Tuesday, November 18, 2014



Of course, Curtis Werren could still win election to the Stark County Court of Common Pleas post he was appointed to by Republican governor John Kasich in June, 2013.

Kasich appointed Werren to replace retiring judge V. Lee Sinclair.

One of the applicants for the appointment was Stark County "top gun" prosecutor Chryssa Hartnett who has a "top notch" reputation among Stark County jurists for her work as a prosecutor.

But she is a Democrat.

Despite the electorate's expectation that any governor - Republican or Democrat -  will appoint the best person when a vacancy occurs, many, including The Stark County Political Report thinks that Kasich let partisan politics rule over merit in appointing Werren over Hartnett.

Too her credit, Hartnett did not take a gubernatorial "no" for an answer, she went over his head to "the people of Stark County.

And she may have pulled off the improbable.

As of the end of the "unofficial" count on November 4th, she holds a 29 vote edge over Werren who had more than a year head start over Hartnett in campaigning for retaining his appointed judgeship.

Some 1175 votes remain to be counted.

Make no mistake about it, every thing that Werren did from taking office in July, 2013 had to be with "one eye" on what this or that move (except for case decisions themselves) had on his chances to retain office.

That Hartnett had any lead at all even at the end of the "unofficial" results over Werren in a year in which Kasich polled almost 24,000 votes more than than fellow Republican Werren, was truly amazing feat.

The SCPR gauge is that Hartnett cut Werren's share of the Stark County Kasich vote margin of victory (acknowledging that not all of the 24,000 votes were Republican) because she was able to convince voters that she was the much better qualified candidate.

Such is refreshing for those of us who look for merit over political connections and other political game playing.

If Hartnett prevails, she will have overcome a seemingly insuperable barrier.

Conversely, despite being a sitting judge for over a year, Werren proved to be an anemic candidate.

All of Stark's Republican "powers that be" weighed in with "purse and advocacy" on behalf of Werren.

This is contrary with what Stark's Republicans did (Commissioner Janet Creighton being the chief among them) with respect to the candidacy of Republican sheriff candidate Larry Dordea.  A highly competent policeman and a man with impeccable character.

Late last week came word in area media reports that Canton Municipal Court judge Stephen Belden is resigning.

The SCPR has to  believe that Belden has indication that the results of a disciplinary complaint pending before the Disciplinary Counsel branch of the Ohio Supreme court are not looking good.

Belden is thought by a number of local attorneys as being somewhat eccentric.

In 2009, he had what he thought was an unruly defendant duct-taped to his chair.

Belden says that he cannot talk about the particulars of the charges because they remain under investigation. 

Speculation that the SCPR has heard from a reliable includes thinking that the investigation could be about alleged abuse of discretion by Judge Belden in his use of his "contempt of court" power.

The Report is told that Belden, in his alleged misuse of a judge's contempt power, is thought by some to have created a virtual "debtors prison" in Stark County.

Being jailed for failure to pay debt has been outlawed for over 200 years in America.

From a NPR report:
Debtors prisons were outlawed in the United States nearly 200 years ago. And more than 30 years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court made it clear: Judges cannot send people to jail just because they are too poor to pay their court fines.

That decision came in a 1983 case called Bearden v. Georgia, which held that a judge must first consider whether the defendant has the ability to pay but "willfully" refuses.

The Report disagrees with Belden on his inability to talk about the investigation.  But the SCPR understands why he wouldn't want to.

When someone filed a complaint with Disciplinary Counsel on local attorney and civic activist Craig Conley for his "he is grandstanding" comment when Stark County Court of Common Pleas judge Frank Forchione ordered a defendant to make a $5,000 contribution (redirected belonging to the Stark County treasury "fine" money) to a fund for the Sandy Hook Elementary School student shooting victims (December, 2012); Conley "waived" his privacy rights and shared the sum and substance of the complaint with the Stark County public.

The complaint turned out to be bogus in that reviewing authorities found it to be without merit.

Accordingly, despite that he gave other reasons for resigning his judgeship, The Report is not buying Belden's given reasons for resigning.

For purposes of this blog, the SCPR approaches Belden's resignation as being an opportunity for Werren to "get a second bite at the apple" should Hartnett's scant 29 vote margin hold up.

Here is an e-mail that the SCPR received right after the Belden resignation annoucement:

From: ... >
To: tramols@att.net
Sent: Wednesday, November 12, 2014 10:27 PM

Subject: Disorder in the Courts

Now that Judge Belden has come out into the open about his retirement, the rumor is that if Judge Werren loses to Chryssa Harnet in the final count that Judge Werren will get the nod for the seat.  While some are also saying that Judge Kubilius wants the appointment to Judge Parks seat if the disciplinary counsel suspends her from the practice of law.

Interesting, no?

Going back to the ethics complaint filed against Massillon Municipal Court judge Eddie Elum and  Conley going after Judge Forchione on the Sandy Hook matter, things have not been going well for Stark judges.

Elum:   (received a "stayed" suspension from practice of law)

Forchione:  (compelled to retract his redirecting of Stark County fine revenue from the county treasury to Sandy Hook student support fund)

Werren (in electoral jeopardy).

Park (apparently the subject of a complaint before Disciplinary Counsel).


Is there something in the water that Stark County judges are drinking?

But anyway, back to Werren and the thinking that if he turns out to be the loser in his race against Chryssa Hartnett he gets "a second bite at the apple."

The intriguing part of Werren getting a second Kasich appointment is the SCPR thinks he could turn out to be "a two-time loser at the polls."

Belden's appointment replacement will have to run in November, 2015 to retain his/her office.

If Werren gets the appointment (assuming, of course, he ends up losing to Hartnett), he will have to run in the Canton Municipal Court voting district which includes: (from the Canton Muny website)

Should he get a second appointment, the SCPR thinks it is likely that his foe come November, 2016 will be the highly able and qualified (more than Werren, despite his one plus year on the bench) Kristen Bales-Aylward.

In her losing effort against Republican Rosemarie Hall for a place on the Stark County Domestic Relations bench in November, 2012; Bales-Aylward (deputy chief counsel of the Canton Law Department) was "highly recommended" by voting members of the Stark County Bar Association.

The best Werren could do was a "recommended" rating.

So that should give SCPR readers a clue that Werren is being carried along by his political and family connections having not been a practicing lawyer for a number of years prior to his appointment to replace Sinclair.

The SCPR thinks that should he lose to Hartnett and gets "a second bite at the 'appointment' apple," he could be the pathway for another female Democratic aspirant to a judgeship in Aylward-Bates to achieve "her heart's desire."

The Report did take a look at the vote between Hartnett and Werren in the Canton Municipal Court election.

The good news for Werren is that he did win over Hartnett by almost 1,000 votes in the Canton Muny district.

Heartening news for a Bates-Aylward candidacy is that in the mix of precincts that make up the Canton Municipal Court jurisdiction, there is plenty of opportunity to overcome Werren's demonstrated plurality.

The dynamics of a Bates-Aylward/Werren face off could make for another "down-to-the-wire" race.

Could we in 2015 be to the end of November before we know who the winner is?

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