By Peter H. Milliken
Two longtime incumbent Republican judges face challengers — both named Hanni — in the Nov. 6 general election.
Judge Mary DeGenaro of Poland is seeking a third consecutive six-year term on the Youngstown-based 7th District Court of Appeals, which covers Mahoning, Columbiana, Carroll, Jefferson, Harrison, Belmont, Monroe and Noble counties.
She is being challenged by Atty. Mark A. Hanni of Canfield.
Judge DeGenaro is one of four judges of the appeals court, who normally sit in three-judge panels to decide whether trial judges’ decisions were legally and procedurally correct.
Judge Scott D. Hunter seeks another six-year term in a Mahoning County Court judgeship he has had since 1999.
Judge Hunter, who is based in Canfield Court, is being challenged by Atty. Heidi Hanni of Boardman, the sister of Mark A. Hanni.
The county court serves as the trial court for low-level civil, traffic and criminal cases and conducts initial court appearances for people charged with serious crimes.
The two incumbents have received highly qualified ratings from the 503- member Mahoning County Bar Association, which dismissed their challengers as not qualified.
Atty. Shirley J. Christian, association president, declined to reveal how many members responded to the poll or what percentage of the respondents agreed with the ratings.
The association said its member lawyers evaluate judicial candidates based on their legal knowledge, professional experience, temperament, integrity, diligence and professional responsibility.
In the appeals court race, Judge DeGenaro cites her experience over two terms, during which she has heard more than 2,250 appeals and written more than 800 opinions.
“I am the candidate who has the depth of experience and knowledge necessary to do this job. I have a track record of fairly, impartially and independently deciding the cases that I consider,” Judge DeGenaro said.
Her challenger cites his broad base of legal knowledge and his experience in personnel and budget issues as deputy county elections board director and as a business owner.
Judge DeGenaro said she doesn’t tout her political party affiliation because she believes judicial races should be nonpartisan and because she wants to “avoid an appearance of being predisposed on any issue.”
That’s in sharp contrast to her opponent, who advertises his Democratic Party affiliation on his yard signs, which also bear the slogan: “Protect your rights.”
Hanni said his declaration that he is a Democrat is “nothing more than a self-identifier.” He said his party affiliation “has absolutely nothing to do with how I will make decisions” as an appellate judge.
“Legal decisions are made from application of the law, not application of political ideology,” he added. “I will protect the rights of all people, rich and poor alike.”
Hanni said one of his top priorities is to ensure the court’s effectiveness and efficiency, including expediting the court’s decisions.
Judge DeGenaro said, however, that 98 percent of the cases before the appellate court are decided within three months after the judges hear oral arguments.
In the county court race, Judge Hunter cites his 24 years of law practice, including his 13 years as a part-time county court judge and 11 years as judge of the misdemeanor drug court.
“That type of service requires somebody who is neutral and impartial, with a genuine commitment to fairness, and I think I have demonstrated that,” Judge Hunter said.
In his roles as a judge and previously as Canfield mayor, city council member and council president, He said he has a record of “integrity, fiscal responsibility and of ethical behavior in public office.”
He said his top priorities are the honest, ethical, fair and fiscally responsible administration of justice, with everyone appearing before him being treated with courtesy and respect.
When asked to contrast himself with his opponent, Judge Hunter remarked that he has never been disciplined by the Ohio Supreme Court.
His opponent, Atty. Heidi Hanni, neither completed a Vindicator candidate information form, nor appeared before The Vindicator’s editorial board for an interview.
The Ohio Supreme Court gave Heidi Hanni a six-month stayed law license suspension over misleading comments she made on a radio program during her unsuccessful 2008 Democratic primary campaign to unseat incumbent Mahoning County Prosecutor Paul J. Gains.
The discipline also covered her collecting $2,500 from a client who wanted to withdraw his guilty plea to aggravated vehicular homicide, but failing to put the plea withdrawal motion, either orally or in writing, on the court record to preserve his appeal rights.
She later apologized for her radio show comments and refunded the client’s money.