Mahoning County Court Judge Scott D. Hunter isn’t given to histrionics or judicial belligerence, but that should not be interpreted as a lack of commitment to the judiciary or a disregard for the people who appear before him in Canfield. When Hunter uses words like “neutral,” “impartial” and “fair” to describe his guiding principles, his 13-year tenure on the bench shows those aren’t just election campaign slogans.
“I go out of my way to make sure that when people appear in my court, that they feel that they were treated fairly and impartially,” Hunter, who is seeking re-election on Nov. 6, told The Vindicator editorial board. “I think that’s critical.” He uses the honorific “sir” and “ma’am” when talking to individuals who appear before him, whether they are in prison garb or in a coat and tie. It’s about respect for the system of justice.
Hunter, one of four part-time county court judges, is being challenged by Atty. Heidi Hanni, who chose not to participate in The Vindicator’s endorsement interviews. But even if she had, Hanni would have been hard-pressed to make the case for her candidacy.
The Mahoning County Bar Association found her to be not qualified to serve as judge, whereas Judge Hunter received a “highly qualified” rating. Why does that matter? Because the evaluation of the candidates is performed by lawyers who are members of the bar association.
We aren’t sure what kind of campaign the challenger is waging, but we would caution voters not to be swayed by the Hanni name. Heidi Hanni is the daughter of the late Don L. Hanni Jr., long-time chairman of the Mahoning County Democratic Party and a leading criminal defense lawyer in his day.
Because judicial races don’t receive the attention they deserve from the voters, there is always the danger that once votes are cast in the presidential, U.S. Senate and U.S. House races, the rest of the ballot will be given short shrift.
When it comes to the judiciary, whether statewide or local, voters should take the time to study the candidates resumes because the wrong person on the bench could corrupt the system — as this region well knows with the judges who ended up on the wrong side of the law.
Judge Hunter and his colleagues in Austintown, Boardman and Sebring deal with low-level criminal, civil and traffic cases, and arraignments for cases that ultimately end up in the Common Pleas Court.
Even though the four courts handle about 30,000 cases, Hunter believes that the consolidation of the courts below the Common Pleas level is inevitable.
He pledged to work with the bar association, the Ohio Supreme Court, court consultants and elected officials to explore the proposals that are currently being discussed. The goal of advocates of consolidation is to get rid of the municipal courts in Youngstown, Campbell and Struthers, the four county courts and the mayor’s courts and create a county-wide metropolitan system. Judges would be full-time.
This newspaper has long urged state legislators from the county to take the necessary action in Columbus to make consolidation a reality, but parochialism and economic self-interest have reared their ugly heads.
We hope Judge Hunter is true to his word.
His 11-year involvement in the drug court reflects a sensitivity to those afflicted by the scourge of drugs and alcohol and a recognition that not everyone who appears before him should be sent to jail.
Judge Hunter is deserving of another six-year term and The Vindicator endorses his candidacy with no reservations.