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Longtime Mahoning Cty. asst. prosecutor, judge remembered

Legal News Reporter

Published: August 15, 2019

A Mahoning County Common Pleas Court judge, assistant county prosecutor and a criminal defense attorney--Timothy E. Franken served in several different capacities during his long legal career.

While he was dedicated to his work, those closest to him said he always made time for his family.

“My dad loved the law,” said his daughter Corey Franken. “But his children always came first. He attended our school and sporting events and made us feel like we were a priority.

“At his memorial service, my uncle talked about how my father juggled his family and his work, giving both 100%. It seems that after we went to bed, he would be up late practicing his arguments for court the next week.”

On June 17, Franken passed away peacefully at his home in Canfield at the age of 71.

Mahoning County Common Pleas Court Judge R. Scott Krichbaum described Franken as a good guy.

“Tim Franken and I were dear friends and hunting buddies,” said Judge Krichbaum. “He was hard on the outside and sweet on the inside. He cared deeply about what he was doing and was very strong-willed and opinionated.

“He was a good lawyer, a tough prosecutor and a fair judge.”

Mahoning County Prosecutor Paul Gains said he had a great deal of respect for Franken.

“Tim worked for me from 1997 until he took the bench,” said Gains. “I relied heavily on Tim Franken. Tim’s duties from day one were to assist the assistants in preparing their cases for trial and in the actual trial of their cases based on his vast experience as a trial attorney and a defense attorney.” 

Born in Youngstown on June 16, 1948, Franken was one of Carol E. (Sloan) and John F. (Jack) Franken Sr.’s four children.

Franken graduated from Ursuline High School in 1966, where he earned All-City Honors in football. He received his bachelor’s degree in political science from Youngstown State University and his juris doctorate from The University of Akron School of Law in 1978.

Franken began his legal career as a solo practitioner in 1979, focusing primarily on criminal defense. He also served as a business law instructor at YSU and as counsel for the Western Reserve Transit Authority.

In the early 1990s, Franken and Boardman Township attorney John Juhasz were co-counsel on two death penalty cases.

“Tim was a very good lawyer,” said Juhasz, a former recipient of The Mahoning County Bar Association’s Professionalism Award. “He was quite studious and did extensive research and preparation for his cases. I thought Tim was the best of Tim when he was a defense lawyer. He was incredibly passionate about the work he was doing.”

In 1996, Franken and Juhasz received The Mahoning County Bar Association’s Lawyer of the Year award for the work they did uncovering an unintended bias in the county’s jury selection process.

The following year Franken joined the Mahoning County Prosecutor’s Office as an assistant county prosecutor, where he served in a supervisory capacity, including as chief of the criminal division and chief trial counsel.

“I hired him because I knew his background and experience as an excellent trial attorney,” said Gains. “I do not specifically recall when Tim assumed the duties of chief of the division, as I always considered him as someone to rely upon in preparing a case and trying a case.

“Tim and I were friends, but after he took the bench, I did not associate much with him due to his being a judge and to avoid any appearance of impropriety. The world will be a lesser place without Tim Franken in it.”

Kelly Johns, a shareholder at Reminger Co. met Franken in 2000 when she began working in the prosecutor’s office.

“I had many trials where Tim was my co-counsel, including my very first case. It was a vehicular homicide involving a mother who was struck by someone who had been drinking and driving.

“Tim was a terrific lawyer and an even better person,” said Johns, president of The Mahoning County Bar Association. “I am a better lawyer because of him.”

In 2007, former Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland appointed Franken to the Mahoning County Common Pleas Court to replace Judge Maureen A. Cronin, who retired.

The year after he took the bench, Franken lost his bid to fill the remainder of Judge Cronin’s unexpired term.

“I think Tim had a reputation as being a little rough around the edges and a little bit of a bull in a china closet, but when he took the bench he was widely recognized by the bar for both his judicial temperament and fairness to both prosecutors and defense counsel,” said retired Mahoning County Domestic Relations Court Chief Magistrate Mark Huberman. 

“I think he was truly honored by his appointment to the bench and did a great job during his tenure,” said Huberman, president of the National Health Association and administrator of the Ohio Association of Magistrates.

Judge Krichbaum said Franken did “a marvelous job” when the two served on the bench together.

“I remember that Tim wanted to do a capital murder case so I transferred over one of my cases to him and he presided over it in an admirable fashion,” said Judge Krichbaum. “He asked me to cover a hearing for him one time and he offered to pay me for my time. I told him that we didn’t do that and instead he got me a Washington Redskins wool hat because he knew I was a die-hard fan.

“He was a very gracious man. He, myself, Danny Gilboy, Bob Lisotto and George Statler spent a lot of time hunting geese and ducks in the swamp off Western Reserve Road, which we leased so we could hunt.”

Franken inspired two of his four children (daughter Corey and son Lucas) to become attorneys.

“I grew up watching my father in the courtroom,” said Corey. “My dad would often talk about his cases, filtering out what he could not say and making them age-appropriate.

“My dad was a pretty quiet guy in general, but when he got up in the courtroom he was amazing and so charismatic. I watched his career progress as he took on different roles and it was so interesting.”

A member of The Mahoning County and Ohio State bar associations and the National District Attorneys Association, Franken went on inactive status not long after he completed his time on the bench.

“In the event either Lucas or I decided to practice in the Youngstown area, my dad wanted to keep his license active so he could help us,” said Corey. “He would take on a case here and there, but after we were settled in our careers he went inactive.”

Outside of the legal profession, Franken was known as an avid hunter, conservationist and Democrat.

“My dad also loved to read,” said Corey. “He would read everything.

“He spent a good deal of his free time with the family at our cabin on Slippery Rock Creek in Pennsylvania.”

A memorial service commemorating the life of Franken took place on June 27 at the Higgins-Reardon Funeral Home, Boardman-Canfield Chapel.

Franken is survived by his mother Carol E. Franken; four children Brad (Leah) Franken of Cortland, Corey Franken of Dayton, Lucas (fiancé, Shiori) Franken of Queens, New York and Abigail Franken of Charleston, South Carolina; siblings John (Darline) Franken, Jr. of Canton, Kelly (Tom) Benson of Canfield and Kitty (John) Kreider of Philadelphia; nieces and nephews Briget (Mike) Morrison, Erin (Steve) Collins, Jake (Denise) Franken, Katy Benson, Ryan Kreider and Shaylyn Kreider and eight great-nieces and great-nephews.

His father John F. Franken Sr. preceded him in death.