By David Skolnick
Judge Joseph J. Vukovich will finish his third six-year term but won’t seek re-election in 2014.
Judge Vukovich, 68, of the 7th District Court of Appeals, told The Vindicator two months ago that he likely was retiring and would make an official announcement after the Nov. 5 general election.
But after “hearing all kinds of crazy rumors” about him running next year, the judge said he wants to dispel them and announce now that he won’t seek another term.
Among the rumors, the judge said, was he would run for re- election and if a Democrat is elected governor next year, he would resign and make sure “one of my friends” was appointed by the new governor in order to keep his staff employed.
“I figure I’ll dispel the rumors and give people plenty of time to file,” he said.
Except from January 1992 to April 1993, Judge Vukovich has been either a state legislator or appellate judge since January 1979, after winning an open Ohio House seat in the November 1978 election.
He served 14 years in the Ohio House and then close to four years in the Ohio Senate.
Judge Vukovich was first elected to the court of appeals in 1996 and is serving his third six-year term on the bench.
His judicial seat is up for grabs in the November 2014 election, but his term doesn’t expire until Feb. 8, 2015.
“I will fill out the entire term,” he said. “I don’t believe in retiring or trying a bait and switch” before a term expires.
Serving on the court has “been the best, most satisfying job I’ve ever had, especially compared to the politics in the state Legislature,” Judge Vukovich said. “About 90 percent of the cases have something interesting in it, and the young lawyers who come in for oral arguments impress the heck out of me. We’re in good hands for the future.”
While there are other appeals courts in the state in which the judges don’t get along, he said the relationship among those on the 7th District court is excellent.
If he ran for re-election, Judge Vukovich would be 75 when that term expired.
Also, the judge had two replacement surgeries on his left knee over a three-month period.
“My fear was I’d be retiring too late, pushing around a walker if I ran again,” he said. “I love the job, but now I will have time to spend with my two sons.”
One son lives in the Las Vegas area while the other is going to law school at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C.
There are several names in the mix to possibly replace Judge Vukovich.
Those on the Democratic side include Mahoning County Prosecutor Paul J. Gains, Youngstown Deputy Law Director Anthony Donofrio, and Mark Hanni, who lost the 2012 general election to Judge Mary DeGenaro.
Possible Republican candidates include Judge R. Scott Krichbaum of Mahoning County Common Pleas Court and Judge C. Ashley Pike of Columbiana County Common Pleas Court, who lost to Judge Vukovich in the 2002 general election.
To date, no one officially has announced plans to run for the 7th District.
The district includes Mahoning, Columbiana, Belmont, Carroll, Harrison, Jefferson, Monroe and Noble counties.
Mahoning is the most populous county in the district, and all four judges are from here.
Feb. 5, 2014, is the filing deadline to run in the May primary.