This story was updated to reflect the fact that Beachwood engaged special prosecuor Stephanie B. Scalise.
Beachwood City Councilman Mike Burkons’ criminal case has been dismissed by the Geauga County Court of Common Pleas following a motion to dismiss by Geauga County Prosecutor James Flaiz.
Citing the Beachwood Law Department’s stated conflict of interest in the case, Beachwood Law Director L. Stewart Hastings II, referred comment to prosecutors in the case.
“Our office has no involvement in that case,” Hastings told the Cleveland Jewish News June 2.
The electronic docket shows the case was dismissed May 24 for lack of a speedy trial and want of a prosecutor. No judge was assigned to the case in Geauga County Court of Common Pleas.
“The dismissal was not on the merits and was ‘without prejudice,’ which means the charges could be refiled,” Flaiz wrote the CJN in a June 2 email. “That would require the Beachwood prosecutor initiating a new case in Shaker Municipal Court or a new citizen affidavit being filed there. Again, our office does not take a position on the case other than it should not have been filed in the Geauga County Court of Common Pleas. Our taxpayers were unfairly burdened with this case while it was litigated in three different courts here. In the future, if a municipal matter needs to be transferred to a court of common pleas, it should remain in the same county.”
The case against Burkons had been a legal hot potato, with Judge K.J. Montgomery in Shaker Heights Municipal Court ordering the case to be moved twice out of Shaker Heights because she said Burkons could not get a fair trial in that city as a Beachwood city councilman. Montgomery also assigned a special prosecutor to the case because of the conflict of interest in the Beachwood Law Department. In addition, Burkons’ lawyer, Peter Pattakos of the Pattakos Law Firm in Fairlawn, filed two appeals in the case.
On April 29, Burkons filed a criminal complaint against Stephanie B. Scalise, who is the University Heights prosecutor and assistant law director and was engaged by Beachwood as the special prosecutor, suggesting her criminal prosecution of Burkons interfered with his First Amendment rights. He has filed a criminal complaint with the University Heights Police Department against Scalise, who initiated the case against Burkons.
“I doubt you will find another competent prosecutor who doesn’t understand that the First Amendment ensures it is completely legal for anyone, including an elected official, to send an email expressing criticism of another public official, especially regarding a matter of public concern,” Burkons wrote the CJN in a June 2 email. “
“Municipal prosecutors can’t file criminal charges against someone because they didn’t like that they criticized a fellow municipal prosecutor. I look forward to continuing my work on council, doing what I have always pledged to do – represent the best interests of Beachwood’s residents, regardless of the personal, professional or political consequences.”
The University Heights Police Department has referred Burkons’ criminal complaint against Scalise to Luke McConville, University Heights law director, along with the Ohio Attorney General’s Office.
“Recognizing that the city has a conflict of interest, as law director I am seeking review and investigation, if appropriate, of the complaint by a third-party law enforcement agency,” McConville wrote the CJN June 2. “The city cannot comment further at this time.”
Scalise said she had no comment in a June 2 email to the CJN.
The criminal complaint against Burkons stemmed from his July 13, 2020, email to the employers of Beachwood resident Alix Noureddine, who is the prosecutor of Cleveland Heights. Noureddine had complained about a Beachwood police officer’s treatment of a teenager Sept. 20, 2018.
Beachwood City Council censured Burkons Aug. 17, 2020, in the same matter.