Scramble is on to succeed judges who can’t run again due to age


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Despite one dominant victory after another, U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan made the list of 36 incumbent Democrats being targeted nationwide in 2018 by the National Republican Congressional Committee.

To even consider defeating Ryan of Howland, D-13th, when Republicans haven’t fielded a creditable candidate against him in his seven re-election bids in a heavily Democratic district, is between ambitious and ridiculous.

Yes, Republican Donald Trump got 45 percent of the vote in last year’s presidential election in Ryan’s five-county district, which was a lot better than Mitt Romney’s 35 percent in 2012. But Ryan continues to get about two-thirds support in each general election, even in November 2016.

The 13th, which includes most of Mahoning and Trumbull counties, is among four strong Democratic districts among the 16 in the state. Republicans intentionally did that to make the 12 other congressional districts in Ohio heavily lean red.

There is talk that Ryan could run for governor next year. If so, there are plenty of established Democrats in the district who would line up to succeed him. The same can’t be said of Republicans.

Once a judge in Ohio has been elected a couple of times, that person usually has a job for life.

Well, that’s not completely true.

There’s a state law that doesn’t permit judges to run for a seat on any court if they are more than 70 years of age. That’s what typically ends the career of most judges in the state.

That’s what happened last year with two Ohio Supreme Court justices.

And we’re seeing it locally this year in three municipal courts in the Mahoning Valley.

Judges Robert Milich of Youngstown, James R. Lanzo in Struthers and Thomas Townley in Niles are too old to run for re-election this year.

That has brought out four candidates each seeking to replace Lanzo and Townley, and two candidates, so far, to succeed Milich.

Compare that to incumbent municipal judges in Mahoning and Trumbull counties who are seeking re-election this year.

In Warren, Judge Terry F. Ivanchak is running unopposed. It’s the same for Girard Municipal Court Judge Jeffrey D. Adler and for Newton Falls Municipal Court Judge Philip M. Vigorito.

In 2011, the last time these six judicial seats were up, five ran unopposed in the Democratic primary and general election.

The only competitive race was in Girard as it was an open seat. Adler was among five candidates who ran in the Democratic primary that year.

This year, two Democrats filed for Judge Milich’s seat in Youngstown – Anthony Sertick, magistrate for the past 15 years and a former assistant city law director and assistant prosecutor, and Carla Baldwin, a Mahoning County juvenile court magistrate and former assistant county prosecutor.

Also, Mark Hanni said he will run for the seat as an independent candidate.

Hanni said he would have filed as a Democrat, but is recovering from surgery and didn’t feel well enough to wage a primary race.

The primary is May 2. May 1, the day before, is the filing deadline for independent candidates to submit nominating petitions.

The race in Struthers includes three Democrats seeking that party’s nomination.

They are: Law Director Dominic R. Leone III; Judge Lanzo’s son, James E. Lanzo, an attorney; and Jamie Dunn, a former longtime visiting judge with the court.

The winner will take on Republican Damian P. DeGenova, the court’s magistrate, who faces no competition in his party’s primary.

In addition to Struthers, that court’s jurisdiction includes Lowellville, Poland, New Middletown and Springfield Township.

One early indication of who might have the advantage in the Youngstown and Struthers Democratic primaries for judge is when the party’s central and executive committee members meet Feb. 18 to endorse in those races and others on the May 2 primary ballot in the two cities.

In Niles, those seeking the open seat in the Democratic primary include city Prosecutor Terry Swauger; Chris Shaker, an acting municipal court judge whose father Mitchell Shaker was a former 22-year city law director and spent 14 years as a Trumbull County Common Pleas Court Judge; Gil Blair, a Weathersfield Township trustee who works as a prosecutor in Warren Municipal Court; and John Gargano, a former Niles prosecutor and acting city judge who now serves as Trumbull County Job and Family Services director.

Each has pretty good name recognition. I covered Niles for The Vindicator from 1995 to 2000 and dealt with three of them so they certainly have long track records.

The court serves Niles, Weathersfield Township and McDonald.

As these terms last for six years, the window of opportunity isn’t open for very long thus the interest from numerous candidates when the positions become available because of the state’s age restrictions on judges.

Next year, Mahoning County Common Pleas Court Judge Lou A. D’Apolito cannot run for re-election because of the age law.

Youngstown Deputy Law Director Anthony Donofrio, who unsuccessfully ran two years ago for a seat on the 7th District Court of Appeals, has already expressed interest in replacing Judge D’Apolito. He almost certainly won’t be the only one.

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