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Order in the court? Hardly



Published: Fri, June 20, 2014 @ 12:00 a.m.

By David Skolnick (Contact)


On the side

State bar evaluation: Between the years 2000 and 2010, the Ohio State Bar Association recommended — some higher than others — every Ohio Supreme Court candidate for office.

That streak was broke in 2012 when the bar voted to “not recommend” Sharon Kennedy, a Republican. It didn’t stop her from being elected to the court.

She didn’t participate this year, but her opponent, state Rep. Tom Letson of Warren, D-64th, did.

The outcome? He became only the second person since 1998 to get the “not recommended” designation from the bar association.

On the button: As I predicted in last week’s column, the governor selected Robert Rusu of Canfield to fill the unexpired term of Mark Belinky as Mahoning County Probate Court judge.

Don’t be impressed with my educated guess as among the three choices, Christopher Sammarone was out because he lost the Democratic primary last month. That left me with a 50-50 shot.

Judges James C. Evans and Lou D’Apolito of Mahoning County Common Pleas Court both said there were no personal issues between them — and then proceeded to trash each other.

While I’ve heard rumors for months that Judge Evans was going to retire, he recently made it official, with a Sept. 1 retirement date, in a couple of short notices to D’Apolito, the court’s administrative judge.

This came after Judge Evans’ recusal from hearing the case against two men accused of murdering Vivian Martin. The two were indicted Oct. 13, 2010, less than three weeks after Martin’s death.

There were numerous court hearings on the case and the judge said he told the prosecution and defense on Dec. 30, 2013, that he was looking to retire shortly. However, there was outrage from Martin’s friends and family that the case was delayed.

Judge Evans’ decision to recuse himself from the case and retire came a couple of hours after an interview with Vindicator reporter Joe Gorman about the Martin case. The judge said the recusal was a result of that conversation, but his retirement wasn’t.

So what about the issues between the two judges?

Judge Evans said he saw Judge D’Apolito after deciding to retire, but didn’t bother telling him because “I didn’t feel it was necessary.”

Judge Evans added that Judge D’Apolito has “been waiting for me to retire. He couldn’t wait for me to retire to get his son into this seat.”

Judge D’Apolito’s response? “Boy, is he crazy. He seems angry with me.”

The judge’s son, Anthony D’Apolito, a juvenile court magistrate, planned to run for judge in 2016.

That year, Judge Evans’ term expires as well as when Judge D’Apolito’s position would be open because the state’s judicial age-limit law forbids him from seeking another term.

With Judge Evans’ retirement, Judge D’Apolito’s son will seek to replace him.

He was at Tuesday’s Mahoning County Democratic Party precinct committee member meeting introducing himself. He told me there that he was running in November to fill the remainder of Judge Evans’ term, which expires Dec. 31, 2016.

It looks like D’Apolito is the favorite to capture the Democratic nomination for Judge Evans’ seat.

He’ll likely take on an incumbent recommended by county Republicans and appointed by Gov. John Kasich, also a Republican, in the Nov. 4 general election.

Mahoning Republicans, sensing a great opportunity to pick up another judicial seat through a gubernatorial appointment, are asking those interested in the job to fill out an application packet available online at mahoning.co.gop@gmail.com and return it by June 30.

The party will have a list of up to three finalists to Kasich by mid-July with the expectation the governor will have a successor to Evans before the judge retires. That person would almost certainly be the Republican candidate for that judicial seat in November.

It’s something that doesn’t sit well with county Democratic Party Chairman David Betras.

Betras complained that Kasich will select someone to serve about 21/2 months as a judge, saying an appointment is a waste of everyone’s time.

Mahoning County Republican Party Chairman Mark Munroe said the person selected “will certainly benefit if they receive the appointment and can run as an incumbent.”

That’s what happened in 2004 when then-Gov. Bob Taft, a Republican, selected Maureen Sweeney, also a Republican, to a seat vacated by a Democratic judge. Ten years later, she still has that position.


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