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DeWine delays Trumbull judicial appointment

Waiting for outcome of Kovoor candidacy lawsuit

Gov. Mike DeWine is postponing a decision to fill a vacant judicial seat on the Trumbull County Common Pleas Court.

“We are on hold right now,” Dan Tierney, DeWine’s spokesman said. “We are choosing to wait to see what happens with the ballot access challenges. That is the current hold in the process.”

Republican Sarah Thomas Kovoor of Howland, who was ruled ineligible Aug. 31 by Secretary of State Frank LaRose, is suing the Republican officeholder and the Trumbull County Board of Elections in the Ohio Supreme Court to be a candidate for the common pleas court seat. The Trumbull County Republican Party joined Kovoor in the lawsuit.

LaRose said Kovoor can’t be a candidate under a state law that is commonly referred to as the “sore loser provision.”

Kovoor lost a May 2 Republican primary for a seat on the 11th District Court of Appeals.

Then-Democrat Peter J. Kontos announced his retirement from the common pleas bench, effective July 31. That allowed the central committees of the county Democratic and Republican parties to nominate candidates.

Democrats nominated Cynthia Westcott Rice of Brookfield, a current 11th District Court of Appeals judge, while Republicans selected Kovoor.

The elections board voted Aug. 19 on Kovoor’s eligibility. The board’s two Democrats voted against it and the two Republicans supported it. That left it up to LaRose to break the tie, which he did Aug. 31, agreeing with the Democrats.

In their decisions, the Democrats on the elections board and LaRose cited Ohio Revised Code Section 3513.04, which states: “No person who seeks party nomination for an office or position at a primary election by declaration of candidacy … shall be permitted to become a candidate by nominating petition … by declaration of intent to be a write-in candidate or by filling a vacancy under section 3531.31 of the Revised Code at the following general election for any office.”

The only exceptions are for boards of education, the governing board of an educational service center or township trustee.

Kovoor disagrees with the decision, saying this is a unique situation with a direct nomination from the Republican central committee and that the common pleas vacancy didn’t exist when she ran for the court of appeals.

While this plays out, DeWine, also a Republican, is responsible for choosing Kontos’ replacement.

That appointment would be short-lived as the person elected in the Nov. 8 election would take over the rest of Kontos’ term, which expires Dec. 31, 2026. Election results are certified later in November with the winner taking over at that point.

Trumbull Republicans gave DeWine the names of three candidates, including Kovoor, on Aug. 11 for the appointment. That was three days before its central committee held an emergency meeting at which it voted to have Kovoor be its nominee.

“The outcome of those (court) cases could affect potential outcomes for the governor to fill the vacancy,” Tierney said. “The outcome will play an impact. The case could confirm someone is eligible or ineligible for the ballot and that would have a role in the decision.”

If the governor chooses a person to replace Kontos it would be an appointment for about two months. Also, if that person is in private practice, he or she would have to shut that down, which likely isn’t practical for such short judicial stint.

Kovoor, along with David Engler of Weathersfield and Margo S. Meola of Howland, are the three candidates recommended by Trumbull Republicans to DeWine for the appointment.

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