By Peter H. Milliken
Atty. Susan Maruca narrowly won the hotly contested Democratic primary for Mahoning County Probate Court judge; and Atty. Anthony Donofrio won the primary by a margin of more than 2-1 in the eight-county 7th District Court of Appeals.
In both cases, the candidates were running for six-year terms in open seats, meaning there was no incumbent in the contest.
Maruca, the Democratic Party’s endorsed candidate, faced Atty. Christopher Sammarone in the probate judge race.
Maruca got 50.48 percent to Sammarone’s 49.52 percent.
The Mahoning County Bar Association rated Sammarone as recommended and Maruca as not recommended.
“Susan ran a positive race, and the voters responded,” said Atty. David Betras, Democratic Party chairman.
“Positive campaigning prevailed,” Maruca said. “Thank God that we can work hard for the people of this county, and, at the end of the day, the families of this county win, and I’m just so grateful,” she added.
“My heart’s been in this from the beginning, and when your heart’s in it, you will prevail,” Maruca said.
“As attorneys, I want us to move past ourselves and I want us to make this court accessible for everyone in the county. ...We need to make sure that our seniors are not in isolation. We need to make sure that our adults with disabilities live with dignity,” she added.
“There’s so much I want to do that I wanted to get started yesterday, but I’ve got to wait a little while longer,” she observed.
Maruca and Sammarone were vying for the judgeship vacated by Mark Belinky, who resigned in March under a cloud of law enforcement investigation.
Belinky’s resignation followed Feb. 7 raids by state and federal law enforcement agents and county sheriff’s deputies at the probate court and at his Boardman residence.
The agents seized financial records and campaign materials and records and said charges could include engaging in a pattern of corrupt activity, tampering with records, bribery, money laundering, theft and theft in office. No charges have been filed.
After Belinky’s March 14 resignation, Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor of the Ohio Supreme Court appointed Visiting Judge R.R. Denny Clunk of Alliance as interim probate judge until June 17, or until Gov. John Kasich appoints a new judge.
The Mahoning County Republican Party has recommended Sammarone and Attys. Mary Ann Fabrizi and Robert N. Rusu Jr. to Kasich to complete Belinky’s term, which expires Feb. 8, 2015.
Fabrizi and Rusu plan to run for the probate judgeship as independent candidates in the Nov. 4 general election.
In the court of appeals race, Donofrio, who had the Democratic Party endorsement, faced David Engler in the primary for the seat being vacated by Judge Joseph J. Vukovich, who did not seek re-election to a fourth six-year term.
Donofrio beat Engler by a 68 percent to 32 percent margin in the eight-county district.
Donofrio was recommended by the Mahoning County Bar Association; Engler was not.
“This race started out very contentious and I had a lot of great advice. I was trying to be very positive from the outset, and I think we succeeded in doing that,” Donofrio said. “I plan to work very hard into November,” he said.
“The voters realize that I’m here on my own merit. I think I have the background and experience for this position, and I think that was made very clear,” he said.
“My goals are to provide the best service to the constituents in the 7th District and work very hard and work tirelessly and keep the court’s docket on track,” he said.
A Republican, Judge Carol Ann Robb of Columbiana County Municipal Court, will be on the Nov. 4 general election ballot for this seat.
The Youngstown-based appeals court serves Mahoning, Columbiana, Belmont, Carroll, Harrison, Jefferson, Monroe and Noble counties.
Mahoning County is the most populous among them, and the home of all four current 7th District appeals judges.