Judge Mary DeGenaro of Poland won her seat on the 7th District Court of Appeals in 2000 in what was described as a huge upset over the incumbent, and in doing so became the only Republican among the four jurists on the court.
She was then, and continues to be today, an example of what appeals court judges are supposed to be, nonpartisan.
As she seeks re-election to a third term, DeGenaro points out that in addition to her work on the appeals court, where she has heard more than 2,250 appeals and written over 800 opinions, she has continued to be active in the community, supporting literacy and civic education in local schools. She also has sat by assignment on the Ohio Supreme Court and other appellate districts and has served on the Appellate Practice Specialty Certification Board and a working group on judicial impartiality.
Given her record, it is not surprising that she was found “highly qualified” by the Mahoning County Bar Association. Her challenger, Atty. Mark A. Hanni of Canfield, was deemed “not qualified.” That is not surprising, given, among other things, Hanni’s thin legal experience; he’s been a self-employed lawyer since 2005.
Somewhat surprising, given her party affiliation, is DeGenaro’s receipt of endorsements from the Mahoning-Trumbull AFL-CIO Labor Council; the United Auto Workers Community Action Plan; American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Ohio Council 8; the Western Reserve Building and Construction Trades Council, and Teamsters Local 377.
In Ohio, judicial races are nominally nonpartisan, even though the candidates run in primary elections and are endorsed by their political parties. It is, at best, an imperfect system.
But in this case, whatever remnants of partisanship that may have existed is muddled beyond recognition. DeGenaro is a declared Republican and has both her party’s support and the backing of organized labor. Hanni is the son of Don L. Hanni Jr. — a legendary Mahoning County Democratic Party boss — but he has struggled with something of a party identity crisis over the years. In 2006, Hanni ran unopposed in the Republican Party primary for the 59th Ohio House seat held then by Democrat Ken Carano. But he dropped out before the general election, citing the demand of his law practice. He also gave $250 to the campaign of the Republican in the 7th District Court of Appeals race that year — DeGenaro. Hanni also has been involved in inept attempts to take control of both the Republican and Democratic parties in Mahoning County.
Frankly, we can only imagine what Hanni is doing in this race this year, because he declined an invitation to meet with Vindicator editors in an endorsement meeting. There he would have had an opportunity to answer our questions and to make the case for his candidacy.
During her interview, DeGenaro talked about an appeals court judge’s job, which combines the need to read the court record submitted to the court, research the law and write opinions. She works with three other judges, Gene Donofrio, Joseph J. Vukovich and Cheryl L. Waite. The court serves Mahoning, Columbiana, Belmont, Carroll, Harrison, Jefferson, Monroe and Noble counties. Each case is heard by a panel of three of the four judges. Courts of appeal are the final court to hear most cases, since only a small percentage of appeals make it to the next level, the Ohio Supreme Court.
DeGenaro notes that the 7th District is keeping its docket up to date, with 98 percent of all cases completed within a quarter. The court is also continuing its work to increase efficiency with digital technology, which enhances efficiency and reduces the cost of appeals for litigants.
The Vindicator endorses the re-election of Judge Mary DeGenaro without reservation. Comparing her record before and after her election to the court against that of her challenger makes this one of the easiest decisions any voter in the 7th District has to make, regardless of political party.