The state of Ohio sets the bar surprisingly low in establishing the minimum qualifications to serve on any of the state’s 12 district courts of appeals. To seek as an appellate judgeship, a candidate must merely be a resident of its district, must have at least six years of experience in the practice of law and must be under the age of 70.
Residents of the eight-county, Youngstown-based 7th District Court of Appeals are fortunate this general election to have two candidates who rise far above those relatively low minimum requirements. They are Republican Kathleen Bartlett, appointed to the appeals court seven months ago by Gov. John Kasich to fill the vacancy created by the promotion of 7th District Judge Mary DeGenaro to the Ohio Supreme Court, and Democrat David D’Apolito, a two-decade veteran county court judge in Mahoning County.
In evaluating those two candidates for the court that primarily hears appeals of cases from the common pleas, municipal and county court levels, voters should consider whether long-time experience serving in the role of a judge should give one candidate an advantage over the other.
We believe it does, which is the primary reason why we endorse Judge D’Apolito to join Judges Cheryl Waite, Carol A. Robb and Gene Donofrio on the four-judge panel that serves Mahoning, Columbiana, Belmont, Carroll, Harrison, Jefferson, Monroe and Noble counties.
By using the yardstick of in-the-bench judicial experience, the tenure of Judge D’Apolito of Canfield outstretches that of Judge Bartlett of North Jackson. He has nearly three decades as a practicing trial attorney under his belt, along with three years as a county court magistrate and 18 years on the county area court bench. He serves in Austintown, which has some of the highest case volumes of any court in the state.
In contrast, until her appointment six months ago to the appeals court, Judge Bartlett had no actual experience as a sitting judge. She has, however, spent 12 years as a magistrate in Columbiana County and 22 years in the Leetonia Mayor’s Court, with 12 years in private law practice before her appointment.
We agree with Judge D’Apolito that a magistrate’s experience is not equivalent to a judge’s experience.
NO ‘ENTRY-LEVEL’ POSITION
As he told The Vindicator Editorial Board during his interview for endorsement consideration, “I believe that the court of appeals is not an entry-level position. It is imperative that the appellate judge have trial court judge experience to understand the dynamics of the trial.”
Considering that a large chunk of the cases will come from the lower courts upon which Judge D’Apolito sits, his greater familiarity with the variety of civil and criminal cases that will be challenged and the legal principles behind them give him a clear edge in this race.
That said, we do admire some of Judge Bartlett’s judicial goals and philosophies, particularly her aggressive stand on cracking down on public corruption.
“I have also witnessed judges, lawyers, elected officials and prominent business- men indicted, time after time, for corruption and wrongdoing.
“It is time to say, ‘enough is enough.’ We need judges with a strong moral compass and integrity beyond reproach.”
In addition, Judges D’Apolito and Bartlett share many similar views that would well serve those coming before the appeals court.
Both of them have downplayed their political affiliations during the campaign and pledge not to let political-party positions influence decisions. Another quirk in Ohio law is that judges must run with a party affiliation in the primary but suddenly become totally nonpartisan on general-election ballots.
Each of them also disavows extremist views and activist judges. Each appears to have a solid understanding that their role rests exclusively in interpreting law, not making law.
As such, either Judge D’Apolito or Judge Bartlett likely would serve the district capably. We, however, give our endorsement to Judge D’Apolito for the much greater breadth and depth of his judicial career.