Appeals court work isn’t every lawyer’s cup of tea. It lies at the more wonkish end of the judicial spectrum, where the vast majority of the judge’s time is spent researching the law, reading briefs and writing opinions.
A relatively small percentage of time is spent in court listening to oral arguments and possibly asking a question or two.
Voters in the 11th District Court of Appeals have two candidates to choose from, both of whom say they enjoy that kind of work and, indeed, both have done it. The court of five judges sits in Warren and its jurisdiction covers Ashtabula, Geauga, Lake, Portage and Trumbull counties.
Mary Jane Trapp, 56, of Russell Township, Geauga County, is the incumbent in this race, seeking a second 6-year term on the court. Colleen O’Toole, 51, of Concord Township, Lake County, who served six years on the court, is seeking to return after being defeated in the Republican primary two years ago.
Both candidates claim some credit for having helped reduce a backlog of cases that existed when they were elected. Unsurprisingly, neither gives the other much credit in that regard.
Appeals court races are generally low-key affairs, but this one has been spiced up by a complaint filed by a Geauga County lawyer claiming that O’Toole campaigned in a way that implied that she was a sitting judge.
A retired judge can refer to himself or herself as a judge because retired judges are still subject to be called on by the Supreme Court to sit on a case, says Trapp. A defeated judge doesn’t share that status. “Someone who aspires to be a judge should follow the rules,” she says.
O’Toole counters that Trapp is a “sitting judge seeking to squelch free speech.”
Both make interesting arguments — which one would expect from lawyers with appeals court experience — but we’ll let the panel of judges appointed by the Supreme Court to consider the complaint have the last word.
Back to the race
Meanwhile, O’Toole is running as an outsider. She claims the system is not working for litigants or taxpayers — that it “only serves judges, bar associations and attorneys; it is ripe with cronyism and special interests.”
Such harsh words would have had more impact had she said them while she was on the court.
Trapp does not claim the court to be perfect, and says the judges now on the court are working to reduce the cost of operating the court and to further increase its efficiency through electronic filing and the updating of court rules.
That’s important, because, as Trapp points out, this is the court of last resort in the vast majority of cases. Only about 8 percent of appeals cases go to the Ohio Supreme Court.
We believe that the court would benefit from the continuity that Trapp brings to the office.
The Vindicator endorses Mary Jane Trapp for re-election to the 11th District Court of Appeals.