Monday, June 10, 2013










Few have ridden the coattails of political partisanship to personal public office holding success than Ohio Supreme Court chief justice Maureen O'Connor.

As a Republican, she began her rise to be lieutenant governor of Ohio and ultimately being chief justice gaining an appointment from now retired Republican Summit County probate judge Willard F. Spicer in 1985 as a court magistrate.

An interesting political phenomenon in American history is how various public figures who have benefited from partisan or ideological ties/positions, have become advocates for considerations of factors based on merit or "realpolitik" once they reach the pinnacle of their personal partisan-politically based achievement.

No better example of this marvel of political flip-flopping exists than the Richard M. Nixon (as congressman) turnaround from being virulent witch-hunting anti-communist of the 1950s into the Richard M. Nixon (as president) who in 1972 opened U.S. doors to the Peoples Republic of [Communist] China.  (LINK)

Generally, Americans accept these "Road to Damacus" conversions even if skeptically.

And the SCPR advocates that Ohioans (necessarily including, of course, Stark Countians) should do the same thing for Chief Justice O'Connor's embrace of less politics and more merit in the selection of Ohio's as articulated by her in a speech at the May, 2013 Ohio State Bar Association (OSBA) convention (LINK) held recently in Cleveland.

O'Connor posed her proposal for changes in a question format, to wit:  (LINK)
  • Ohio Courts 2013:  A Plan for Strengthening Judicial Elections:
    1. Should Ohio Change the Law So Judicial Races Are No Longer Listed at the End of the Ballot?
    2. Should All Judicial Elections be Held in Odd-Numbered Years?
    3. Should Ohio Centralize & Expand the Civic Education Programming and Institute a Judicial Voter Guide?
    4. Should Ohio Eliminate Party Affiliation on the Ballot in Judicial Primaries?
    5. Should Ohio Join the Other States that Have a Formal, Non-Partisan System for Recommending Nominees to the Governor to Fill Judicial Vacancies?
    6. Should Appointments to the Ohio Supreme Court Require the Advice and Consent of the Ohio Senate?
    7. Should Ohio Increase the Basic Qualifications for Serving as a Judge?
    8. Should Ohio increase the Length of Judges' Terms? (emphasis added)
However, O'Connor - apparently - as indicated in the case of fellow Justice Terrence O'Donnell (see below) and - clearly - in the instance of Justice William O'Neill (see below) has work to do in convincing her fellows on the high court that her proposal has merit.


Word came down on May 9 of this year (LINK) that Republican Governor John Kasich had appointed Republican Colleen O'Donnell (daughter of Ohio Supreme Court Associate Justice Terrence O'Donnell) to the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas.

To the SCPR, this obviously was a "political connections-based appointment."

Colleen O'Donnell's qualifications for the appointment are very unconvincing to yours truly.  Just take a look at this Columbus Dispatch piece that details her legal career history (e.g. she has just barely over the minimum 5 years as a lawyer to be eligible for a judgeship in the first place) and by implication her political connections (LINK).

While undoubtedly her father uttered not a word to the governor that he ought to appoint daughter Colleen to the bench of Ohio's second largest county, it is obvious to those of us who populate the hoi polloi that he did not have to.

Kasich and his advisers were surely well aware of who Colleen is and notwithstanding any denials that the governor may make to the significance of her political and legal pedigree in her gaining the appointment, such denials fall in the category of "who in the whole wide world would believe them?"

For example, locally, Stark County Democratic Party chairman Randy Gonzalez denies that he had anything to do with son Kody being appointed Rick Campbell's chief deputy recorder in 2007.

To which the SCPR responds:
That may be and probably is the case.  However, like in the O'Donnell situation, direct advocacy is not needed.  Those in a position to appoint are all to aware of whom they are appointing and the SCPR believes that it is fair to question that motivation to appoint reeks of being politically based and not on the basis of merit.  In the Gonzalez case, Recorder Campbell insists to yours truly that the Gonzalez political overlay had nothing whatsoever to do with the appointment.  Nonetheless, the SCPR simply is not buying the denial.
The Report believes that when such appointments take place, the appointing authority creates a public perception that merit was not the primary criterion in making the appointment.

Over time and repeated as often as politically inspired appointments are done across the American governmental landscape, drip-by-drip public officials undermine their own credibility and inch-by-inch make it more difficult for themselves and their appointees to govern.

Inevitably, the politically connected who get public jobs primarily because of their political connectedness find occasion to comment on and lament upon how unruly the American public is becoming in terms of wielding the authority of their offices and having it respected by the governed.

The SCPR for one does not want to hear their bellyaching.

They do it to themselves and just plain have to live with the consequences of having participated successfully in a sort of political sweepstakes.

The SCPR senses an undertone among the American electorate which is growing increasingly alienated from the governing class and manifests itself in subtle resistances.

So it is helpful for the health of our democratic-republic for a figure such as Maureen O'Connor to step forward and in effect to say "enough is enough."

Indeed, the Ohio Supreme Court should be the catalyst for implementing something like the "Courts 2013 Plan and in the process Centralize & Expand the Civic Education Programming and Institute a Judicial Voter Guide.

Moreover, voters should focus on those who appear to have obtained public positions through political influence and make that a prime factor in determining whether or not to vote for that person at the next succeeding election as well has the person doing the appointing.



Stark County has its own history of judges who appear to have obtained gubernatorial appointments to the Stark County bench through primarily political factors and not so much on the merit of their qualifications.

In the opinion of the SCPR, the prime appointee who fills that category is Kristin G. Farmer (Bair) who is the daughter of Fifth District Court of Appeals Judge Sheila Farmer.

Last year Judge Charles Brown announced his retirement from the Stark County Court of Common Pleas bench.

Farmer (Bair) does have more legal career seasoning than does O'Donnell, but it is far from impressive.

In his appointment of December 21, 2012 (she was sworn-in on January 18, 2013), Kasich cited that as a matter of legal experience she:
  • served as a magistrate (Judge Sinclair/Sara Lioi) and law clerk in the Stark County Court of Common Pleas
And that's it!

Actually, she does have a bit more in her resume.  But not much.

Area media reports cite her serving as assistant prosecutor for the first two years out of law school for Alliance law director and Republican Andrew Zumbar who is the brother of Stark County treasurer and Republican Alex Zumbar.

So two years out of law school she is a Common Pleas Court magistrate (a job that some lawyers wait years to obtain) on her way to becoming a judge herself.

Of course, it does not hurt that your mother is a former assistant prosecutor in Canton and Cleveland and is a judge in the Massillon Municipal Court and the Stark County Court of Common Pleas.

The politically skeptical likely think that family political connects played into her becoming an Alliance prosecutor and then a Common Pleas magistrate.

The person who should have been appointed in the assessment of the SCPR - if legal experience (not political connectedness) is the primary criterion -  is Democrat and Stark County Assistant Prosecutor Chryssa Hartnett.

To her credit notwithstanding that she as a Democrat was beseeching a Republican governor, Hartnett did (LINK) apply with the Stark County GOP for a recommendation that Governor Kasich appoint her to replace Brown.  But politics being what they are, the Jeff Matthews-led Stark Republicans did not give her a smell.

These are the same folks that asked Democrats to put partisanship aside and appoint Republican Alex Zumbar (October 31, 2011) to replace Democrat Gary Zeigler when he resigned (October 19, 2011).

Very obviously the Stark County Republican Party Executive Committee does not care one whit about putting Stark's most qualified before the governor when it is their turn to be part of the public official replacement process.

But again, one does not want to hear them complain about the reality that more and more Americans are finding neither of the major political parties to be credible instruments of putting America's most capable and most professionally qualified citizens in public positions.

Both organized political parties are increasingly discredited entities in the eyes of many Americans which makes it more and more difficult for the parties to get everyday citizens involved in their activities.

Sure the parties are hurting more and more in terms of getting everydays involved.

Increasingly, Americans are eschewing party labels in voter registration roles.  And such is definitely the case in Stark County and across Ohio.  In most if not all Ohio voting precincts, non-party aligned voters outnumber registered Rs and Ds (often, even if combined).

And, one might say, who cares about the fortunes of political parties?

Unfortunately, the demise of the parties as being trusted agents of government in putting forth the very best that America has to offer in public service is highly damaging to the legitimacy of our most important institutions of government.

One remaining avenue to correct the parties' strong propensity to consider political connectedness and qualifications (e.g. "the name Farmer in Stark County) in obtaining and retaining office is the good old fashioned American election process.

Hopefully, Stark's Democrats will put up a worthy opponent (how about Chryssa Hartnett?) against Farmer (Bair) in November, 2014.

Note that though she is married to Sergeant David W. Bair of the Alliance Police Department.

But being entitled to a political/legal name like Farmer, no way she is running as Kristin Bair.

Kind of cements the political factor perhaps as having been prime, no?


Rosemarie Hall does much better on the credentials and experience side of things (LINK) than either O'Donnell or Farmer (Bair).

Appointed by Kasich in August, 2011, she boasts of having being a Stark County Family Court magistrate since 2004.  Moreover, she did have significant experience as a private practitioner of law in her husband's law firm on family law issues prior to becoming a magistrate.

She has gained recognition by her peers as being a jurist who thinks through the complexities of family life as she encounters troubled Stark County families who process through her court.  Two scholarly efforts grace her resume.

Hall clearly was the best qualified of all the candidates on the list submitted by the Stark GOP to Governor Kasich for consideration.

Other candidates (Kristin Farmer [Bair], Lori Flowers (who was serving as Judge Brown's magistrate at the time) and Brant Luther (who ran the Family Court's guardianship program).

The SCPR was certainly glad to see that Flowers did not get the appointment.


Her comment when vying with Hall, Farmer (Bair) and Luther:
(From a prior SCPR blog LINK)   
"She also said she has been a loyal Republican her entire adult life and is up for the challenge of keeping the seat, if selected."
What should being "a loyal Republican" have to do with being a judge in the Stark County Court of Common Pleas?

Hall has been validated by Stark County voters as having superior Family Court credentials.  In November, 2012 she bested Canton Law Department assistant prosecutor credible candidate Kristen Bates Aylward.

But kudos go out to Bates-Ayward for having tested Hall at the polls.  Maybe she will consider running against the expected "loyal Republican" Sinclair replacement to come soon from the desk of John Kasich?


Any day now, the Kasich administration will be handing down its decision on with who to replace the retiring Common Pleas Court judge V. Lee Sinclair.

It is upwards of five months since the local Republicans sent their list of three to Columbus.

If he follows merit over all else, Governor Kasich should select Jean Madden to be Sinclair's replacement from about the Stark GOP recommended list of candidates.

As stated above, second listee Lori Flowers sees herself as the most politically viable candidate in terming herself "a loyal Republican" which raises a red flag insofar as the SCPR is concerned.

It is hard to see how being CEO of the Stark Chapter of the American Red Cross Curt Werren (the third of three candidates) qualifies him as a top candidate for the judgeship.

Is he just another case of a candidate having a politically connected parent in his corner?

Madden, on the other hand, is an ideal candidate.

She has labored hard and effectively as a Stark County Public Defender.  Moreover, she is an Alliance Municipal Court magistrate.

Being a public defender, she does not quite fit the stereotypical Republican legal pedigrees.

And she has run countywide having taken on Frank Forchione in November, 2008.  The SCPR thinks that she did reasonably well against Forchione who for some reason unknown to The Report appears to be "the darling" of the Stark County legal establishment.

Yours truly has had enough contact with the two to assess that Madden would have been the better judge.


Democrat and former Healy administration employee Corey Minor-Smith is taking on Republican Canton Municipal Court judge Richard Kubilus.

The Report is told that a number of Democratic attorneys are upset that Minor-Smith is making the challenge.

The SCPR does not agree with them.

Yours truly agrees with Chief Justice O'Connor who told the Plain Dealer (Ohio Chief Justice Maureen O'Connor says party labels have no place in judicial elections, Tom Feran, May 9, 2013):
We should elect our judges"  ...  "Voters have reaffirmed by large margins that they want judges to be accountable in competitive elections.
Though The Report likes Kubilus and thinks he stands "head over shoulders" above Minor-Smith in terms of experience and judicial attributes, every candidate for office - judges included - need to go through competitive elections in the context of a vigorous vetting process to help voters figure out who has real qualifications and who is primarily a political phenom.

The most disturbing thing that yours truly hears about Minor-Smith is that she is thought by some to be running at the urging of Mayor William J. Healy, II of Canton (she served as his Director of Compliance [January, 2008 - July, 2011]) not so much because he thinks she can knock off Kubilus, but rather that she put herself in position to get a Democratic gubernatorial appointment should the Democrat candidate in the November, 2014 election win.

Knowing William J. Healy, II as the SCPR does, it is quite believable that the Minor-Smith candidacy is his brainchild.

This is more of the same that the current system of governor appointments bring as we see in the O'Donnell and Farmer (Bair) appointments.

Judge O'Connor is right to suggest that Ohio needs a "[f]ormal, Non-Partisan System for Recommending Nominees to the Governor to Fill Judicial Vacancies."

The SCPR would go one step further.  And it might take an Ohio constitutional amendment (due to separation of powers concerns).   We (the people of Ohio) should REQUIRE whomever the governor is to appoint be from something like a "non-partisan system for recommending" list.

Stark Countians should be embarrassed to read what one of the Stark GOP nominees (Canton Municipal Court judge Stephen F. Belden) is quoted as saying what happened when he interviewed with the governor's people for opportunity to replace Judge Charles Brown, to wit:
Recounting his interview in Columbus for that position, Belden told the executive committee [as he was withdrawing his name for consideration for the Sinclair vacancy]  that he “crashed and burned.” 
He said one of the primary issues was the controversy that resulted from him ordering that the mouth of an argumentative defendant be muzzled with duct tape in 2009. The order was captured on the courtroom’s audio and video system. 
“Being the realist I’m supposed to be, I’m never going to get appointed,” Belden said. “And it would be selfish of me and unfair (to the other candidates) ... to send me (to Columbus.)”  (LINK)
Credit Belden at least for a moment of reflective honesty.

However, for him to say "I'm never going to get appointed" in our current system of putting names before the governor in the opinion of the SCPR is not necessarily so.

Undoubtedly, Judge Belden is a well-intentioned guy.

But from many reports that the SCPR gets from a number of attorneys, he should not be on the Canton Municipal Court bench.

In one assessment by a highly prominent Stark County attorney to the SCPR (in an effort to be kind), termed Judge Belden as being quirky.


Under our current system, The Report believes that there are all too many judges across Ohio who have no business being on the bench.

And, yes, Judge O'Connor, Ohio should " ... Centralize & Expand the Civic Education Programming and Institute a Judicial Voter Guide.

Ohioans need a reliable source to go to in order to determine "on the merits" (not political connectedness) who to vote for in judicial races.

The current system of local bar associations having its membership rate candidates for judge is wholly inadequate.

Take the impending Minor-Smith/Kubilus match up.

The Stark County Bar Association has released the results of its evaluation of the two, to wit:

"Fifty-five percent (55%) or greater of the total membership of the [Judiciary] committee present shall receive a 'recommended' rating."


Who thinks this kind of a rating system tells voters anything?

The SCPR could pose a thousand questions to the committee members to probe exactly what "recommended" or "highly recommended" actually means in terms of the likelihood that a given candidate will turn out to be a distinguished jurist.

But this is a system that the partisan political folks (i.e. Chris Redfern, chair of the Ohio Democratic Party and and the leadership of the Ohio GOP think adequately serves the voters?

What it serves is those political party types who want to insinuate into our system of justice partisan, biased people; presumably well-intended, who are ambitious to achieve the prestige of being a judge primarily to achieve personal satisfaction.

And it appears that the Redferns of the world primarily want to continue the system of political patronage in appoint judges.

Supreme Court Associate Justice and Democrat William O'Neill can criticize the O'Connor "Ohio Courts 2013:  A Plan for Strengthening Judicial Elections" plan all he wants, to wit:
Any serious proposal to change the elections must address the money issue.  Money and judges don't mix. The perception among voters is overwhelmingly that money buys influence in the judiciary in Ohio.
One who knows the political history of O'Neill has to think that his criticism in-and-of-itself may be an R & D thing rather than a well thought out opposition with a suggestion for improvement.

One would think that a sitting Ohio Supreme Court judge being specially situated would think he has an obligation to offer up improvements/additions to the plan.

If O'Neill has something to offer to solve the "[money and judges don't mix" problem (which the SCPR agrees is a problem), then what is his solution?

It has always mystified yours truly how sitting judges and candidates for judge can accept financial contributions from lawyers who have, do or who will be appearing before them.

In meantime, Ohio needs to take a cue from Judge O'Connor and get to work in reforming the way we select judges!

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