comment were unsuccessful.