By PETER H. MILIKEN
Judge Robert N. Rusu Jr. vowed to take Mahoning County’s probate court in a new direction after he was sworn in Tuesday as probate judge.
“This is truly a dream come true. I look forward to moving the court in a new and positive direction with the great staff that’s in place and the new technological advancements available,” he told a crowd that included lawyers, judges, court personnel and other county workers.
“I look forward to instilling integrity, efficiency and a common-sense approach to the court,” he said during the ceremony.
“I’m truly humbled and privileged to be able to serve as your new probate judge,” he said, his voice echoing through the county courthouse rotunda.
Judge Rusu, who was appointed by Gov. John Kasich, will complete the term of Mark Belinky, which expires Feb. 8, 2015.
Judge Rusu was sworn in by visiting Judge R.R. Denny Clunk of Alliance, retired Stark County probate judge, who had been the interim probate judge here for nearly four months.
Judge Rusu was then robed by his children, Nathaniel, Michael, Alex and Mackenzie.
Judge Clunk noted the red border around the robe’s collar, which is the designation of a probate judge. That’s because: “In old England, they were members of the ecclesiastical group,” Judge Clunk said of probate judges.
A graduate of Youngstown State University and the Thomas M. Cooley Law School in Lansing, Mich., Judge Rusu resides in Canfield with his wife, Cheryl, and their children.
A lawyer for the past 21 years and a past Mahoning County Bar Association president, Judge Rusu exclusively focused his law practice on elder law, estate planning, Medicaid and matters regarding aging.
Judge Rusu will be an independent candidate for a six-year term as probate judge in the Nov. 4 election, with Democrat Susan Maruca challenging him.
Belinky resigned March 14, pleaded guilty to tampering with records May 8, and will be sentenced at 1:30 p.m. today by visiting Judge Ronald Suster of Mahoning County Common Pleas Court.
Belinky, who turned 62 on Tuesday, could face up to an 18-month prison term; but the Ohio Attorney General’s Office, which is prosecuting the case, is recommending probation.
As part of the plea deal with the Attorney General’s Office, Belinky agreed to quit the Democratic primary for his seat, surrender his law license and continue to cooperate with the prosecution.
The Ohio Supreme Court accepted Belinky’s resignation from law practice Thursday.
Investigators from the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation, the FBI and the Mahoning County Sheriff’s Office served search warrants at the probate court and at Belinky’s Boardman home Feb. 7, seizing bank, tax and campaign finance records.
The bill of information, to which Belinky pleaded guilty, says he failed to record more than $7,500 in contributions, expenditures or loans to his campaign fund between Oct. 23 and Dec. 10, 2008.