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No order in the court (races)

Published: Fri, February 7, 2014 @ 12:00 a.m.

By David Skolnick (Contact)

On the side

No challenger ... yet: Mahoning County Democratic Party Chairman David Betras doesn’t have an opponent, to date, for re-election.

And if anyone wants to challenge Betras, it’s going to be difficult to beat him.

Party leadership fielded about 240 candidates for the 273 precinct committee member seats. Also, there’s less than 40 competitive races for those elected posts.

The party will have a reorganizational meeting after the May 6 primary to elect a chairman and other leadership positions. Precinct committee members and those on the party’s executive committee — all of whom are appointed by Betras and can be removed by him at any point — vote on who is chairman and the other leadership spots.

Betras was elected April 27, 2009, as chairman to fill the unexpired term of Lisa Antonini. He was elected to a full four-year term June 2, 2010.

Members of the two committees also vote on endorsements, and will meet later this month or early next month to make those selections.

Judicial races are typically boring.

That is, if there are any candidates for those races.

For example, the three common pleas judges in Mahoning County up for re-election — R. Scott Krichbaum, Maureen A. Sweeney and John M. Durkin — are all running unopposed.

But the races for two seats on the 7th District Court of Appeals, based in Youngstown, and the Mahoning County Probate Court judicial position are among the most compelling on the May 6 Democratic primary ballot.

We’ve already seen some back-and-forth — though one initiated it and the other responded — between the two Democratic candidates running for a seat on the 7th District that is currently held by Judge Joseph J. Vukovich, who isn’t seeking re-election.

It started with former Mahoning County Commissioner David L. Engler, a member of the county educational service board and a 29-year attorney, calling for his Democratic primary opponent, Youngstown Deputy Law Director Anthony Donofrio, to withdraw.

Engler said Donofrio should get out of the race because his brother, Judge Gene Donofrio, already serves on the court.

During an interview with me, Engler first talked about his qualifications — no candidate or judge has his level of experience representing people than him — and then spent several minutes explaining why it is wrong to have brothers on this four-person court.

He also accused Gene of campaigning to help get his brother elected, which is a no-no, and that Anthony is running on his last name with the hope voters will be confused.

When I asked Engler to respond to what I anticipated his opponent would say about his 2006 “public reprimand” from the Ohio Supreme Court for having consensual sex with a client in 2004, I got a funny response. (As I expected, Donofrio did bring it up when I interviewed him.)

“It would be disappointing to have a negative campaign,” said Engler, after spending several minutes criticizing Donofrio.

Donofrio said there is no law prohibiting brothers from serving on the same court, he won’t withdraw, he and his brother don’t agree on everything, and it’s permissible under state law.

Judge Cheryl L. Waite of the 7th District didn’t have opponents during her two re-election campaigns in 2002 and 2008. In the upcoming Democratic primary, she has two.

She’ll face Mark A. Hanni, who you can always count on for a colorful comment, and Maureen A. Walsh, a former Stark County assistant prosecutor.

Judge Waite may be out of practice campaigning since she hasn’t had to beat anyone since her first race in 1996, but I’m sure she’ll work hard to get re-elected.

Hanni is off a 2012 unsuccessful campaign for a seat on the 7th District, which takes in Mahoning, Columbiana, Belmont, Carroll, Harrison, Jefferson, Monroe and Noble counties. Though he lost two years ago by about 4 percentage points, Hanni spent time campaigning throughout the 7th District then and has been doing the same the past few months.

Finally, Mahoning County Probate Court Judge Mark Belinky, who’s served since December 2007 in the seat, is seeking re-election. He’s facing Susan Maruca, who he beat in the 2008 Democratic primary, and Christopher Sammarone, who lost a 2006 Democratic primary for a seat on the 7th District bench.

Belinky’s financial troubles, including five judgments against him for unpaid taxes and a $20,000 loan, could pose problems for the judge.

Maruca recently had a well-attended fundraiser and Sammarone has good name ID as his father spent the last 21/2 years as Youngstown’s mayor.


1author50(1121 comments)posted 2 years, 5 months ago

Will Chris Sammarone be allowed to use the $20,000.00-$40,000.00 his daddy voted on as mayor to give him (courtesy of the taxpayers of Youngstown -- whose average household income is $26,000) for opening up one failed bar (Dooneys) and one struggling bar (Warehouse 50) for campaign ad buys?

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2Nom_De_Plume(60 comments)posted 2 years, 5 months ago

I don't even know where to start. It's like sensory overload.

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3DwightS(6 comments)posted 2 years, 5 months ago

Attorney Engler's experience and ability to be fair and follow the rule of law should be the only concern any voter has in my opinion.

Having two Donofrios on the Appellate Court will likely cost everyone more money. And allow them both to collect compensation for doing half a job.

How you ask?

Only one of the brothers will be able to hear any case at a time. So if there are two of them on a court with only four judges; nearly everytime a case comes up, one of them will be excluded from hearing the case.

So either a visiting judge has to hear it at additional cost or the other two judges are doing double duty and Donofrio's doing half duty.

I would trust Attorney Engler way before I would trust any Donofrio simply because of this issue. It looks like Donofrios are trying to use their current clout and positions to beat the system. And get paid for nothing.

At least when Attorney Engler gets paid; he has earned it.

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4michael1757(490 comments)posted 2 years, 5 months ago

With those bags under belinkys eyes,he looks like he playin' with the white powder.With all the money hes gone through,& he doesn't live in a mansion,wheres that money goin'?

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