By Peter H. Milliken
Voters will choose in the Nov. 8 election between incumbent Republican Judge Shirley J. Christian of Mahoning County Common Pleas Court and her Democratic challenger, Anthony D’Apolito.
Judge Christian was appointed in 2014 by Gov. John Kasich to replace Judge James C. Evans, who retired that year and died in 2015.
Judge Christian was president of the Mahoning County Bar Association in 2012-13.
Anthony D’Apolito is a magistrate and court administrator at the county juvenile court and Poland Village solicitor.
This election is for a six-year term in the judgeship that now pays $127,450 a year and will pay $133,850 annually beginning Jan. 1.
As for her qualifications, Judge Christian cites her 28 years as a civil trial lawyer, during which she handled more than 500 common pleas court cases here, many of them complex matters.
She practiced medical malpractice defense and employment and labor law.
“I spent my entire career practicing in this court [and others like it], adult problems, adult solutions,” she said, noting that civil cases outnumber criminal cases on the common pleas court docket by a 3-1 ratio.
She acknowledged, however, she had no criminal law experience until she became a judge.
“I’ve gained that experience in two years, and I’ve gained it very quickly and I’ve done it well,” she added.
“I’ve been fair. I’ve been efficient, and I believe I’ve served the people of this county very well,” Judge Christian said.
“I know what it’s like when cases drag out through the system, so I made it my top priority initially to reduce the docket to get the backlog out of the court,” she added.
As a judge, she said she has presided over 20 jury trials and resolved more than 2,000 cases to reduce the case backlog in her court by 36 percent.
Judge Christian prides herself on reducing the number of cases in her court pending longer than the Ohio Supreme Court guideline limits from 128 on Oct. 1, 2014, to 12 on Aug. 30 this year.
She added that she’d like to continue with the launch of her veterans court and with her efforts to educate the public about court operations.
D’Apolito cites his diversified legal experience, including his having been an assistant prosecutor for Struthers and Youngstown and in the criminal division of the Mahoning County prosecutor’s office.
He also cites his having been a defense lawyer, a small-claims referee in Struthers and a part-time Youngstown State University faculty member.
As a juvenile court magistrate for the past 14 years, D’Apolito said he has made valuable contributions to cutting juvenile crime here by more than 80 percent and to reducing the juvenile detention population and repeat juvenile offenses.
“There’s a lot that you can learn in the adult system from how we do things in the juvenile system that can benefit the community,” D’Apolito said.
“If the adult system would like to have crime cut by 80 percent in the next eight years or four years, I know how to do that. I’ve done it in the juvenile world,” D’Apolito said.
He said he has done that by considering not only the crime the offender committed, but why he or she committed it.
“If the adult system would like to learn how to understand the root causes of crime, I know how to do that. We’ve done that in the juvenile system by asking why,” he said.
D’Apolito cited the case of a youthful offender appearing before him who stole an Xbox in a home burglary to support his drug addiction.
“I didn’t have a thief. I had an addict, who had to commit offenses to feed his addiction, and, if I treated the addict, the thief would go away,” he observed.
Rather than incarcerating him for 90 days as would have been done in the past, “I put him in our drug program, and he got help,” he recalled.
“That type of thinking is what we expanded upon in the juvenile system,” said D’Apolito, who became the juvenile court’s drug court magistrate about eight years ago.
D’Apolito said a juvenile mental-health court docket was established here after it became clear in drug court that some juveniles with mental illness were self-medicating with drugs.
D’Apolito also said he wants to use his experience in presiding over the juvenile court’s drug, mental health and re-entry court specialty dockets to help him maximize the benefits of the new specialized common pleas veterans court.