By David Skolnick
Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor says replacing Youngstown Municipal Judge Robert A. Douglas Jr. should be delayed — and a spokesman for Gov. John Kasich says the governor would have to consider her position.
The Mahoning County Republican Party is recommending four candidates to Kasich, a Republican, to replace Judge Douglas, who’s served since November 1997. He is retiring early, and his replacement would finish his term, which ends Dec. 31, 2013.
“In the interests of promoting judicial economy and efficiency, I support and encourage you in delaying an appointment to the judgeship of the Youngstown Municipal Court that will be vacated by Judge Robert Douglas on Aug. 1, 2012,” Justice O’Connor wrote Kasich on Wednesday.
She had hosted a meeting earlier this year with the Mahoning County judges, members of the local bar, and local government officials to encourage them to work toward developing a local judicial system based upon objective caseload statistics.
“The time is ripe for the officials in Mahoning County to develop that plan,” she wrote. “In the meantime, I am confident that the two remaining judges of the Youngstown Municipal Court, Judge Elizabeth Kobly and Judge Robert Milich, will be able to successfully manage the docket of the Youngstown Municipal Court.”
Kasich spokesman Rob Nichols said the governor’s office would have to take the chief justice’s position into consideration.
“Given the fact that the Chief Justice of the Ohio Supreme Court and local officials believe that eliminating this judicial seat makes sense, we will take a long, close look at delaying an appointment to the bench as we assess what’s in the best interest of both taxpayers and the administration of justice,” he said.
Others who had written the governor urging a delay include county Democratic Party Chairman David Betras, and state Reps. Robert F. Hagan of Youngs-town, D-60th, and Ronald V. Gerberry of Austintown, D-59th.
Until the chief justice’s letter, Kasich had declined to postpone the selection process.
The four finalists recommended to Kasich out of the 10 applicants are:
Anthony Sertick Jr., the court’s magistrate for the past 11 years and a former Mahoning County assistant prosecutor.
Anthony Donofrio, the city’s law director and former deputy general counsel for B.J. Alan Co.
Plato J. Kalfas, the only registered Republican among the 10 applicants for the appointment. Kalfas received 11 percent of the vote during his failed campaign last year for the city’s 5th Ward council seat.
Lori L. Shells, an assistant county prosecutor assigned to the Children’s Services Board. She was the lone black candidate — Judge Douglas is also black — and she lives in Austintown. She’d have to move to Youngstown before accepting the appointment, if selected. She was among three applicants who don’t live in the city.
County Republican Chairman Mark Munroe said the seven-member screening committee was “impressed” with all 10 applicants, particularly the four finalists, and Kasich, “will have a tough time choosing one.”
The selection process typically reduces the field to three candidates, but Munroe said the committee members felt there were four strong finalists. Kasich’s office agreed to consider four.
There is no deadline to make a selection, Nichols said.
The screening committee interviewed the 10 applicants June 18 and 19. A decision wasn’t announced until Wednesday because the committee members wanted time to consider all of the applicants, check references, and decide if they’d recommend three or four finalists, Munroe said.
Because there aren’t many Republican lawyers living in Youngstown, a strong Democratic city, the person appointed could be a Democrat.
When asked if Kalfas’ political affiliation played a role in the decision to select him as a finalist, Munroe said he is a strong applicant.
Munroe added: “There are political factors the committee considered. Any Republican running in the city of Youngstown has a tough challenge.”