Much is at stake for responsible voters in Youngstown next month when they will be asked to fill a looming vacancy on the bench of the Youngstown Municipal Court.
After three decades of service, veteran Judge Robert P. Milich will step down at year’s end, making the May 2 primary election critical for the future direction of the two-judge city court district.
Fortunately for voters in Youngstown, two candidates with noteworthy credentials, strong commitments to public service and realistic visions for future improvement of the court have thrown their hats in the ring for the Democratic Party nomination.
No Republicans have filed to run, so victory in the primary likely is tantamount to winning the seat.
That seat wields more importance to city residents than many realize. It is the court that most likely will touch the lives of city residents directly.
The victor will join veteran Judge Elizabeth Kobly in carrying out the functions of the court, which include presiding over arraignments, felony initial appearances, pretrials, bench trials, jury trials, preliminary hearings, probation violation hearings and many other types of criminal proceedings.
In the civil docket, the judge handles personal-injury claims, property damage claims and other torts, contract disputes, credit-card defaults, loan defaults, eviction proceedings, small claims, trusteeships and garnishments.
In many respects, the candidates – Attys. Anthony Sertick and Carla Baldwin – share common goals and platforms. Both also have years of experience as criminal prosecutors.
Sertick, who has served as a magistrate in the city court for the past 16 years, and Baldwin, who has served as magistrate in the Mahoning County Juvenile Court since January, both espouse a commitment to applying justice equitably for all who come before the court.
Baldwin, an African-American woman, says she would bring a ‘‘unique and diverse perspective” to the bench as a woman and a minority and would try to stop the “revolving door” of incarceration through diversionary and alternative programs to address the underlying causes of criminal activity.
Sertick said he, too, would treat everyone fairly. “I know there have been injustices to the African-American community,” he told The Vindicator’s Editorial Board.
Both Baldwin and Sertick also advocate strengthening specialized courts.
Baldwin said she hopes to find a funding source to restart a drug court that would also address mental-health issues affecting defendants. Sertick vows to strengthen the Veterans Court that Judge Milich initiated several years ago and he also sees the value in a docket addressing drug addiction and mental-health issues as well.
But both candidates also wisely recognize that specialized programming does not work for every defendant. “Those who need to be locked up will be locked up,” Baldwin said.
“I’m always fair, but I’m also firm,” Sertick said.
SERTICK GETS THE EDGE
In exploring differences between the two candidates, one, however, stands out clearly: experience. With 16 years of employment in the municipal court, Sertick has grown to understand its inner workings and has initiated practices to improve its administration of justice.
He has helped to lessen the docket, which is about 4,000 cases per year – by encouraging informal mediation between parties in criminal and civil cases to reach settlements more quickly.
“There hasn’t been any kind of case before the municipal court that I haven’t handled,” Sertick said during his endorsement interview.
He’s also already rotated between Judge Milich and Judge Kobly in handling criminal arraignments in the court.
This is one race in which experience directly tied to the duties of the office clearly does matter. Because of Sertick’s 16 years of seasoning in the hands-on work of the court in which he’d rule, The Vindicator endorses him for the six-year term that commences next January.