By Peter H. MILLIKEN
When Anthony M. D’Apolito joins his father, Judge Lou A. D’Apolito, on the Mahoning County Common Pleas Court on Jan. 3, it will apparently be the first time in that court’s history, and a rare case in Ohio, where a father and his son will simultaneously be on the bench in the same court.
Both D’Apolitos said that, as far as they know, a father-son judge combination has never before served on that court at the same time.
Anthony D’Apolito will be sworn in at 10 a.m. Wednesday in the county courthouse rotunda.
Father and son will preside over separate courtrooms and be among five judges in the court’s general division, which hears major civil and criminal cases.
“Each court is autonomous. Each court runs itself. I would have no control over Anthony’s court, nor he over mine,” said Judge Lou D’Apolito.
“It’s not as though we would confer and make a joint decision about a case. The decisions are our own, so I have no concern,” he added.
“I’m not my father’s clone. I’m not my cousin’s clone. I’m my own person,” said Anthony D’Apolito, referring to his cousin, Judge David D’Apolito of Austintown court.
“My father and myself and my cousin were not given these positions. We were not appointed to anything. We each won an election, my father and I against incumbents,” Anthony D’Apolito said.
The younger D’Apolito unseated Judge Shirley J. Christian by winning more than 60 percent of the vote in the Nov. 8 election.
Gov. John Kasich appointed Judge Christian in 2014 to succeed Judge James C. Evans, who retired that year and died in 2015.
In Mahoning County Common Pleas Court history, Judge Elwyn V. Jenkins was appointed in 1965 to succeed his father, Judge David G. Jenkins, upon his father’s retirement, but the two never served simultaneously on the bench.
In 1992, Judge Gene Donofrio ran successfully to succeed his retiring father, Judge Joseph Donofrio, on the Youngstown-based 7th District Court of Appeals, but they never served simultaneously on that court.
“There have been many instances where father and sons have served on the same court, but at different times,” including two father-son successions on the Ohio Supreme Court, said Erin N. Waltz, an Ohio Supreme Court librarian.
Waltz, the court’s library public services manager, found a 1971 Ohio case in which a father-son combination, Judges Warren and William Young, respectively, served simultaneously for a few days in Warren County Common Pleas Court before the father was appointed to the 1st District Court of Appeals.
The librarian found a few cases where fathers and sons served simultaneously on the same court in other states.
Most recently, Anthony D’Apolito, 47, has been a magistrate and court administrator in Mahoning County Juvenile Court and Poland Village solicitor.
A 1994 graduate of Case Western Reserve University School of Law, he was a prosecuting and criminal defense lawyer early in his career and worked with his father on civil cases, including personal-injury matters.
Judge Lou D’Apolito said he was surprised when his son, who was part of the successful family law firm, told him 14 years ago he wanted to apply for an opening for a juvenile court magistrate position to prepare himself for the possibility of his becoming a judge.
“We were doing well, but I felt more fulfilled when I was helping people in the course of what I was doing in the public sector as a prosecutor and working as a magistrate,” Anthony D’Apolito said.
“The best way that I could figure to help my community in Mahoning County is as a judge,” he said. “What judges do affects lives every single day,” he added.
“He’s a decent person. He’s prepared. He’s got experience in both the civil arena and the criminal arena. He’s a good administrator, and he has a real sense of fairness and he has a great judicial temperament,” Judge Lou D’Apolito said of his son.
“He’s hard working, and I believe that he’ll do a good job,” he added.
Judge Lou A. D’Apolito, 72, was elected to the common pleas court in 2008 to complete an unexpired term, and was re-elected in 2012. His current term will expire at the end of 2018.
Because state law forbids anyone from running for a judicial term that would begin after the candidate turns 70, Judge Lou D’Apolito won’t be able to run again.
“I have two years left while my son begins his journey as a judge and I conclude mine,” the elder D’Apolito said.