Local Judge DeGenaro gets a boost in her bid for Ohio Supreme Court

On the side

Endorsement interviews in certain races on the Nov. 7 ballot start Monday at The Vindicator. Letters were sent by mail a few weeks ago to candidates in those targeted races to fill out questionnaires and contact us for endorsement interviews. We haven’t heard from the following: Cecil Monroe in the Youngstown mayor’s race, Matt Schriner and John Mashiska in the Austintown trustee race, and Henry Hassay for Poland trustee.

To those mentioned, please contact me at skolnick@vindy.com to get information on filling out our online form and call Bertram de Souza at 330-720-3105 as soon as possible to come in for endorsement interviews.

The Ohio Republican Party state central committee is to meet today and endorse 7th District Court of Appeals Judge Mary DeGenaro of Poland as one of the GOP’s two candidates for seats on the state Supreme Court in 2018.

And the race to succeed her on the court of appeals has already attracted the interest of three candidates, including two of Mahoning County’s most-prominent and longest-serving elected officials.

But first, Judge DeGenaro’s endorsement today. It’s something that’s been in the works for a number of years with the judge screening a few times for the job.

That she would get the endorsement was almost predetermined two years ago.

Then-Ohio Republican Party Chairman Matt Borges wrote in a 2015 letter to state central committee members that Judge DeGenaro, who screened for a vacant Supreme Court seat for the 2016 election, is “a Republican who consistently wins in a Democratic area of the state and has pledged not to challenge the party’s endorsement. I thank her for putting her own interest aside for now. She will make an excellent candidate in the future when that opportunity arises.”

When I asked her in 2015 about running in the 2018 election, the judge said: “I’m keeping my options open. I’ve been encouraged to continue to think about a statewide run. 2018 is a long way away.”

That “long way away” is now upon us.

Earlier this week, Judge DeGenaro told me: “I’ve aspired to be an Ohio Supreme Court justice for quite a while. It would be an honor to represent Mahoning County and the 7th District Court of Appeals on the Ohio Supreme Court. I’m looking forward to putting a lot of miles on the old minivan, meeting more people and going to more of the state.”

Rather than run for re-election to the appeals court next year – she was first elected in 2000 and won races in 2006 and 2012 – Judge DeGenaro is rolling the dice on a Supreme Court bid.

History is definitely on her side.

While judicial candidates don’t run with party affiliation in the general election in Ohio – though they do in primaries – Republicans have lost only one Supreme Court election in the past 16 years.

If elected, Judge DeGenaro would be the first sitting judge from Mahoning County on the Ohio Supreme Court in 50 years.

As for who would replace Judge DeGenaro, Mahoning County Common Pleas Court Judge R. Scott Krichbaum, a Republican who has enjoyed support from labor unions, said he intends to run.

On the Democratic side, Mahoning County Prosecutor Paul J. Gains said he’s “seriously looking at” seeking the position while Youngstown Law Director Martin Hume said he’s “interested in running.”

Judge Krichbaum has served on the bench for 27 years and is a former defense attorney and bailiff.

“I’m perfectly suited for the court of appeals bench,” he said. “You can’t have any more experience than I have.”

Gains, county prosecutor 20 years, said, “I’ve been a police officer, a defense lawyer, prosecutor, a victim of a crime [he was shot in a mob-ordered hit] and a witness in a Mafia trial. I’ve prosecuted death penalty cases. I bring experience to that court that no one else brings. Nobody else has that experience.”

Hume, law director for nearly four years, has unsuccessfully sought the Democratic nomination for the 11th District Court of Appeals in 1998 and for Girard Municipal Court in 2011 when he was a Liberty resident.

“I’ve always had a desire to serve as a judge,” he said. “My background as a criminal and civil attorney and as a law director makes me a strong candidate.”

Not to dismiss Hume, but a Krichbaum-Gains matchup would be one of the most compelling on the 2018 ticket, pitting two skilled political candidates against each other.

The 7th District includes Mahoning, Columbiana, Belmont, Carroll, Harrison, Jefferson, Monroe and Noble counties. Three of the four judges are from Mahoning County with the other – Judge Carol Ann Robb – from Columbiana County.

“It will be very competitive,” said Mahoning County Democratic Party Chairman David Betras. “Judge Krichbaum and Paul Gains are as highly prominent public servants as you can get in Mahoning County. They both have won numerous elections.”

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