Sunday, July 20, 2008


It is a touch ironical for the STARK COUNTY POLITICAL REPORT (The Report) to approach a discussion of this race in terms of which political party will control the General Division of the Stark County Court of Common Pleas after the upcoming November election?

Why ironical?

Because neither candidate focused on party identity in their respective interviews with The Report.

Prior to a judicial challenge by Judge William O'Neill (of the Youngstown area), general election candidates had to run as "non-partisans." O'Neill's challenge changed that and judicial candidates can run emphasizing their party label.

In Stark County these days, if he chose to do so; it would be an advantage for Frank Forchione to run as a Democrat. He has not made a final decision on the matter. His opponent, Jean Madden, says she is running as a non-partisan.

Currently, the General Division is staffed by three Democrats (Haas, Heath and Reinbold) and two Republicans (Brown and Sinclair). Reinbold is retiring and Madden and Forchione are contesting this seat.

While these candidates are taking the high political road, you can bet that their parties are very much tuned into the political dynamic. The only place that Stark County Republican Party has any hold in the Stark County political scene is with the courts. And that is only because Republicans hold all three judgeships in the Domestic Relations Court.

David Stucki tried his best to change that picture. Readers will recall his taking on fellow Republican Dixie Park who is the Probate Court judge. Had he succeeded, Governor Strickland, undoubtedly, would have appointed a Democrat replacement.

Getting back to the Madden/Forchione race, the largest campaign donation to Madden as of the last campaign finance filing was a $1,000 contribution by "Votes for Women," a Stark County Republican Party sponsored judicial PAC. Another major contributor is Jeff Jakmides ($500) a local criminal defense attorney who ran four years ago as the Republican candidate against Stark County prosecutor John Fererro. An interesting sidelight here is the fact that Jakmides also made a contribution ($75) to Madden's opponent Forchione. What was that all about?

Madden's total contributions to date approximate $6,700.

Forchione's list of contributors list like a "who's who" of the Stark County Bar Association: Democrat - in the main, but more than a few Republicans. They include: Harry Klide (former Democrat Common Pleas judge), Gary Willen (former Republican candidate for Carroll County Common Pleas judge), John Poulos (Democrat Canton Municipal Court judge), Mary Jo Shannon Slick (legal counsel for the Stark County Educational Service Center), Roy H. Batista (Republican who has represented a number of township trustee boards in Stark County), Randy Gonzalez (Democrat - Fiscal Officer/Jackson Township), Jeffrey Haupt (Republican - well known Stark County criminal defense attorney), Eddie J. Elum (Democrat Massillon Municipal Court judge), Thomas E. Cecconi (Republican - President/CEO of Mercy Medical Center), Ellis Erb (Republican - Lake Township trustee), Krugliak, Wilkins, Griffiths & Dougherty Co., L.P.A., William Emley (Buckingham, Doolittle, Burroughs, LLP), William J. Healy (Democrat - Canton mayor), Black, McCuskey, Souers & Arbaugh, Stanley Rubin (Republican - attorney), Mastrivacovo (Democrat - guest columnist/The Repository), and Todd Bosley (Democrat - Stark County commissioner), among a host of contributors most of whom seem to be practicing attorneys.

Forchione's contributions total some $52,000.

As far as the qualifications to be judge, both candidates emphasize their experience as practicing attorneys in Common Plea Court.

Forchione, of course, has vast experience with misdemeanor work in Canton Municipal Court including the early stages of felonies which get switched over to Common Pleas. And, he makes a point that he has tried a number of personal injury actions and real estate cases (from his civil law practice) in Common Pleas Court, General Division.

Forchione takes pride in the fact that surrounding counties have asked him to take an objective look at and or prosecution of cases which involve politically sensitive issues. He thinks these requests are a testament to his integrity.

Madden has been assistant public defender in the Stark County Public Defender's Office and has worked scores of felony cases all the way up to capital cases. Before working with the public defender, Madden had extensive experience working on the administrative side of the Stark County Common Pleas Court.

So what are voters to make of this race?

To The Report this is a contest between an establishment type candidate (just look at who is making campaign contributions to Forchione) versus an underdog advocate. Madden was impressive to The Report as a person who totally understands the plight of everydays and devotes herself to fighting for their getting a fair shake out of Stark County's legal system.

Forchione focuses heavily on his individual integrity which is curious to The Report for The Report knows of no one who questions his integrity. The Report did have an extended conversation with Forchione on the Anna Hall Colvin case.

The Report believes that his handling of this matter could be a measure of how he'll handle cases that would come in front of him as Common Pleas Court judge.

Right as the jury was to get the case Forchione elected to dismiss it when a Bureau of Motor Vehicle employee re-checked records and spotted a transposed digit on the license plate put the eyewitness accounts of identifying the defendant in question.

Forchione's rational for dismissal was based on a "maxim of American jurisprudence is that it's better for ten guilty men to go free, than for one innocent man to be convicted." The Report's take on Forchione's dismissal is that it was a real struggle for him. He was torn between standing behind the officers who investigated the incident and put together the case for the prosecutor's office to prosecute and the late arriving contraindicating BMV evidence.

That's how The Report sees this race, who do you think is the better candidate for judge? Madden or Forchione?

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