Judicial races, particularly for lower courts, are usually boring.
The candidates usually stick to talking about their credentials, don’t discuss cases, and if there’s to be criticism leveled at their opponents it’s usually subtle.
And then there’s the Democratic primary for Youngstown Municipal Court judge.
The two candidates aren’t fond of each other – at all.
There’s some history between them as Jeff Limbian is the current city law director. He replaced the other candidate, Martin Hume, who was law director for four years under previous Mayor John A. McNally. Hume is now a Mahoning County assistant prosecutor.
During his endorsement interview with The Vindicator, Hume came prepared with Limbian’s 2016 personal bankruptcy filings and pointed out the newspaper has editorialized before that nonpayment of taxes is a disqualifier for political candidates.
Limbian’s bankruptcy filing listed $430,352 in liabilities and $164,447 in assets.
Among his liabilities was about $150,000 in unpaid taxes to the federal, state and city governments. The back taxes have since been paid, however.
“It’s a reflection of judgment,” Hume said. “It’s a reflection of being able to meet the obligations that you’ve undertaken. I think it’s a predictor of future behavior, and it appears to me to be irresponsible behavior especially for someone who wants to be a judge.”
Hume added that Limbian’s tax issues “shows a disrespect for the law and reflects on his competency as a judge.”
Hume also mentioned the numerous parking tickets Limbian received over a decade from the city as another cause for concern.
“It’s one thing to accumulate them, it’s another to not pay them,” Hume said.
Limbian paid the tickets last year.
When Limbian came in for his endorsement meeting, he started by acknowledging the newspaper’s editorial history of considering nonpayment of taxes a disqualifier.
He added: “Clearly, there were mistakes made. I made some terrible financial decisions in my past. I think a lot of people do. I filed for bankruptcy and worked to move forward. All of my taxes are currently paid. Otherwise, I would not be running for judge.”
Limbian also said: “After having listened to my opponent, Mr. Hume, on the campaign trail, I realized that if that’s a disqualifying event then there are disqualifying events that need to be brought to light” about Hume.
Limbian discussed Hume’s tenure as law director in which the city approved about $4.5 million in 2017 from water, wastewater and sanitary funds for economic development projects.
The state auditor’s office hasn’t issued a final report for 2017, but has indicated to the city it wants a repayment plan established over a period of years for that money from the ailing general fund to the three other funds.
The auditor’s office also has discussed the nearly $1 million spent from those funds for economic development last year that was committed by the McNally administration.
“It was bad lawyering and bad decision-making,” Limbian said.
Hume should have told other city officials not to spend the money that way, but instead supported the decisions, Limbian said.
Hume says the city had a legal opinion backing its decision. He also pointed to a Feb. 15 letter from a firm hired by the current administration that reads the auditor’s office “never clearly identified the grant program as a misuse of water/wastewater funds. In fact, the auditor has assisted the city in refining the grant program.”
The two had a heated exchange over back pay Hume said he was owed. He won a small-claims case in municipal court and had the 7th District Court of Appeals uphold the decision in October 2018 when the law department failed to file a timely appeal.
At issue was Hume asked to be paid his weekly salary of $1,614.40 and $387.46 in state retirement benefits for Dec. 23-30, 2017. Limbian argued Hume is entitled to receive 26 equal pays – once every two weeks – and was paid in accordance with the city charter. Hume said he worked for the city during the last week of 2017 and should be paid for that week.
Magistrate Anthony Sertick ruled the city charter doesn’t specify or limit Hume’s pay to 26, and there was testimony from both sides that in other years there were 25 and 27 pays because of how the pay periods fell.
Because of how the law is written, Hume was entitled to and received three times the amount he was owed and a court cost fee. He ended up receiving $5,376.11.
Limbian said Hume shouldn’t have received the money and his court claim “speaks to his lack of temperament and his arrogance.”
Hume said: “I take no joy in collecting money from the city, but it reflects on [Limbian’s] competence.”
The winner of this bruising primary battle moves on to the November general election to face Judge Renee M. DiSalvo, a Republican appointed by a Republican governor in November 2018 to the seat.