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Party slows down on filling judge’s seat

4 candidates show interest in replacing retired Kontos

The Trumbull County Republican Party has slowed down the process of filling the vacant common pleas court judicial seat with plans for a screening committee to recommend three finalists to the governor later this month.

The party received interest from four candidates with two of them completing applications as of Thursday, said Robert Carr, its first vice chairman, who has served the past few weeks as its interim chairman.

Carr had said July 26 that he was going to handle the screening himself and forward the names of three finalists to Republican Gov. Mike DeWine’s office by this past Tuesday.

“There’s no deadline,” he said Thursday. “I thought there was. I did follow-up calls with the governor’s office, and they want it as soon as possible, but no deadline. They want the right candidate so they want us to do a thorough review of the applicants including if they’ve had disciplinary issues.”

Dan Tierney, DeWine’s spokesman, said the governor’s office traditionally wants a list of three finalists.

He added: “There is not a hard statutory deadline, but we have encouraged the party to submit ASAP.”

Sarah Thomas Kovoor of Howland and Margo S. Meola of Warren have turned in completed applications with letters of interest, resumes and biographical information, Carr said.

Liberty Township Trustee Devon Stanley and David Engler of Weathersfield expressed interest, but hadn’t submitted applications and other documentation as of Thursday, Carr said.

The screening committee members have not yet been chosen, he said.

“We’re starting to develop that,” Carr said. “The selection committee will do evaluations and reviews. We want to do individual interviews with each of the candidates and give them an opportunity tell us why they’re the best candidate.”

He said he requested the Trumbull County Bar Association get the word out to lawyers about the vacancy.

“We’ll give everyone another week to get a broad reach,” Carr said. “I’m hoping we can get our three candidates selected by mid-August.”

The seat is open because of the retirement of Democrat Peter Kontos, whose last day was Sunday.

The term expires Dec. 31, 2026.

The person selected by DeWine, who almost certainly will be a Republican, would fill the seat and have to run for the rest of Kontos’ term in the Nov. 8 election. The winner of that election would serve the rest of the unexpired term, effective after the results are certified by the board of elections.

The Trumbull Democratic Party will meet Tuesday to select its nominee.

Cynthia Westcott Rice of Brookfield, who has been on the 11th District Court of Appeals since 2003, is the only Democratic candidate to express interest and is expected to get the party’s support.

Rice is the presiding and administrative judge of the court, which handles appellate cases in Trumbull, Ashtabula, Geauga, Lake and Portage counties. She was a federal prosecutor and assistant county prosecutor.

Kovoor, a former county assistant prosecutor, lost the Republican primary for a seat on the 11th District Court of Appeals in May by 9.2 percent to incumbent John Eklund. In 2020, she lost by 2 percent to Rice for a different seat on the appeals court and lost by 1 percent in 2018 for Trumbull County Family Court judge.

Stanley was elected in 2019 as a Liberty trustee. He lost a 2014 Ohio House race to Democrat Sean O’Brien. O’Brien won the Democratic primary on May 3 for an open common pleas court judicial position and is unopposed in the Nov. 8 election.

Stanley also lost the 2016 House race to Democrat Glenn Holmes.

Meola is a civil attorney and was an attorney clerk for Joseph J. Vukovich in the Youngstown-based 7th District Court of Appeals. She’s never run for elected office before.

Engler is a former Mahoning County commissioner who has unsuccessfully run for a seat on the 7th District Court of Appeals and for Mahoning County Probate Court judge before moving to Trumbull County.

Engler is the only candidate currently seeking the judicial position to have been disciplined by the Ohio Supreme Court, according to a search on the court’s Ohio Board of Professional Conduct website.

Engler received a public reprimand from the court in August 2006 for having a consensual sexual relationship with a female client in 2004.

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