In the 11th District Court of Appeals, two well experienced candidates with different legal backgrounds are vying for the seat that will open with the retirement of Judge Donald Ford.
Democrat Mary Jane Trapp, 50, of Russell Township in Geauga County, is a lawyer in private practice and has served as president of the Ohio State Bar Association. Republican Paul Brickner, 66, of Willoughby is a practicing attorney after retiring as a U.S. administrative judge, a position he held for 24 years.
Meanwhile, in a second race, Diane V. Grendell, 61, of Chesterland, the Republican incumbent seeking a second term on the court, is being challenged by Thomas E. Harris, 49, of Conneaut, a Democrat who is the judge of the Conneaut Municipal Court.
Brickner says his experience as an administrative law judge better equips him for the job of serving on an appeals court than his opponent, who he describes as a plaintiff's lawyer.
Trapp says her broader experience and her work with the bar association will serve her well on the court, which, she notes in reference to Brickner's administrative experience, "does not hear Social Security cases."
In our interview, both candidates talked about the need for streamlining the court's operations, especially by using the latest technology, but only Trapp spoke in specifics.
We believe either candidate will be able to fill the position, but neither is likely to fill Judge Ford's shoes any time soon. His record has been impressive.
But for purposes of our endorsement, we give the edge to Trapp.
Harris vs. Grendell
Harris makes a strong case for his qualifications, pointing to his extensive experience as judge of the Conneaut Municipal Court. He notes that in addition to the normal work load of a one-judge court, Conneaut is also responsible for hearing cases that arise from the nearby privately run prison. We were impressed by Harris' initiative in moving small claims hearings from his courtroom to the prison because, he says, the prisoners were filing cases a way of getting out of their cells for a day.
Had he been running six years ago against Grendell, who then was making the transition from the state legislature to the judiciary, we might have been inclined to endorsing him.
However, Grendell is the incumbent and in six years she has built up a record on which she can stand. She has helped the court reduce the lag time on cases from two years to one and is aiming to get it down to nine months.
In addition to her work on the court, she has sat five times on cases on the Ohio Supreme Court. It is extra duty that does not impress her opponent, but still it demonstrates to us Grendell's willingness to take on additional work while fulfilling all teh duties of the job to which she was elected.
We endorse Grendell for re-election.
Incidentally, this race presented a first for the Vindicator's editorial board. It was the first time a judicial candidate provided us with an opponent's divorce court records from years in the past. And in this case, both candidates did so.
We hope this doesn't become a trend. We were tempted to say a pox on both their houses, and make no endorsement. But we decided that despite an indiscretion in her campaign, Grendell remains the stronger candidate and merits re-election.