by Frank Lewis
Time's running out for Jimmy Dimora or Tim Hagan or someone else in county politics to make one last bid for most controversial figure of 2009, after Prosecutor Bill Mason's late-game surge. Last week the Plain Dealer reported that Mason had attempted to get involved in a personal injury lawsuit overseen by Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Judge Nancy Russo. Mason, according to the PD, called and even visited Russo's office on behalf of the man, Frank Sidari. Mason says he has no relationship with the Sidari (who he apparently knew in high school) and tells the PD that didn't do anything inappropriate. Russo, however, says she was "baffled" by Mason's meddling and questioned the ethics of such a move.
That was just the latest headline in a busy year for the politically powerful prosecutor.
January 2009: Mason finally makes a move in the long-running open discovery argument. As defense lawyers complain that prosecutors routinely withhold evidence that could favor defendants, and public pressure mounts, Mason concedes to the critics and sets up a Web-based document system that gives defense lawyers access to police reports and other case documents. Despite the new setup, Mason promises to appeal the open discovery rule.
March: Mason attacks Cuyahoga County Judge Joan Synenberg, saying the judge holds a bias against prosecutors in the case of death row inmate Joe D'Ambrosio. Synenberg accuses Mason of provoking her in an attempt to get her disqualified from the case. The Ohio Supreme Court finds nothing wrong with Synenberg's behavior.
Also in March, reports mention Mason as a possible candidate for Secretary of State.
April: Word is out by this point that Mason is working with wealthy Republican industrialist Ed Crawford on a possible county government reform plan — a move seen by some as a way to broaden his base for a future state office run. Crawford supposedly disappears from the picture and the plan eventually evolves into the "Mason-Zanotti"/Issue 6 plan that wins voter approval in November.
Also in April, Plain Dealer political writer Mark Naymik asks Mason about his baggage, i.e. his relationship with disgraced County Recorder Pat O'Malley and his lack of involvment in investigating embattled Dems Dimora, Frank Russo and Sheriff Gerald McFaul. Mason, as a legal representative for county office holders, says it's ridiculous (Naymik's word) to think the feds would share info with him about the corruption investigation. He calls O'Malley a "friend" whose made "bad choices and is paying for it."
May: A Mason-led task force on wind energy concludes a feasability study that says it will cost from $78 million to $93 million to erect three to eight wind turbines on Lake Erie. Mason's involvement in the group is seen by observers as an attempt to bolster his image for a statewide office campaign.
July: Mason approaches the Ohio Ethics Commission to ask whether he has violated any ethics laws after his office does $90,000 in business with Qwestcom Graphics Inc, which is partially-owned by Mason business partner and ally Thomas Day Jr. State law forbids a public official from spending tax dollars with companies owned by family members or business partners. The ethics commission later subpoenas records from Mason's office and launches an investigation.
August: The Plain Dealer reports that Mason's wife Carol worked in 2008 for Municipal Solutions, a company owned by consultant John Frola, who is under investigation in the federal corruption probe. Frola, who did real estate deals for Parma city and schools, is a friend of Parma mayor/Mason ally Dean Depiero. A Mason spokesman says there is nothing inappropriate about Carol Mason's employement with Municipal Solutions.
October: With the county reform campaign between opposing Issues 5 and 6 at fever pitch, Mason opponents challenge the prosecutor to return more than $100,000 in campaign contributions made by his employees since 2006. "Here is a guy who is supposed to be for good government, but he's put together a plan that essentially fosters corruption," a spokesman for the Issue 5 campaign tells the PD. After a war of words, Mason agrees to return the money and vows to address campaign finance should Issue 6 pass.
November: Mason scores a big win with the passage of Issue 6, which wipes out competing political bases and establishes Mason as the county's most powerful political force. Campaign finance remains a vague promise.
We can hardly wait to see what Mason's got planned for 2010. — Damian Guevara