By Elise Franco
Local politicians are torn over the issue of a soon-to-be-vacant judge’s position.
David Betras, Mahoning County Democratic Party chairman, sent a letter to Ohio Gov. John Kasich’s office on Tuesday urging him not to fill a vacancy that Youngstown Municipal Judge Robert Douglas will create when he retires in August.
Judge Douglas announced in April that he will retire on Aug. 1, more than a year before his final term expires on Dec. 31, 2013.
Under state law, Kasich, a Republican, will appoint a judge to finish out Judge Douglas’ unexpired term. County Republican Chairman Mark Munroe said Kasich asked him to filter three applicants to the governor’s office.
“There’s a well-defined process for how these vacancies are filled. The governor’s office has asked the county party to ask for applicants who are interested,” he said. “Following that, we’ll interview, screen and forward three names to the governor’s office for their consideration.”
Betras said filling the vacancy is premature in light of a proposed consolidation or reconfiguration of the county’s lower-level court system.
“My fear is if someone gets that seat they’ll have ownership of that seat and we’ll never be able to re-configure our lower courts,” he said. “Now is a good time to pause and reflect on if we really want to fill it.”
Rob Nichols, spokesman for the governor’s office, said the Ohio Constitution requires Kasich to appoint someone to the position.
“No one has a greater commitment to make government run more efficiently than Gov. Kasich, but until the legislators abolish that bench the Ohio Constitution requires us to fill that seat.”
A bar association-sponsored study done by the National Center for State Courts of Williamsburg, Va., recommended administrative and location consolidation of Mahoning County’s lower courts.
Betras said he expects the bar association to have a recommendation about consolidation ready to give to local legislators soon. He said he’d like the governor to hold off on making a decision until that time.
“I do not believe that the city of Youngstown needs three full-time judges, just as it’s my belief that Campbell and Struthers don’t need one part-time judge each,” he said, “We can use our resources more judiciously.”
Munroe said the elimination of a judge position has to come from local lawmakers.
“This is not an issue for the governor or a party chairman to solve. It’s the responsibility of local elected legislators to address,” he said. “In the [consolidation] study done some months ago, not one of the 13 recommendations called for the elimination of a judge in Youngstown Municipal Court.”