Dascenzo has the edge in common pleas court race

How much of an advantage is it for one judicial candidate to have served in the court over another who has been a lawyer longer but has not worn a robe?

That question goes to the heart of the May 8 race for the Democratic nomination for Mahoning County Common Pleas Court.

The winner of the primary will in all likelihood take the oath of office in January. There’s no Republican in the race, and while the deadline for an independent to file petitions is May 7, the chances of success in the general election are slim.

Thus, the decision Democratic voters make will have far-reaching implications.

There are two contenders for the party’s nomination: Daniel Dascenzo, who has served as magistrate in the common pleas court since 2008; and, Anthony Donofrio, city of Youngstown’s deputy law director and a former county assistant prosecutor.

It is important to point out that both Dascenzo and Donofrio are qualified to serve on the bench. Under state law, a lawyer who has been in practice for six years can seek a judicial position.

Therefore, this race comes down to the finer points of each candidate’s experience.

The Vindicator Editorial Board interviewed Dascenzo and Donofrio separately and delved into a long menu of issues that pertain to the operation of the common pleas court and the administration of justice.

Each candidate gave a good accounting of himself and demonstrated a solid understanding of the law.

But when it came to discussing the day-to-day handling of cases in the common pleas court, Dascenzo was clearly more knowledgeable.

“I have served as magistrate in that particular court since 2008, and I care deeply about the court,” he wrote on The Vindicator survey form sent to him. “I care about the work we do there on a daily basis and I believe what our court stands for; one place where people can have faith that the deck isn’t stacked against them. Where anyone can stand equal with everyone and an ordinary person can take on a giant, get a fair fight, and if their case is strong they can win.”

A full plate

As magistrate, Dascenzo has handled 11,000 civil and criminal cases and has presided over dozens of jury trials.

Such experience must count for a lot in a primary election whose outcome will determine the successor to retiring Common Pleas Judge Lou D’Apolito.

It is a widely accepted fact that voters don’t pay as much attention to judicial races as they do to other election contests. Thus, the pressure is on the candidates to keep the electorate engaged.

Aware of Dascenzo’s decade-long tenure in the common pleas court, Dono-frio has been touting his family roots. His father, Joseph, served on the bench for 27 years, while his brother, Gene, has been a 7th District Court of Appeals judge for 25 years.

Here’s how candidate Donofrio answered the question on The Vindicator’s survey form about his reason for running:

“First and foremost I have a passion for the law. I want to be a judge because I saw my father’s ability to change the lives of people for the better as a judge. In the 1960’s he saw individuals who suffered from addiction come through his courtroom. He recognized the need to help these people and through his efforts, the first rehabilitation home was started in the City of Youngstown. He began the “Honors Court” which is the precursor to the modern day drug courts, providing treatment for addicts and bettering the community. This program continues to be in existence today and has changed the lives of thousands of people. As a judge, I would have the opportunity to change and shape lives for the better. My parents have instilled in me a sense of fairness, justice, equality and integrity, and have taught me the value of honest public service. I have conducted my legal career in a manner as to experience very broad and diverse areas of law, all of which come before the Court of Common Pleas. I will take the lead of my family who have served the judiciary in excess of fifty years with honor and distinction and without a hint of controversy.”

Democratic voters in Mahoning County are fortunate to have two qualified candidates vying to succeed Judge D’Apolito.

But only one can win, and The Vindicator believes Dascenzo has the edge.

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