No endorsement in the race for Mahoning probate judge

Off-the-record conversations with reliable sources are the stock-in-trade of the newspaper business. More often than not, the conversations lead to important news stories, but there are times when confirmation of the confidential information is just about impossible. Dead ends are also a fact of life for journalists.

Today, we find ourselves at such a dead end, which has led to our decision not to make an endorsement in Tuesday’s Democratic primary for Mahoning County probate judge.

There are two candidates seeking the nomination, Atty. Susan Maruca, who ran for the office six years ago and came in third, and Atty. Chris-topher Sammarone, who ran unsuccessfully in 2006 for the 7th District Court of Appeals.

Maruca is the Democratic Party’s endorsed candidate, while Sammarone received a “recommended” rating from the county bar association. The association did not recommend Maruca for the judgeship.

Sammarone is also one of three lawyers recommended by the county Republican Party for appointment by Gov. John Kasich to fill the vacancy on the bench created by the resignation of Judge Mark Belinky. The appointee would serve out Belinky’s term, which expires in February 2015.

Recently, we were made aware of unconfirmed developments in the probate judge race that gave us pause.

We promised to stay off-the-record in exchange for hearing the information. Despite trying, we haven’t been able to confirm its truth to our satisfaction, nor have we been able to debunk it to our satisfaction.

Our source has declined to release us from our promise to keep it off-the-record.

We recognize that the Democratic nomination for probate judge is of singular importance given the recent turmoil in the court.

The resignation in March of Belinky, who is being investigated by the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation, has focused public attention on the operation of the court.

Belinky has insisted he has done nothing wrong and resigned for the good of the community.

Prior to his stepping down, BCI agents, with the assistance of the FBI and the sheriff’s department, raided his office in the courthouse and his home in Boardman. They left with boxes of documents, various other articles and computers.

Possible charges

Court documents related to the search showed that he could be charged with engaging in a pattern of corrupt activity, tampering with records, bribery, money laundering, theft and theft in office.

Against that backdrop, we were eager to let our readers know which one of the two contenders we believe should succeed Belinky. Members of The Vindicator editorial board had interviewed Maruca and Sammarone separately and had carefully reviewed the answers they provided on the survey forms we send to all candidates.

We are never comfortable not making an endorsement, but in light of the information that was given to us — which we have not been able to independently verify or debunk — we cannot, in good conscience, express our preference.

We know that we are opening ourselves up to criticism for not taking a stand, given that there won’t be a Republican nominee in the general election.

But, as we conceded at the outset, we’ve reached a dead end — and we’re not happy about it.

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