As in the Youngstown and Niles municipal courts, a sitting judge who has overseen operations in the Struthers Municipal Court for decades will retire this year due to state-mandated age restrictions. For voters in the district that encompasses Struthers, Poland, Lowellville, New Middletown and Springfield Township, the vacancy provides an opportunity and a quandary.
This year’s election to replace veteran Judge James R. Lanzo paves the way for a new judge to inject fresh perspectives at the helm of the court. But the crop of three intelligent and thoughtful candidates in the May 2 Democratic primary race will make that decision somewhat challenging for many voters.
One of those candidates, Atty. James E. Lanzo, has a name familiar to the court. His father with the same first name will retire this year after more than two decades on that bench. Voters should recognize that distinction before impulsively and incorrectly seeking to re-elect the incumbent judge.
“I’m very different than my dad,” he told The Vindicator Editorial Board, adding “I’m more relaxed.” The younger Lanzo, who has served as Lowellville village solicitor since 2004 and has practiced law 19 years, advocates changes toward a more efficient and user-friendly court. He proposes modernizing the court’s computer system, instituting video arraignments and enhancing security in the court building.
A second candidate in the race, Dominic Leone III, law director of Struthers and a lawyer for about 10 years, also presents many ideas for reforms. Borrowing a phrase from former President Barack Obama’s playbook, Leone calls himself “the change candidate.”
Leone’s platform includes exploration of establishing specialty drug and veterans dockets, implementing online forms to streamline operations and working more closely with city officials on budget, security and other matters. Leone impressed the board with his keen knowledge of the court’s current budget and staffing.
Atty. Jamie Dunn, the third candidate in the race, also advocates changes to create a more efficiently operated court. He vows to be a stickler for on-time court sessions and would explore other improvements that are fiscally responsible. He also said he would place a heavy premium on keeping court operations accountable and transparent to taxpayers.
In addition to those credible goals, Dunn has one overriding qualification his two challengers lack: He has served as acting judge in the Struthers court for the past 13 years. He therefore has first-person knowledge and experience in the precise duties of the judgeship. As such, he earns The Vindicator’s endorsement.
The winner of the Democratic primary will face Republican Damian P. DeGenova, the court’s magistrate, in November.