Ohio voters are truly blessed this fall with a crop of well seasoned, strongly articulate and highly qualified candidates vying for two open seats on the seven-member Ohio Supreme Court.
Too often, these down-ballot judicial races are taken far too lightly or even bypassed completely by voters more interested in the more partisan front-burner candidates in the general election.
That’s unfortunate, because associate justices on the state’s highest court are invested with awesome responsibilities as the final authority over interpretations of state law at all levels and of the Ohio Constitution.
Because of the high caliber of each of the four candidates for the two positions, the process for members of The Vindicator Editorial Board to make endorsement decisions became extremely difficult.
RACE FOR JAN. 1 TERM
In the race for the term that begins Jan. 1, both candidates bring impressive credentials to the table. Judge Craig Baldwin, a Republican from Newark, has served five years on the Canton-based 15-county 5th District Court of Appeals. His diverse legal credentials also include service as a probate judge, as director of a Child Support Enforcement Agency and as a staff attorney for the Ohio Public Defender’s Office.
If elected, Judge Baldwin vows to prioritize improving efficiency in case management and focusing on strict fiscal oversight and accountability of the court’s $120 million taxpayer-financed budget. Both stand as admirable goals.
His opponent, Judge Michael Donnelly, a Cleveland Democrat, also has acquired a bounty of solid bench know-how in his 13 years of service as a judge on the Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court, the busiest trial court in the entire state.
If elected as an associate justice, Judge Donnelly says he will work to ensure the state’s justice system runs “fairly, effectively, efficiently and without bias.” He also would place a premium on finding ways to increase and enhance access to the justice system for lower-income Ohioans by removing any barriers that stand in their way.
In the final analysis, we give Judge Donnelly the slight edge in this race, in part, because as a Democrat, he would add a needed dimension of diversity in perspectives and political background to the court, which today consists exclusively of Republican Party justices.
RACE FOR JAN. 2 TERM
The race for the six-year associate justice term that will begin next Jan. 2 likewise features two experienced and respected career judges. In this contest, The Vindicator gives the edge to Poland native and sitting Associate Justice Mary DeGenaro, the Republican Party’s nominee for the post.
Were Judge DeGenaro not in the race, however, The Vindicator would not have hesitated to endorse her formidable challenger, Judge Melody Stewart.
Judge Stewart has served capably for 12 years on the Cleveland-based 8th District Court of Appeals and has gained a reputation for impartiality, fairness and integrity.
Her priorities for the office are similar to those of the incumbent justice. She told members of this newspaper’s Editorial Board that she would work to “bring about much needed reforms in our judicial system to make it more accessible, more efficient, more accountable and more responsive to the people it serves.”
Her ascension to the Supreme Court also would give it the added benefit of an inclusive African-American perspective the all-white panel lacks today.
Judge DeGenaro served five years longer on the appellate bench than Judge Stewart before being appointed early this year to become the 159th justice in the high court’s history. She enunciates similar goals and priorities as her challenger. Judge DeGenaro, too, seeks to improve the
efficiency and effectiveness of the high court and other courts in the state.
As a favorite daughter of the Mahoning Valley, we have watched and largely admired Judge DeGenaro’s record of high-quality public service on the Youngstown-based 7th District Court of Appeals for 17 years and on Poland
Village Council before that.
She has gained a reputation over the years as a fair dispenser of justice and as an efficient manager of court dockets. She also has distinguished herself as always the bipartisan team player and never the strident ideologue.
As such, Mahoning Valley residents and all Ohioans will have their best interests aptly represented with her
election to a full six-year term on the state’s venerated Supreme Court.
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.