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Trumbull GOP to miss judicial filing deadline

The clock will run out on the Trumbull County Republican Party to have a candidate’s name appear on the Nov. 8 ballot for the vacant common pleas court judicial seat.

The filing deadline for Democrats and Republicans to put a candidate each on the ballot for the judge position is 4 p.m. Monday.

Michael Bollas, who became the county GOP chairman Aug. 4, said Thursday that his party won’t submit a nominee by the deadline.

“We’re in a dilemma here, and I don’t know how to solve it,” Bollas said. “No one knows how to solve it.”

Peter Kontos, a Democrat, retired July 31 with more than four years left on his term. Kontos announced the decision July 19.

Gov. Mike DeWine, a Republican, is to appoint his successor, but that person would serve only until after the Nov. 8 election results are certified.

County Republican officials just learned of Monday’s filing deadline and don’t want to appoint someone who hasn’t been approved by DeWine, Bollas said.

“The governor has to pick it,” he said. “There’s nothing we can do about that. We can’t control that. The board of elections and the governor’s time is out of our hands.”

Meanwhile, the county’s Democratic central committee on Thursday voted in favor of selecting Cynthia Westcott Rice of Brookfield, an 11th District Court of Appeals judge since 2003, as its candidate.

“I understand the conflict (for Republicans) with what the governor wants and the process of selecting a nominee,” Rice said.

Asked about not having an opponent, Rice said, “That would be nice, but I’m not going to hold my breath about that. I’ll run a campaign anyway.”

Trumbull Democratic Chairman Mark Alberini said Rice, who would be the first woman common pleas judge in the county’s history, “is far and away the most qualified, experienced, respected judicial candidate this or any party could have put on the ballot. As Democratic chairman, I’ll be 100 percent behind Cynthia Rice and all of the Democratic candidates. I can only control what I can control.”

Stephanie Penrose, director of the board of elections, said Republicans don’t even have the option of filing a placeholder candidate who would be replaced by the person appointed by DeWine. That’s because Monday also is the deadline for candidates who filed for the Nov. 8 ballot to be replaced because of withdrawal, vacancy, death or other reasons, she said.

Penrose said Bollas called her Wednesday and came to the board office Thursday to discuss the timeline.

“I explained the situation to him and he didn’t think they’d be able to get someone in there by Monday,” Penrose said of Bollas. “They didn’t realize Monday was the deadline.”

Penrose, a Republican, said the board of elections has no obligation to tell the political parties about the filing deadlines.

“It’s on the parties to find out how to go about this,” she said. “I’m happy to answer questions if asked. Nobody (from the Republican Party) reached out to me until” Wednesday.

She said Alberini “reached out to me right away and one party didn’t.”

Alberini also is chairman of the board of elections, but Penrose stressed that he contacted her and not the other way.

“My legal counsel says I can’t advise anyone, but I can answer questions,” Penrose said.

Republicans have until 4 p.m. Aug. 29 to file a write-in candidate. But that person’s name wouldn’t appear on the Nov. 8 ballot against Rice. Instead, there would be a blank space for voters to write in that person’s name.

“Write-in is an option,” Bollas said.

When asked about the challenge of a write-in winning, Bollas said, “It’s going to be difficult.”

Dan Tierney, DeWine’s spokesman, said there have been discussions with Trumbull Republican officials, but no recommendations have been received from them.

DeWine’s office had requested the names of three finalists.

Bollas said the party’s screening committee on Thursday interviewed Margo S. Meola of Warren and David Engler of Weathersfield and will interview Sarah Thomas Kovoor on Monday.

After that, the Trumbull Republicans will rush the names to DeWine, Bollas said.

But there won’t be time for DeWine to select a person by the 4 p.m. Monday deadline, Bollas said.

Liberty Township Trustee Devon Stanley, who had expressed interest in the appointment, won’t seek it, Bollas said.

Robert Carr, the Trumbull Republican Party’s first vice chairman, said July 26 when he was interim chairman that the names of three candidates would be given to DeWine’s office by Aug. 2. But on Aug. 4, he said there wasn’t a rush and the party planned to slow down the selection process.

The timing of Kontos’ early retirement is why there wasn’t a primary for the remainder of his term and why the central committees of the parties were left to nominate candidates.

Based on the Ohio Constitution’s Article IV, Section 13, Kontos’ seat is on the ballot “at the first general election for the office which is vacant that occurs more than 40 days after the vacancy shall have occurred.”

Kontos retired July 31, well before the Nov. 8 election, but after the May 3 primary.

The person elected in November will fill the remainder of Kontos’ term, which expires Dec. 31, 2026.

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