No successor for city judge

On the side

Major fundraiser: The Mahoning County Democratic Party’s chairman’s dinner will be from 6 to 9 p.m. Thursday at Mr. Anthony’s in Boardman. Tickets are $500 for the party’s biggest fundraiser of the year. Tickets can be obtained by contacting Chairman David Betras at 330-746-8484.

Challenge winner: Missa Eaton of Sharon, the Democratic nominee for Pennsylvania’s 3rd Congressional District seat, won the state Democratic Party’s “Keystone Challenge.” The challenge was an online contest in which supporters could vote for their favorite congressional candidate. Eaton beat out the 17 other congressional candidates in Pennsylvania.

With the win comes an email from the Pennsylvania Democratic Party urging those on their email list to contribute to Eaton’s campaign. She is challenging U.S. Rep. Mike Kelly of Butler, Pa., R-3rd, who is seeking his second two-year term in Congress this fall.

Apparently Youngstown Municipal Court Judge Robert A. Douglas Jr. is irreplaceable.

When he serves his last day on the bench Tuesday, it’s almost a certainty that no one will take the retired judge’s position.

The Mahoning County Republican Party submitted the names of four candidates to Gov. John Kasich, a Republican, to replace Judge Douglas, a Democrat appointed by a GOP governor in 1997.

But on July 18, the same day the party provided the names of the four finalists to The Vindicator, Ohio Supreme Court Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor sent a letter to Kasich.

In the letter, the chief justice, a Republican, urged Kasich to delay the appointment because Mahoning County officials are examining an overhaul of the local judicial system.

Part of that discussion is eliminating part-time judges at the lower courts, and reducing the number of Youngstown Municipal Court judges, who are full-time, from three to two.

The chief justice’s letter helped with a plan by state Rep. Robert F. Hagan of Youngstown, D-60th, to introduce a bill to eliminate Judge Douglas’ seat.

That bill could be introduced as early as today in the state House, Hagan said.

The General Assembly returns to Columbus at the end of September. A public hearing or two is likely, and if Hagan pushes the bill, as he says he will, chances are it will pass quickly and easily.

On issues such as these that directly impact a city, the state Legislature usually defers to the legislator from that community.

In this case, Hagan is likely to receive support from fellow state legislators from the Mahoning Valley.

Kasich is waiting for the Legislature to vote on this bill, said Rob Nichols, his spokesman.

“The ball’s in their court,” he said of the General Assembly.

The two remaining Youngstown Municipal Court judges will be able to handle the regular caseload.

But Elizabeth A. Kobly, the court’s presiding and administrative judge, said special dockets for housing, veterans and those with suspended driver’s licenses would be eliminated.

The irony of this situation is no matter who Kasich selected to replace Judge Douglas, the seat was going to eventually be held by a Democrat. Yet it’s Democrats who have led the charge to eliminate the position.

Judge Douglas’ unexpired term ends Dec. 31, 2013.

Democratic advantage

Even if the governor chose the only Republican among the four recommended finalists, Youngstown is such a heavily Democratic city that a Democrat would win — and win quite handily — over anyone the Republican Party would field in the 2013 general election.

This shouldn’t be the end of looking at judicial consolidation in the county.

Among the most important issues is the elimination of part-time judges who represent clients in front of other judges.

Judges say they don’t favor other judges in cases, but that shouldn’t even be an option.

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