Evans has Betras reeling

On the side

Happy to be back: “It’s been a long time, been a long time, been a long, lonely, lonely, lonely, lonely, lonely time.”

Well, honestly, it’s only been about a month since my last column. It just seems longer to me.

I returned to work Monday, a day shy of three weeks since I had arthroscopic surgery to remove bone spurs from my left shoulder.

I’m left-handed so, at least for now, I can’t write as fast as I did. But to the joy of some and the dismay of others, I’m back and don’t plan on going anywhere.

While I was out, I missed some interesting stories including the implosion of Ed FitzGerald, the Democratic nominee for governor, and the Aug. 20 special Youngstown City Council meeting that was confusing to some — even a few council members. I’m sure they’ll be plenty more of note to cover in the coming weeks.

When Judge James C. Evans of Mahoning County Common Pleas Court retires Oct. 1, his time on the bench will be noted for his sense of fairness and knowledge of the law.

In my dealings with the judge, he’s been warm, engaging, friendly, funny and helpful. Almost every year, I run into the judge at the Canfield Fair, where he’s spent two decades as a director. We usually have a brief, pleasant conversation.

However, there are many who would say his legacy will be tainted by a series of decisions he’s made recently that purposely took the vote of his successor away from the people.

The judge had spoken for months about retirement, but there was no warning when he finally decided to do so in mid-June with his final day on the bench being Sept. 1.

An important note about Judge Evans is there seems to be legitimate heat between him and Lou D’Apolito, the court’s administrative judge and fellow Democrat. Both deny it, but their public criticism of each other betrays those denials.

Judge Evans’ Sept. 1 retirement didn’t leave much time for those wanting to succeed him and finish his term, which expires Dec. 31, 2016. But it did leave enough time for that unexpired term to be on the Nov. 4 ballot.

That is until Judge Evans changed his mind a month ago to postpone his retirement until Oct. 1.

The delay meant that under state law, there will be no special election for the two-plus years remaining on his term. Instead, the person chosen by Republican Gov. John Kasich would serve the rest of that term.

Kasich announced Wednesday that Shirley J. Christian of New Springfield would succeed Judge Evans on Oct. 2.

The appointment came as no surprise.

Christian is certainly qualified for the job, and while there is a dispute over her voting in the 2012 Democratic primary, she’s voted in the 2004 and 2010 Republican primaries.

That doesn’t make her a hard-core Republican, but in comparison to the two other finalists for the seat — Anthony M. D’Apolito and Robert J. Andrews — she’s Ronald Reagan.

D’Apolito — son of the common pleas judge who has the issues with Judge Evans — had the inside track to be the Democratic nominee in the Nov. 4 election for this seat, and Andrews was seeking that political party’s support for the job.

While Judge Evans told a Vindicator reporter July 31 that the timing of his departure had nothing to do with the election, he wrote in a letter a day earlier to Ohio Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor that it was a factor.

Delaying the retirement by a month “will allow my successor as appointed by Gov. Kasich to have an extended period of time in office while completing my current term before having to run in the general election,” Judge Evans wrote.

The appearance is the judge changed his retirement to block Anthony M. D’Apolito from possibly succeeding him.

Judge Evans made the decision to allow the governor to appoint a replacement for two-plus years without a vote of the people, said Mahoning County Democratic Party Chairman David Betras.

Betras said he is “wildly disappointed in Judge Evans” for his decision to take that vote away from citizens.

He’s not alone.

Don't Miss a Story

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