Civil Rights & Constitutional Law
Former Mahoning County prosecutor reports misconduct; endures retaliation, including defamation
March 21, 2018
Thursday, April 7, 2022
Youngstown, OH – Mahoning Prosecuting Attorney Paul Gains and Mahoning County will pay $550,000 to settle Desmond’s civil lawsuit against Gains, Chief Assistant Prosecutor Linette Stratford, and appeals to the State Personnel Board of Review over Desmond’s retaliatory firing in 2017. The civil lawsuit included claims for defamation and civil liability for criminal acts including retaliation, among others.
Five years after inflicting harm on Desmond and four years into litigation, Gains finally gave up and settled on the eve of facing withering cross examination in the State Personnel Board of Review and Common Pleas Court about his various contradictory stories regarding why he fired Desmond in 2017. And Gains gave up just after he finally surrendered to Desmond long and improperly withheld FBI and internal prosecutor’s office memoranda showing Gains’s indifference to—and cover up of— misconduct in the Prosecutor’s Office.
Desmond’s distinguished public-service career ground to a halt after he reported misconduct within the prosecutor’s office. In December 2016 and January 2017, Desmond reported to Gains that fellow assistant prosecutor Dawn Cantalamessa had a witness in the Marquan White murder case, Kalilo Robinson, wrongfully indicted based solely on Robinson’s invocation of his Fifth Amendment privilege to remain silent. Desmond had also alleged that Cantalamessa then had Robinson wrongfully detained even after the indictment was dismissed.
Desmond’s reports of Cantamessa’s unconstitutional conduct followed an earlier, August 2016 internal report he had made. Only when, in December 2016, Robinson sued the office, Gains, and Cantalamessa in federal court, Desmond’s suits alleged, did Gains and Stratford target Desmond—to try to cover up and divert from their own inaction.
Gains fired Desmond, the suits alleged, over this whistleblowing. Gains added insult to injury by convening a live-streamed press conference to make false accusations about Desmond. This was something he had never done to any other assistant prosecutor, including those who, unlike Desmond, actually committed misconduct.
Since Desmond’s lawsuit and initial appeal to the State Personnel Board of Review were filed in 2017, Gains and company have faced legal setback after legal setback—many of their own making and due to poor legal decisionmaking:
The evidence, which included long-withheld FBI memoranda, showed that Gains looked the other way when prosecutors committed even what he deemed to be misconduct. Gains failed to prosecute. As an FBI memorandum of interview reveals, Gains described one of his own assistant prosecutors as having engaged in illegal conduct and as a "dumb ass"—yet failed to prosecute him.
Subodh Chandra, Desmond’s lead counsel, said, “Martin Desmond stood up for what was right and remains standing with his integrity intact while Gains has disgraced his office. The fact that $550,000 will be paid to Desmond speaks volumes against all protestations by Gains and his enablers."
Chandra added, "That fact that the County's insurance is believed to have paid out nearly $1,000,000 to outside lawyers simply underscores just how poor the legal decisionmaking by Gains, Stratford, and Assistant Prosecutor Gina DeGenova was in this case. They waited until the County policy was tapped before yielding to the inevitable."
It is unknown what sort of impact Defendants' conduct and legal decisionmaking will have on the County's insurance rates.
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.
Desmond was a highly regarded, dedicated public servant who prosecuted about 1,000 criminals during his 13-year tenure with the prosecutor’s office. He received numerous commendation letters and awards from former-FBI Director Robert Mueller III, Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine, and the Mahoning Valley Chiefs of Police Association, among others. Desmond was the lead prosecutor for the Mahoning Valley Law Enforcement Task Force and FBI Violent Crimes Task Force.
Dawn Cantalamessa resigned from the Mahoning County Prosecutor’s Office in 2021 following findings by a Common Pleas Court Judge that she had withheld key evidence that would have proved a Defendant’s innocence and then lied about it. In 2022, she is running for Trumbull County Common Pleas Court in the Democratic primary.
Desmond and his counsel will be holding a press conference for credentialed media only on
Monday, April 11, 2022 at 1:30 PM
100 Federal Plaza East, Suite 800
Youngstown, OH 44503
Subodh Chandra and Patrick Haney of the Chandra Law Firm LLC, www.ChandraLaw.com, represent Desmond.
This marks the second major achievement of accountability for errant public officials in the Mahoning Valley achieved by The Chandra Law Firm LLC. The first was the forced resignation from office and settlement against Trumbull County Engineer David DeChristofaro, who was also represented by the same outside law firm that represented Gains.
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