ELYRIA — A new sentencing hearing has been set for former Lorain County Commissioner Michael Ross, who is serving a 9½-year prison sentence from his 2009 conviction on corruption charges.
The hearing, set for March 21, comes after Ross complained in a court filing late last year that he was never resentenced after the 9th District Court of Appeals ruled in 2012 that he should have been convicted of lower forms of some of the charges against him.
A jury found Ross guilty of charges of engaging in a pattern of corrupt activity, conspiracy, money laundering, bribery, having an unlawful interest in a public contract and failure to file tax returns.
The appeals court determined that the verdict forms used by jurors deciding the case didn’t have the proper information that was necessary for Ross to be convicted of higher levels of engaging in a pattern of corrupt activity, a first-degree felony, and two counts of conspiracy, which is a second-degree felony.
Because of the problem with the verdict forms, Ross could only be convicted of a second-degree felony on the corrupt activity charge and first-degree misdemeanors on the conspiracy counts, the appeals court ruled.
Although Ross had been scheduled to be resentenced March 26, 2012, that hearing never went forward, according to court records. Ross later unsuccessfully tried to carry his appeals case to the Ohio Supreme Court.
Ross wrote in his motion that he didn’t know why the 2012 hearing was canceled and never rescheduled.
Assistant Ohio Attorney General Hilda Rosenberg wrote in a filing in a federal habeas corpus case, which Ross filed last year as part of another effort to have his convictions overturned, that the 2012 hearing was delayed at the request of Ross’s attorney.
The documents never specify who the defense attorney was. Ross wrote that mail sent to his trial attorney, Michael Nelson, was returned as undeliverable and that his appeals attorney, Paul Griffin, was unaware that a hearing was set almost two years ago.
“It remains a mystery as to who was acting as Ross’s counsel and would make a request to stay the court’s order for re-sentencing,” Ross wrote. “It is a bigger mystery, how the hearing was canceled without an order of the court and without any communication on the matter for nearly two years.”
County Prosecutor Dennis Will said that his office didn’t request the delay and that it could have come from Nelson, who is no longer involved in the case. Griffin, who did not return calls seeking comment Friday, has been appointed to represent Ross in the resentencing.
Will also said that since Ross won his appeal, the Ohio Supreme Court has handed down a decision in an unrelated case that could potentially lead to Ross ending up with a longer prison sentence.
“We believe we have a very strong argument that he gets at least the same amount of time,” Will said.
Will said Visiting Judge Thomas Pokorny, who was assigned to the case after the retirement of the original visiting judge who was handling the matter, has ordered both sides to put together legal documents detailing their positions.
The case against Ross centered in $582,782 in bribes that he was accused of taking during his four-year term as a commissioner in exchange for steering contracts for the design and construction of the Lorain County Justice Center and other deals involving Elyria businessman Larry Jones.
Jones was among those who took plea deals in the case and testified against Ross, who has long insisted that he never did anything illegal while in office. Despite his pleas in the Ross case and unrelated federal bank fraud charges, Jones has made several efforts to claim that he was railroaded by authorities.
Ross has unsuccessfully tried to have Will’s office removed from his case and also complained that prosecutors never did anything with additional charges against him.
That case, which deals with alleged misconduct by Ross in his capacity as a lawyer before he was disbarred, is still technically pending although Ross has asked for the matter to be thrown out.