3 judicial candidates fail to get Mahoning Bar’s endorsement

By David Skolnick



Of the 12 candidates running for a judicial seat in Mahoning County or on the 7th District Court of Appeals, the county bar association labeled 25 percent of them as “not recommended” for election.

Those with the “not recommended” label are:

Susan Maruca, the county Democratic Party’s endorsed candidate for probate court judge. The bar also didn’t recommend her when she unsuccessfully ran for the seat six years ago.

Mark A. Hanni, running as a Democratic write-in candidate against incumbent Common Pleas Court Judge Maureen Sweeney. The bar also didn’t recommend Hanni when he ran for a seat on the court of appeals two years ago.

David Engler, a candidate for the court of appeals running in the Democratic primary against Youngstown Deputy Law Director Anthony Donofrio for an open seat.

The bar association bases its recommendations on “legal knowledge, professional experience, judicial temperament, integrity, diligence and professional responsibility,” according to a statement, and the results shouldn’t be considered an endorsement.

The bar has close to 500 members, and the labeling is “part of our ethical responsibility. We help educate the public,” said Edward J. Hartwig, its president.

Those on the judicial ballot can get three designations: highly recommended, recommended or not recommended.

Those who were “not recommended” were labeled for only the position they’re seeking, he said.

Hartwig declined to say how many lawyers responded to the poll on the judicial candidates.

Maruca said fewer than 200 voted for her. She faces Christopher Sammarone and Mark Belinky in the Democratic primary. Belinky, who is under criminal investigation by the state, resigned March 14 as probate-court judge. He is, however, still on the May 6 primary ballot.

The bar association “recommended” Belinky for probate court judge. The ballots were sent to bar members in late February with Friday as the deadline to return them, Hartwig said.

Maruca said she saw the “highly recommended” list in her race, and Belinky had 59 of those votes, Sammarone had 22 and she had 15.

“Those votes were cast after Mark Belinky’s home was raided,” she said, pointing to Feb. 7 searches by the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation of his Boardman house and his then-Youngstown court office. “The results [of the bar poll] speak for themselves. It’s a political decision, and the bar association should stay out of politics. I was taking on a sitting judge, and that’s not appreciated by certain members of the bar.”

Hanni said fewer than 100 lawyers voted for him.

“The majority of people who vote are attorneys for insurance companies, banks and big business, and I represent the common workingman,” he said. “It’s a very skewed process.”

Engler said not being recommended “is a reflection of the type of law I practice where I take a no-prisoners-type of style. I’ve had a good success rate against insurance attorneys and defense attorneys. I must have stepped on some toes while representing my clients.”

Common Pleas Court Judges R. Scott Krichbaum, a Republican, and Democrat John M. Durkin, both running unopposed, were the only two deemed “highly recommended” by the bar.

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