Mahoning County Democratic Party Chairman David Betras got on his political high horse last week to jab at Republican Gov. John Kasich for appointing Canfield Atty. Robert Rusu to the vacant county probate judgeship. There’s just one problem with Betras’ verbal attack: The governor’s appointment was made possible by a (surprise!) corrupt Democratic officeholder.
So, if there’s anyone deserving of the chairman’s venom, it’s former judge-turned-convicted felon Mark Belinky.
Not only did Belinky’s fall from grace send shock waves through the legal establishment (considering his well-earned reputation as one of the best probate judges in the history of the Mahoning Valley), but it has given Betras as chairman a major political headache.
Hence, his braying over Gov. Kasich’s appointment of Rusu, who receives high marks from lawyers specializing in probate law.
It is noteworthy that some of the same individuals who were singing Belinky’s praises when he took over the probate judgeship in 2007 are touting Rusu’s credentials.
There is palpable irony in Betras’ criticism of Kasich for filling the vacancy in the probate court: In 2007, Belinky became judge when then-Democratic Gov. Ted Strickland appointed him to replace Timothy Maloney, who had retired.
Belinky ran for the office in 2008 and won the Democratic nomination by defeating Struthers Municipal Court Judge James Lanzo and Atty. Susan Maruca, who is seeking the judgeship this year. He went on to defeat Republican Scott Hunter, a county court judge, in the general election.
Belinky began his full six-year term in February 2009 and was seeking re-election this year when his sordid past caught up with him. His office in the county courthouse and his home were raided by state investigators, with the assistance of the FBI and sheriff’s deputies. They carted away boxes of documents, computers and campaign paraphernalia that seemed to have bolstered the criminal case against the judge.
After initially proclaiming his innocence — don’t they all? — and vowing to fight to the bitter end, Belinky folded like a cheap suit.
He has pleaded guilty to tampering with records, a felony, and will be sentenced July 9. He could receive a maximum prison term of 18 months, but the former high-ranking elected official who resigned in shame and had to give up his law license temporarily may get a break. The Ohio Attorney General’s Office, led by Republican Mike DeWine, is recommending that the Democrat receive community-control supervision.
The final decision rests with Visiting Judge Ronald Suster, who is retired from Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court.
Regardless of what occurs next month, Belinky will be front-page news for a while because as a condition of his getting a tap on the wrist he must fully cooperate in other ongoing investigations of government corruption — which continue to feature Democratic officeholders, among others.
Therein lies party Chairman Betras’ dilemma. How does his party’s candidate for probate judge, Maruca, who won the nomination in the May primary against Atty. Chris Sammarone by a mere 200 votes, campaign in the fall?
Maruca is facing two candidates in the general election: Rusu, who begins his stint as probate judge on July 8 and will serve until Feb. 8, 2015, when the new term begins; and Mary Ann Fabrizi. Both are running as independents.
It is noteworthy that the county Republican Party submitted the names of Rusu, Fabrizi and Sammarone for the governor’s consideration, but did not put Maruca on the list — even though she had applied for the gubernatorial appointment.
As the roll of Democratic officeholders who have violated the public’s trust grows, the case for electing Republicans in this heavily Democratic region gets stronger.
Rather than sitting on his high horse berating the governor for filling a vacancy created by the criminality of a Democratic officeholder, Betras would do well to take a crash course in magic, because he’ll need all the tricks of the political trade to persuade voters in the November general election that having a Democrat in the probate court is still a good thing.
This isn’t about Maruca; it’s about the political millstone around her neck.