The Mahoning County Republican Party recommended the governor choose from three candidates to fill the vacant county probate court judicial seat.
Four candidates applied, with Susan Maruca, the endorsed county Democratic Party’s candidate in the May 6 primary for the position, being the only one not recommended Tuesday to the Republican governor.
Those recommended by the eight-person GOP screening committee are: Christopher Sammarone, who is challenging Maruca in the Democratic primary; and Mary Ann Fabrizi and Robert N. Rusu Jr., who are planning runs as independents for the judicial position.
The person selected by Gov. John Kasich will finish the unexpired term of Mark Belinky, a Democrat under criminal investigation by the state, who resigned March 14. The term expires Feb. 8, 2015.
“I felt that being on the ballot I should at least present myself” as a candidate for the vacancy, Maruca said. “However, I never expected to be recommended by the Republican screening committee because I’m the endorsed Democratic candidate. This doesn’t surprise me. It’s a political strategy” to adversely impact her campaign.
County Democratic Party Chairman David Betras said, “Not surprisingly, the Republicans have decided to politicize the process and have decided to attempt to undermine the strongest candidate for the seat. Fortunately, the voters — and not the GOP — will determine who will sit on the probate court bench in the future, and I am extremely confident the voters will elect Susan Maruca.”
But county Republican Party Chairman Mark Munroe, who sat on the screening committee, said the comments from Maruca and Betras are not true.
“That’s not the case,” he said. “We were asked to send down the three most-qualified candidates and that’s what we did.”
In a Tuesday letter to Kasich’s office, Munroe wrote that the committee “considered a wide range of factors” including education, work experience, references, community involvement and the county bar association’s assessments.
“The governor’s office instructed us to include the bar association recommendations,” Munroe said.
The bar association two weeks ago “recommended” Sammarone for the probate seat, and gave the “not recommended” label to Maruca. Fabrizi and Rusu have not yet qualified for the ballot — the independent candidate filing deadline is May 5 — and have not been the subject of a bar association review.
“I’m very humbled and proud they chose me as one of the three names to send down for the appointment,” Sammarone said. “I’m very excited about the opportunity. It was a very exhaustive application and thorough process.”
When asked if he thought the committee didn’t recommend Maruca because she’s the endorsed Democrat, Sammarone said, “I, too, am a Democrat. My thought is they took in the experience and qualifications of the applicants.”
It will now be up to Kasich to select Belinky’s successor.
“We’ll move as quickly as we can, but we need to do background checks and interview them,” said Rob Nichols, Kasich’s spokesman. “We need to do our due diligence. We’re looking for the right person, and we’re not going to rush it.”
The primary is May 6, less than three weeks away.
Maruca said the Republican screening committee “could have waited until after the primary” to make its recommendations as either she or Sammarone will be eliminated in the Democratic runoff.
“Whoever is appointed by the governor still has to win the election,” she said. “The voters will decide.”