Democrats select James as Trumbull coroner until end of the year

By Ed Runyan


Thursday night’s Trumbull County Democratic Party Central Committee meeting had a simple purpose: selecting from among two medical doctors to serve as interim coroner until the end of the year.

Dr. Thomas James of Vienna came out on top over Dr. Phillip Malvasi of Howland, 64 votes to 31, perhaps an upset given that Dr. James didn’t attend the meeting and therefore wasn’t able to talk to the voters face to face.

The decision wasn’t as huge as it originally appeared, when information went out that whoever won the vote would have the job for the next 21/2 years. The Trumbull County Board of Elections clarified that issue Wednesday, saying the Democrats and Republicans can each put a candidate on the November ballot and voters will decide then who gets the job the final two years.

The position became vacant when coroner Dr. Humphrey Germaniuk, a Democrat, died April 20, a little more than a year into his four-year term.

Dr. James didn’t treat the appointment process as a big deal, attending the Boy Scouts of America National annual meeting this week, an out-of-town commitment he made months ago.

Dr. Germaniuk’s son, Zachariah Germaniuk, a Cleveland attorney, did make a surprise appearance, giving a short talk in which he urged precinct committee members to “stay the course.” He noted that his father appointed Dr. James as his deputy coroner “as the opiate crisis in the county reached a fever pitch, and I consider my father to be a casualty of that crisis.”

“My father and I had many conversations about the need to stay the course,” he said. “I simply urge you at this time to respect my father’s memory, his legacy and to vote with your conscience in the best interest of the county,” he said.

Dr. Malvasi also gave a short talk, saying he has four children and is a lifelong Democrat.

He also addressed the question of whether his position as the medical provider for inmates at the Trumbull County jail is in conflict with being coroner, an issue the Ohio Ethics Commission addressed in a letter to Dr. Malvasi on Wednesday.

It said ethics laws may “either absolutely prohibit or severely limit, your ability” to have both jobs and that he must “be able to withdraw, as coroner, from conducting or supervising any autopsies or investigations into the death of any inmate who was under your care.”

Aside from the vote, however, things did got complicated, as precinct committee members raised questions about the voting method. One woman wanted to know why the “caucus”-style voting method Trumbull Democrats enacted in their bylaws in October 2014 would not be used. She and others expressed concern that the method used Thursday – voters writing their choice on a paper ballot that contained their name on the opposite side – could be used against them.

After the voting was finished and tallied on separate forms by officials from the county elections board, a motion was made and approved by a voice vote to destroy all of the paper ballots immediately.

After about 30 minutes, county Commissioner Dan Polivka, who is county Democratic party chairman, spoke to county elections officials in possession of the paper ballots. Polivka had Bill Demora, Ohio Democratic Party secretary, on speaker phone.

Dimora could be heard telling Polivka the paper ballots needed to be preserved “for a certain number of days.” Dimora said he would get back to Polivka today to cite specific Ohio laws.

Polivka took the ballots home with him. When The Vindicator asked Polivka if he would examine the ballots considering the vote to destroy them, Polivka said: “I don’t really care. They were both good candidates.”

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