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Former Mahoning County prosecutor reports misconduct; endures retaliation, including defamation

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Suit alleges prosecuting attorney Paul Gains and chief assistant Linette Stratford lied about former asst. prosecutor Martin Desmond and wrongfully terminated him after he witnessed and reported constitutional violations in the prosecutor's office.

Former Mahoning County prosecutor reports misconduct; endures retaliation, including defamation
Martin Desmond

YOUNGSTOWN, OHIO – Today, Martin Desmond, a former assistant prosecuting attorney in Mahoning County, filed a civil lawsuit against the county, prosecuting attorney Paul Gains, and chief assistant Linette Stratford for defamation and civil liability for criminal acts, among other claims.

Desmond’s complaint alleges that he was a well-regarded, hard-working, dedicated servant of the County, prosecuting roughly 1,000 criminals during his 13-year tenure with the prosecutor’s office. During his career, Desmond received numerous commendation letters and awards from former-FBI Director Robert Mueller III, Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine, the Mahoning Valley Chiefs of Police Association, and an Ohio Pharmacy Board agent. Desmond was the lead prosecutor for the Mahoning Valley Law Enforcement Task Force and FBI Violent Crimes Task Force, and was selected to the National District Attorneys’ Association Marijuana Policy Review Panel.

But his rising public-service career came to a halt after he reported constitutional misconduct within the prosecutor’s office. In December 2016 and on January 27, 2017, the complaint alleges, Desmond reported fellow assistant prosecutor Dawn Cantalamessa’s mishandling of the Marquan White murder case, in which she had witness Kalilo Robinson wrongfully indicted based on his invoking his Fifth Amendment privilege to remain silent, and then had him wrongfully detained even after the indictment was dismissed.

According to the complaint, Desmond’s reports followed an earlier internal report he had made in August 2016. But office leadership took no action on that earlier report, sitting up only when, in December 2016, Robinson sued the office, Gains, and Cantalamessa in federal court. The complaint alleges that, in an effort to cover up and divert from Stratford and Gains’s own failure to take earlier action, the two targeted Desmond.

Once Desmond submitted his written report, Stratford used the opportunity to conduct an investigation of Desmond. The complaint alleges that, glossing over Desmond’s allegations about misconduct by Cantalamessa and another assistant prosecutor, Stratford instead authored a 19-page memo falsely accusing Desmond of wrongdoing, and laying the groundwork for his termination. According to the complaint, Stratford knew or should have known that what she was alleging was false.

Stratford’s defamatory memo led to a suspension letter that Gains then rubberstamped, the complaint alleges. In turn, the bogus allegations in that suspension letter became the basis for terminating Desmond.

But, the complaint alleges, Gains did not stop there. Instead, he took the opportunity to publicly humiliate and shame Desmond by convening a press conference to discuss Desmond’s termination—something he had not done with previous employees. The press conference was live-streamed over the internet. According to the complaint, Gains repeated false accusations lodged against Desmond earlier, but then added new ones. The complaint alleges that Gains knew or should have known that his accusations were false.

The complaint also alleges that Gains has further retaliated against Desmond by instructing his former colleagues and even court personnel not to associate with Desmond.

Subodh Chandra, Desmond’s lead counsel, said, “Martin Desmond was just the kind of assistant prosecutor Mahoning County needs—honest, dedicated, and courageous. But rather than celebrate those qualities, prosecuting attorney Gains and chief assistant Stratford, the complaint alleges, sought to crush them. They thought they could sweep constitutional misconduct under the rug with more misconduct. But today, Desmond shows them that they were wrong: they cannot hide their misdeeds, and the truth will prevail.”

The suit, captioned Desmond v. Gains, et al., was filed in the Mahoning County Court of Common Pleas, Case No. 18-CV-771 and can be found here. It includes as an exhibit a grand-jury transcript proving the constitutional violation against Robinson that Desmond reported.

The complaint alleges defamation, false-light invasion of privacy, using a false writing in an attempt to influence a public servant, intimidation and retaliation for being a witness, retaliation against a public servant for discharging his duties, wrongful discharge in violation of public policy, interfering with civil rights, perjury, and falsification.

Subodh Chandra, Sandhya Gupta, and Donald Screen of the Chandra Law Firm LLC,, represent Desmond.

Related Practice Areas
Constitutional LawEmployment RetaliationFirst AmendmentGovernment Ethics, Misconduct, Fraud, & AbuseWhistleblower Actions (False Claims Act)Crime Victims: Civil Action for Damages for Criminal Acts Under Ohio Revised Code § 2307.60

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