Voters in Mahoning County will elect two common pleas court level judges Tuesday, in each case deciding between a challenger and an incumbent who was appointed to the bench -- though the length of the incumbents' service varies, with one serving three years and one serving three months.
Voters will also decide a third judicial race, that of county court judge.
Juvenile Court Judge Theresa Dellick of Canfield, a Republican appointed by Gov. Bob Taft in 2001, is being challenged by Democrat Wade W. Smith Jr. of Boardman. Dellick took over the juvenile court after the sudden death of Judge James McNally in January, 2001.
The race for Mahoning County Common Pleas Court judge is between Judge Maureen A. Sweeney of Poland, who appointed to the seat in July, also by Taft, and Judge Elizabeth A. Kobly of Youngstown, a Democrat who has served on Youngstown Municipal Court since 2000.
In the county court race, Judge David A. D'Apolito of Canfield, judge in the Austintown County Court since 2000, is being challenged by David J. Gerchak of Austintown.
Our endorsements go to Dellick, Kobly and D'Apolito.
Winning the endorsement was a challenge for Dellick, given our editorial antipathy toward her use of a judge's power to whipsaw the county commissioners into giving her more money than the commissioner thought their budget allowed.
We believed then and we believe now that judges must recognize that they, too, must rein in their budgets, even if state law and an accommodating state supreme court give them the ability to order commissioners to meet their demands.
To her credit, have won her budget battle with the commissioners, Dellick subsequently showed a willingness to compromise.
Her opponent, Smith, has a solid background in juvenile law and made a good case for replacing Judge Dellick during an interview with Vindicator editors -- just not quite good enough.
Dellick, took over the court under trying circumstances and has been aggressive and innovative in attempting to deal with the juveniles who come through her court. They range from virtually children getting in their first scrape with the law to young-but-hardened criminals.
We believe she should have a full term to show the county's residents and taxpayers what she can do to rehabilitate when possible and punish when necessary the county's young offenders.
In the race between Sweeney and Kobly, the length of Sweeney's incumbency is so short as to make it unimportant. Kobly experience at the municipal court, however, is a factor, even though it is a lower level court.
Kobly took over a judicial seat and a docket that was truly a mess. Her predecessor, Andrew Polivischak had been indicted on corruption charges.
She organized the files, cleaned up the docket, and brought to the bench a respect for the law, concern for victims of crime and unquestionable integrity that had been sadly lacking.
Sweeney, too, has inherited a case backlog due to the illness of her predecessor, and perhaps she, too, could clear it up given time. But Kobly has greater depth of experience as a lawyer and as a judge, and we are confident in her ability to make the jump from municipal court to common pleas.
In the Mahoning County Court race, D'Apolito is the clear choice to retain his seat. Gerchak has the bare minimum of experience needed before a lawyer can run for judge, six years. And though he argues that those have been a full six years during which he assumed the practice of his father, we see not reason to change.
D'Apolito is overseeing the busiest county court in the state and doing the job well.