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In Memoriam

Judge, party leader Shaker dies at 90

Handled annexation of Eastwood Mall property to Niles

August 25, 2012

By CHRISTOPHER BOBBY, Tribune Chronicle

NILES – Once described as among the most powerful and dominant legal and political figures in Trumbull County, Judge Mitchell F. Shaker died Friday morning at his home on Shadowridge Drive.

He was 90 years old.

The former attorney- turned-common pleas judge was considered by many to possibly wield more power as a lawyer, law director and Democratic Party leader than when he took to the bench in 1983.

”He was a very energetic attorney and judge. But he was perhaps at his best as a public sector attorney,” said retired Judge Donald R. Ford, whom Shaker took over for when Ford was elected to the appellate bench.

As law director for Niles, it was Shaker who orchestrated the annexation of land for the Eastwood Mall from Howland, making Niles – not Warren – the home of the county’s largest commercial hub and boosting the city’s revenue by a third. The mall still has a street called Shaker Boulevard.

Anthony Cafaro Sr. expressed sadness at Shaker’s passing and pointed out the significance the former law director had on the development of Eastwood Mall in Niles.

”If it were not for Mitchell Shaker, Eastwood Mall would not exist,” Cafaro said Friday afternoon. ”Mitch Shaker played a significant role in the annexation of the Eastwood property to the City of Niles as well as improvements to Route 422.”

The Cafaro Co. owns the Niles complex.

”My father, William, worked closely with Judge Shaker over the years, and the Cafaro family has always had great admiration and respect for Mitch Shaker,” Cafaro said.

As Lordstown law director, Shaker displayed similar foresight when he incorporated the 25-square-mile area into a village to enable it to collect income tax money from General Motors Corp. employees. At the time, the proceeds provided seed money for waterlines and other improvements.

Retired federal Judge Peter Economus said he got to know Shaker better when they both sat on the bench. ”I knew of his reputation when we were practicing, but we became closer later. He was a tough guy, but he had his soft side,” Economus said.

Both Common Pleas Judge Peter Kontos and Trumbull County Prosecutor Dennis Watkins called Shaker a ”no-nonsense guy.”

”He (Shaker) expected and commanded civility and decorum in the courtroom. He expected timely responses to legal matters. But he practiced what he preached. His rulings were always prompt and to the heart of the legal issue,” said Kontos, who prosecuted cases in front of Shaker.

Watkins remembers Shaker as one of the earliest to arrive at the courthouse in the morning.

”He was efficient. The judge helped me politically when I first started out,” said Watkins, who prosecuted capital murder cases against Kenneth Biros and Danny Lee Hill in front of Shaker.

His career on the bench ran the gamut from the high profile murder cases to litigation involving Warren’s Wally the lion and one-time heavyweight champ Mike Tyson’s tiger in Southington.

But Shaker, a Western Reserve School of Law graduate, is perhaps best known for his years as secretary of the Trumbull County Democratic Party. His influence on local politics was nothing short of legendary.

Shaker, who served as party secretary-treasurer for 23 years, and Chairman William ”Doc” Timmins took over at a time when the party was in shambles.

”Mitch and Doc always had a plan of succession and who would take over for someone who was retiring. Mitch anticipated very well. He was very intelligent. Never at a loss,” said Timmins’ nephew, Trumbull County Commissioner Paul Heltzel.

Trumbull County Commissioner Dan Polivka echoed those comments. He said Shaker and Timmins ran an effective and strong Democratic Party.

Polivka said he also played baseball with Shaker’s son and that the former judge will be missed as a friend as well.

Shaker was born Jan. 3, 1922, one of four children to Isaac and Sophia Shaker, Lebanese immigrants who ran a department store in downtown Niles.

A father of eight, his sons Christopher and Robert still practice law in the office Shaker opened in 1948 at the corner of Park Avenue and Main Street.

He also served in the Pacific with the U.S. Navy in World War II.

Tribune Chronicle reporter Brenda J. Linert contributed to this story.

Judge Shaker