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Mahoning probate race centers on hopefuls’ qualifications

Published: Sun, April 27, 2014 @ 12:09 a.m.

By Peter H. Milliken



Perhaps the most hotly contested Mahoning County Democratic Primary race on May 6 will be the one for the open probate judge seat vacated by Mark Belinky, who resigned in March under a cloud of law-enforcement investigation.

The candidates are Atty. Susan Maruca, who has the Democratic Party endorsement, and Atty. Christopher Sammarone.

In contrast, the Mahoning County Bar Association rates Sammarone as recommended and Maruca as not recommended.

Much of the dispute in the Maruca-Sammarone contest centers on which candidate is more qualified and experienced in handling probate matters.

“This position requires somebody that the public can trust, that has integrity, and has the necessary qualifications and experience to oversee that court and its operations, and I believe I possess all of those attributes,” Sammarone told The Vindicator’s editorial board.

“Our next probate judge has to have experience in that court,” Sammarone said. “She’s spent more time campaigning for this than practicing in Mahoning County Probate Court,” Sammarone said of his opponent.

“To say that I don’t have experience is unfair,” Maruca said, adding that she has worked for the Warren probate law firm of Letson & Swader LPC since September 2010.

On the Mahoning County Probate Court’s public docket, Sammarone is listed as a lawyer on 62 cases since 1999, primarily in estate and guardianship cases.

On that docket, Maruca is listed on just one case on the court’s public docket as a next of kin in a 2004 estate case.

On the nonpublic docket, however, Maruca was a lawyer in 10 adoption proceedings between 1999 and 2004, but none since then.

Sammarone is not listed as a lawyer in any adoption proceedings there.

Maruca’s Trumbull County Probate Court public docket record shows her as a lawyer in a deposit of a will for safekeeping and a guardianship case, both in 2001, and in a 2012 estate case.

She is listed in 14 cases on the nonpublic adoption docket since 2000, according to Trumbull County Probate Judge Thomas Swift.

In other matters there, Maruca was a plaintiff in a 2011 land-sale proceeding and co-administrator in a 2010 estate case.

Sammarone deposited two wills in Trumbull County Probate Court in 2006 and is listed on one estate case in 2002 and two estate cases in 2007. He also handled a guardianship case in 2004 and an adoption in 2009.

There is no record of Maruca or Sammarone on any Columbiana County Probate Court public docket case going back to 1996, but Sammarone handled one adoption case there in 2006.

Maruca calls attention to her handling of the adoption cases and says she has done legal research and writing for many cases on which she is not listed on the court docket as the lawyer of record. “I’m very good at research and writing,” she said.

Maruca said she has handled about 25 adoption cases during her legal career, beginning with international adoptions 20 years ago.

“I want that court to get on stable ground, and I think that I have the experience, the passion and the commitment to do it,” Maruca said of the probate court.

Maruca noted that both Judge Timothy Maloney and Belinky left the probate court before the end of their terms.

Belinky’s resignation followed Feb. 7 raids by state and federal law-enforcement agencies and county sheriff’s deputies at the probate court and at his Boardman residence.

The agents seized financial records and campaign materials and records and said charges could include engaging in a pattern of corrupt activity, tampering with records, bribery, money laundering, theft and theft in office, No charges have been filed.

After Belinky’s March 14 resignation, Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor of the Ohio Supreme Court appointed Visiting Judge R.R. Denny Clunk of Alliance as interim probate judge until June 17, or until Gov. John Kasich appoints a new judge.

The Mahoning County Republican Party has recommended Sammarone and Attys. Mary Ann Fabrizi and Robert N. Rusu Jr. to Kasich to complete Belinky’s term, which expires Feb. 8, 2015.

Fabrizi and Rusu plan to run as independent candidates for the judgeship in November.

Maruca was the only one of the four applicants for the county GOP’s recommendation that the party did not recommend to the governor.


1Southside_Res(172 comments)posted 4 months, 4 weeks ago

Essentially, then, neither judicial candidate has the depth to sit on the bench as probate judge. Just frigging wonderful!

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2Joe6pack(52 comments)posted 4 months, 4 weeks ago

Well Southside_Res that's not the whole story. It takes two to tango and Belinky didn't commit his crimes by himself. It's interesting that the Sammarone campaign is funded by the same people who backed Belinky. On that fact and the fact that the Bar Association has a grudge against her (they knew all along what was going on in the Belinky court and did nothing) I will be voting for Maruca.

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3tafy(86 comments)posted 4 months, 4 weeks ago

Why did Maruca leave Betras and Kopp?? What was that all about??

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4reallythink(9 comments)posted 4 months, 4 weeks ago

First, lets talk about how Sammarone got many if not the majority of his cases since 2008, Belinky. The probate judge assigns many of the cases that go in front of their court to an attorney of their choice! The judge also has the power to assign attorneys to be on certain boards! Example, Belinky gave Sammarone the board position for MCBDD, and look what has happened there. How come there has been nothing noted in the paper on how he has let that board down! If any organization needs to have a comfortable work environment it is MCBDD. Their job is stressful enough without having a hostel work environment. Lastly, Sammarone's advertisement is appalling. He really never says anything about himself to prove how good he is, he just tries to BEAT the other down, tacky. If Maruca is not qualified then why has she been endorsed by ALL the large organization that count. Each one of those organization Sammarone applied and INTERVIEWED for and did not receive. All Sammarone has to hang his hat on is the one that had no interview process and actually they chose Belinky over all of them go figure. Mahoning Valley needs a change and it starts with MARUCA!

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5tafy(86 comments)posted 4 months, 4 weeks ago

Listener. I'm not even a resident of Mahoning County. I just find the politics there as interesting as a murder mystery. Actually I really do find them hillarious to say the least. They are even more hillarious when one knows the entire story behind the canidates and their supporters.

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6handymandave(474 comments)posted 4 months, 3 weeks ago

Looks like the best of the unqualified candidates is going to be Maruca.

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7realmen(35 comments)posted 4 months, 3 weeks ago

tafy: this is a FACT. Susan Maruca was FIRED by Dave Betras !!!! And now he supports her, what a joke, but very typical for Mahoning County. The ATTORNEYS know she is not qualified. Check her cases lately, she barely practices law because she is working on a journalism degree from YSU.

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8Joe6pack(52 comments)posted 4 months, 3 weeks ago

Rumor is Chuck and Chris Sammarone are both under investigation for something to do with the probate race. These guys are bad news and we certainly don't need a new judge like Belinky.

Vote Maruca to clean up the probate court.

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9realmen(35 comments)posted 4 months, 3 weeks ago

listener, where do you get your info? You are so blinded and out of touch with reality.

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10reallythink(9 comments)posted 4 months, 3 weeks ago

Realmen - think how can a partner get fired!!!! They dissolved their partnership and that's all there is to it! It happens all the time. Betras has had a few old partners if you think back. Secondly, the HANDFUL of attorneys that your talking about are the kind that I nor would anyone I know would hire. REMEMBER that endorsement really didn't go to him anyhow that should say it all. Lastly, as I stated earlier as far as endorsements that they interviewed for, yes had to interview for and give all their qualifications to, Maruca 12 Sammarone 0, How can soooo many organizations be so wrong!!! The right choice MARUCA for probate judge.

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11realmen(35 comments)posted 4 months, 3 weeks ago

I don't care who wins. I just despise when people talk and they don't know what they are talking about. See, you are assuming (and you know what they say about people who assume) that it was an equal partnership. However Atty. Betras was the major partner therefore he can do as he pleases. And when he fires her, he buys her share. I see how much you know and understand about business !

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12bmanresident(597 comments)posted 4 months, 3 weeks ago

Sammarone is a proven leader said Jim Tressel, OVER TWENTY YEARS AGO! That is his campaign platform, football from twenty years ago.
It's such a shame that the morons of Mahoning County wont vote Republican, that is what is truly needed in this Valley

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13realmen(35 comments)posted 4 months, 3 weeks ago

I totally agree !!!

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14reallythink(9 comments)posted 4 months, 3 weeks ago

realmen - that's the difference between you and me, I do care who wins probate judge! I care who wins all the races, I just don't vote to vote I vote to try and make a change for Mahoning County. And talk about getting "facts" straight she is not a student at YSU but an instructor. All you had to do is read the article, Probate Court Candidates, where she lists it as part time employment. As far as me understanding business I knew he had to buy her out the only dispute I have is that you claim fired I claim leaving on her terms!

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15realmen(35 comments)posted 4 months, 3 weeks ago

I don't claim, I KNOW first hand she was fired !!! Just because she is teaching does not mean she is not taking classes. Again, I KNOW for a fact she is taking classes !! So how much time does she spend practicing law? I have spoken to many lawyers and they don't think she even knows WHERE the probate court is

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16reallythink(9 comments)posted 4 months, 3 weeks ago

You don't KNOW anything!!!!!

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17realmen(35 comments)posted 4 months, 3 weeks ago

If you only knew !!! I cannot reveal my identity !!

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