Six years ago, in the midst of one of the darkest moments of Mahoning County's criminal justice history, Atty. Mary DeGenaro made a promise to restore public trust in the 7th District Court of Appeals.
DeGenaro's pledge was prompted by the unethical activities of the individual she was seeking to replace, Edward A. Cox. The long-time appeals court judge had accepted a $20,000 loan from a lawyer-turned-jailbird, Richard Goldberg.
We said in October 2000 that rather than seeking re-election, Cox should be contemplating his resignation because of the shame he had brought upon court. We also said that voters in the eight counties in the 7th District, including Mahoning and Columbiana, had a "very qualified" replacement for Cox.
"She [DeGenaro] speaks eloquently about the need to restore public trust in the seat Cox holds and pledges to conduct herself under the strictest interpretations of the judicial canons," we said in our endorsement of her.
And after observing DeGenaro on the bench for the past six years, we find no reason to regret our 2000 endorsement.
She has conducted herself in a manner that befits the office. She is a dedicated, hardworking member of the four-judge court, has heard over 1,000 appeals and written over 400 opinions, and has sat on the Ohio Supreme Court by appointment.
DeGenaro is being challenged in the Nov. 7 general election by Timothy Franken, the chief assistant prosecutor, criminal division, in the Mahoning County Prosecutor's Office.
Franken, who has 27 years of trial and appeals work experience, contends he is more qualified to serve as an appellate judge than the incumbent, and argues that a review of the opinions she has written reveal her lack of trial experience.
In the May Democratic primary, we endorsed Franken on the strength of his r & eacute;sum & eacute;, which overshadowed that of his opponent, Christopher Sammarone, who has been a lawyer for just six years.
We noted that with 12 capital murder cases, more than 100 other felony cases and more than 40 appellate cases under his belt, Franken's experience far surpassed Sammarone's and, therefore, deserved to be rewarded with the Democratic nomination.
But now, in the general election, he is challenging an incumbent who has become a student of the law and has shown she has the temperament to serve on the bench. DeGenaro correctly points out that judges must be fair and impartial and not serve as advocates or bring biases to the job.
As for the opinions that Franken says illustrate her lack of trial experience -- she was in private practice before she was elected to the bench -- DeGenaro points out that anyone reading them would find that she is consistent in sticking to the law and making sure they reflect the fairness and impartiality that is so essential to the property administration of justice. She also notes that the more controversial ones have not been overturned by the supreme court.
In a race such as this, where the incumbent has demonstrated that she can do the job, has worked well with the three other judges, and has helped erase the negative image of the judicial system created by the misbehavior of people such as former Judge Cox, the challenger must be able to persuasively argue that a change is necessary.
Franken, while making the case for his candidacy, was not able to reach the threshold that would have prompted us to back him.
We endorse DeGenaro for a second six-year term.