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Already in one seat, judge vies for another



Published: Sat, February 23, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



Judge Christley said she is running against a colleague so voters have a choice in the upcoming election.

By PEGGY SINKOVICH

VINDICATOR TRUMBULL STAFF

WARREN -- In an unusual twist, a sitting judge in the middle of her term is challenging a colleague for his seat on the 11th District Court of Appeals.

Judge William O'Neill thinks Judge Judith Christley's decision to run against him for his seat is purely political.

Judge O'Neill, who lives in South Russell, is a Democrat; Judge Christley, of Andover, is a Republican.

The appellate court hears appeals from lower courts in Trumbull, Ashtabula, Portage, Geauga and Lake counties.

"She was administrative judge last year and this January it was decided among the judges that Judge Donald Ford would be administrative judge," O'Neill said.

"The next day Judge Christley started getting signatures on a petition to run against me."

Judge Christley, who is in the middle of her third six-year term, said Judge Ford becoming administrative judge had nothing to do with her decision.

Her reason: She said she has decided to challenge Judge O'Neill, who is finishing his first term, because she thinks voters should have a choice.

She wouldn't discuss job performance.

"If a viable Democrat or Republican challenger would have filed against him, I would not have," Judge Christley said.

"It is my intent to give the people of this district a real choice in this particular election. I will try to do so by offering my experience, my record and my reputation as the standard for comparison."

Asked why she did not run against Judge Ford two years ago, when he was unopposed, she said, "I have the highest respect for Don Ford and believe he is a fine judge."

Judge O'Neill said he hopes the rest of the campaign is free from "cheap shots." He added that he thinks he and Judge Christley "like each other."

"This is a very serious court and it has no room for partisan politics," Judge O'Neill said. "This is clearly partisan politics and I think it's tragic. This should not happen."

Judge O'Neill noted that if Judge Christley beats him in the November general election, Gov. Bob Taft would get the chance to appoint a Republican to Judge Christley's vacant seat.

"We would then have three Republicans on the court, Judge Diane Grendell, Judge Christley and whoever gets the appointment," Judge O'Neill said.

There are five appeals court judges. Judge Robert Nader is retiring at the end of this year. One Democrat and three Republicans have filed for that seat.

Denied it's political: "I obviously disagree that I am doing this for [political reasons]," Judge Christley said. "That is a bogus issue and it's almost amusing."

She added that Judge O'Neill has said he plans to run for the Ohio Supreme Court in two years, which means that Gov. Taft would appoint someone to fill his vacant seat.

sinkovich@vindy.com




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