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Secrecy shrouds GOP selection

The Trumbull County Republican Party forwarded the names of three candidates — only one lives in the county — to Gov. Mike DeWine to consider for a vacancy on the 11th District Court of Appeals. But how the selection process played out hasn’t been publicly disclosed.

David Engler of Weathersfield, an attorney for the past 37 years and a Republican central committeeman, said he tried to contact Chairman Michael Bollas to apply for the position last month, but Bollas never returned his calls.

“If there was a process, it was shrouded in secrecy,” Engler said. “I have no idea what they did. I was ignored. What are they up to?”

Engler submitted his information to the governor’s office Monday, said Dan Tierney, DeWine’s spokesman. The deadline was Jan. 3, but Tierney said Engler will be considered.

I have left numerous messages for Bollas over the past five weeks to find out how the party would select candidates and then wanting to know how they chose the three, as well as the process. Bollas has not responded.

Marleah Campbell, the party’s secretary, said she wasn’t involved in the process, but Bollas appointed a committee to review the applicants, and she forwarded any emails from those expressing interest in the appointment to Bollas to give to the committee.

Also, Ashleigh J. Musick of Cortland, the only Trumbull County candidate of the three recommended by the county GOP for the position, told me she was approached by some party members about being a nominee — something that greatly interested her.

While having conversations with some party members, Musick said she never had a meeting or a sit-down interview with a committee about the position.

Musick said some party members said she was very qualified for the job and asked her to send documents needed for a possible gubernatorial appointment.

“I was very humbled that they asked me,” she said. “I gave them information on my credentials.”

Musick said she reached out to Republican officials in Geauga and Lake counties, which are also in the 11th District Court of Appeals’ jurisdiction. Neither recommended her for the appointment.

County Commissioner Denny Malloy, a Republican, called me asking about the process after he got no answers from party leadership.

He said the party is “not representing the people’s best interests by not supporting Republican candidates and officeholders. We have a chance to fill the seat with a Trumbull County Republican, and the decision was made outside the media and public light. That’s very disconcerting and upsetting.”

Malloy added: “We have Trumbull County people who want to be judge, and we ignored them.”

In addition to Musick, the Trumbull Republicans forwarded the names of two other candidates who live in the court’s jurisdiction but outside the county.

They were Connie J. Lewandowski of Aurora, Portage County senior assistant prosecutor, and Michael DeLeone of Concord, a Lake County assistant prosecutor.

Of the five Republican parties in the court’s district, Trumbull was the only one to recommend candidates outside of its county.

Lewandowski was the only candidate submitted for consideration by the Portage County GOP.

Lake County Republicans provided DeWine, also a Republican,with the names of three of its residents, including DeLeone.

The Republican parties of Ashtabula and Geauga, the other two counties in the 11th District’s jurisdiction, declined to submit candidates to DeWine.

Also, three attorneys, including David Detec of Girard, submitted their names to DeWine’s office for consideration by the Jan. 3 deadline. Engler submitted after that date.

The recommendations from the Republican parties in the district play an important factor in the appointment, Tierney said. Support from multiple county parties also is considered, Tierney said.

The decision from Trumbull Republicans to recommend Lewandowski and DeLeone could end up helping those two.

DeWine gets to select the replacement for Democrat Cynthia Westcott Rice of Brookfield, who resigned Dec. 12 to start serving as a Trumbull County Common Pleas Court judge.

With Rice gone and Democrat Thomas R. Wright of Warren losing in November to Republican Eugene A. Lucci of Lake County, Trumbull won’t have any judges on the 11th District Court of Appeals bench soon. Wright’s term expires Feb. 8.

The court is located in Warren, and Trumbull is the district’s second most-populous county.

The three other judges on the court reside in Geauga, the district’s least-populous county.

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