It’s always a pleasure to inter- view candidates for office who not only have impressive resumes but also display a level of commitment to public service that is reassuring.
The Nov. 6 general-election contest for the open Mahoning County Area Court judgeship features such candidates. Voters can rest assured that the court will be in competent hands come Jan. 1.
That said, The Vindicator is forced to eliminate two of the six candidates on the ballot in our endorsement process.
Atty. Molly Johnson of Canfield chose not to participate in the Editorial Board interview that is required for consideration of our support.
Atty. Christopher Sammarone was disqualified because he refused to discuss his participation in a meeting in 2014 that included his father, former Youngstown Mayor Charles Sammarone, and Mahoning County Democratic Party Chairman David Betras.
Christopher Sammarone was a candidate for Mahoning County Probate Court judge and had lost the party endorsement to Atty. Susan Maruca.
An excerpt of the transcript of the tape recording of that meeting, in which Sammarone’s withdrawal from the race was discussed, was included in the criminal indictment against former Mayor Sammarone.
Christopher Sammarone was asked repeatedly by Vindicator editors and writers to explain his participation in the meeting and whether investigators in his father’s case had questioned him.
His refusal to even acknowledge his attendance disqualifies him from consideration.
The Mahoning County Area Court is already under a dark cloud as a result of the current judge, Diane Vettori, facing criminal charges stemming from her work as a private lawyer.
The Ohio Supreme Court has prohibited Vettori, who is not seeking re-election this year, from serving on the bench while her case is pending.
4 candidates rise to top
From our vantage point, therefore, there are four candidates who merited the paper’s consideration: A. Ross Douglass; Matt Gambrel; J.P. Morgan, and Kathi McNabb Welsh.
We are confident that any one of the four would serve the county court system honestly, impartially and efficiently.
Douglass, Gambrel, Morgan and McNabb Welsh each recognizes that lifting the dark cloud of suspicion that now hangs over the court must be a priority.
All four also are committed to the fair and efficient administration of justice.
On Page A1 today, The Vindicator has published an in-depth story on this race by Politics Writer David Skolnick. It provides readers with an objective review of each candidacy and the issues surrounding the election.
As we said at the beginning of this editorial, it was a pleasure interviewing the participants in this important race because of their experience, knowledge and commitment to the proper administration of justice.
But in the end, elections are about making a choice, and after much thought and deliberation, The Vindicator endorses Morgan, who has been a practicing attorney in the Mahoning Valley for 17 years.
We acknowledge that some of the other candidates have been lawyers longer and have more experience in the county court system. But, we were impressed with Morgan’s unwavering commitment to making the court system better.
“Our families and this community deserve a court that they can trust to fairly, impartially and independently hear cases – a court that will apply the law correctly without bowing to financial gain or political pressures,” he wrote in The Vindicator’s candidate survey form. “
In arriving at our decision, it should be noted that each of The Vindicator staff members who participated in the endorsement interviews came to the same conclusion: There was something about the way Morgan presented himself and his candidacy that set him apart from the field.
It was one of those “You-know-it-when -you-see-it” moments.
To be sure, there will be voters who agree with our endorsement, and others who think we made the wrong call.
But as we have noted, any one of the four candidates we considered for The Vindicator’s endorsement would do a good job.
Douglass, Gambrel, Morgan and McNabb Welsh have particular strengths they would bring to the job, but the one thing they all agree on should reassure county residents who live within the jurisdiction of the county court system: It’s time for a new beginning.
Editor’s Note: Details of the candidates’ positions on a range of issues can be found in Vindicator news stories, videos of Editorial Board interviews posted on vindy.com and by accessing the candidate surveys on the website.