Judicial hopefuls get dissed

On the side

Advantage, Republicans: The well-respected Rothenberg Political Report/Roll Call election race ratings has changed the status of Ohio’s 6th Congressional District from “leans Republican” to “Republican favored.” The report believes two-term incumbent U.S. Rep. Bill Johnson, a Republican from Marietta, is in a better position now to win re-election.

He’ll face the winner of the Democratic primary that pits former state Rep. Jennifer Garrison of Marietta against political newcomer Gregory Howard of Albany. Garrison is expected to emerge as the primary’s winner.

“While Jennifer Garrison’s profile as a moderate Democrat might be a good fit for the district, some of her stances on social issues have put her at odds with liberal Democrats across the state, and that could make fundraising more difficult for her,” Nathan Gonzales of Roll Call recently wrote.

In response, Garrison said that “money is always an issue,” but she’s raised more in the first quarter of this year than Johnson did in the first quarter of 2010, the first year he was elected. We’ll find out how much when finance reports are submitted in less than two weeks.

The three judicial candidates “not recommended” by the Mahoning County Bar Association for the offices they’re seeking say they received the label largely because they take on the establishment.

Susan Maruca, a probate court judicial candidate and one of the three not recommended, said, “It’s a political decision, and the bar association should stay out of politics.”

But Edward J. Hartwig, the bar’s president, said the process “can’t be skewed politically. Votes are counted in front of candidates. This is not a new system. Are they criticizing how it’s set up? It fairly mimics the state bar association’s process.”

Mark A. Hanni, a Democratic write-in candidate for a common pleas seat, and David Engler, running in the Democratic primary for an open seat on the 7th District Court of Appeals, both said they represent regular people against attorneys at large law firms with insurance companies, banks and major industry as their clients.

Because of that, Hanni and Engler said the bar association’s process of recommending and not recommending judicial candidates hurts their chances for getting a recommended label.

Hartwig seemed surprised by the criticism.

“The bar association comprises a very good mix of attorneys,” he said. “We have lawyers from firms to sole practitioners.”

There are almost 500 members of the bar.

While Hartwig said he’s not permitted to say how many members voted, the association allows candidates to see the votes, which are returned anonymously.

Maruca said there were less than 200 who voted for her and Hanni said his total was less than 100.

“We can’t control who responds and who doesn’t,” Hartwig said.

Because few voters pay attention to judicial races, the bar association’s qualifications of candidates carries some weight — particularly because these are the peers of the judicial candidates.

In previous years, the bar labeled candidates as being qualified or not qualified. But it was changed this year because “recommended” is more accurate than “qualified,” particularly because state law already dictates who is qualified to be a judicial candidate, Hartwig said.

The association can also designate a judicial candidate as highly recommended.

Of the 12 candidates, only two — Common Pleas Court Judges R. Scott Krichbaum and John M. Durkin — received that top designation.

Except those two and the three “not recommended,” the other seven received the “recommended” label.

That includes incumbent Judges Cheryl Waite of the 7th District Court of Appeals, Maureen Sweeney of common pleas and Beth Smith of domestic relations.

That says a lot about the bar association membership’s opinion of those serving as judges.

A source of embarrassment for the bar association has to be listing Mark Belinky as “recommended” for probate court judge.

Facing a criminal investigation that includes potential charges of engaging in a pattern of corrupt activity, tampering with records, bribery, money laundering, theft and theft in office, Belinky resigned March 14 as probate court judge.

The ballots were distributed in late February, before Belinky’s resignation, but more than two weeks after the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation served search warrants on his house and the probate court.

Don't Miss a Story

Sign up for our newsletter to receive daily news directly in your inbox.