Eventually, Ohio Gov. John Kasich will make an appointment to fill the unexpired seat of Middletown Municipal Court Judge Mark W. Wall, who died Saturday night of a cardiovascular event in his home.
On Monday, the first day court was held since the 70-year-old judge died, the mood inside the Middletown City Building was somber as employees were seen crying and consoling each other. The flags outside the city building were lowered to half staff and black tape covered the badges of the bailiffs.
Petitions to fill Wall’s seat must be filed by 4 p.m. Feb. 21 for the Nov. 7 general election. State law requires petitions for candidacy of a municipal judgeship be filed no later than 10 days following a vacancy.
Wall was re-elected to a six-year term as the Middletown Municipal judge in 2013. Anyone elected will serve the remaining two years on the unfilled term.
Any candidate wishing to file may contact the elections office Candidate & Ballot Services Department at (513) 887-3700. Candidates are also required to attend a judicial candidate seminar conducted by the Ohio Supreme Court’s Board of Professional Conduct this year.
Though a new judge will be elected, Kasich will need to make an appointment to the seat. The Butler County GOP is expected to make a recommendation, but details on the procedure have not been released.
Greg Rolph, a volunteer bailiff in Wall’s courtroom, doesn’t believe anyone will ever show the compassion toward criminals that Wall, a Middletown native, displayed.
“You will never replace him,” Rolph said Monday morning. “The law is the law and there’s not a lot on interpretation into the As, Bs and Cs of crime. The difference was he was compassionate and he had empathy for people.”
Rolph said he remembers when a 30-year-old Middletown woman, who had no criminal record, was charged with shoplifting after she allegedly stole a pack of gum from a store. Wall didn’t want that one mistake to ruin her life, Rolph said.
The judge told the woman, “‘Promise me you won’t do this again,’” Rolph said.
Wall saw both sides of life, the accused and the victims, Rolph said.
“He sees the worst of the worse in front of him,” Rolph said. “Then he can look straight out and see their grieving family. We don’t have control over what our children and friends do. He had compassion for both sides. He was able to pull it together. He treated everyone equally.”
Butler County Common Pleas Judge Noah Powers agreed, saying Wall had the “patience of Job” in the courtroom.
“He was always fair,” Powers said. “Always willing to listen, to give people their due.”
The bench did not change Wall, Powers said.
“He was the same today as the first day he went on the bench … a good man,” he said.
The two men met 39 years ago. Powers was waiting to pass the bar exam and was writing appellate briefs for Wall and other attorneys in the Middletown office.
Wall, who graduated from Middletown’s Fenwick High School and from Miami University, earned his law degree from the University of Cincinnati in 1973. During the Vietnam conflict, he served with the 199th Light Infantry Brigade of the U.S. Army. He received several citations and awards, including the Bronze Star Medal.
Wall began his practice in 1973 with the local firm of Wilmer and Wilmer. He was in general trial practice with federal, state and local courts along with probate and real estate law.
Rolph said Wall loved and promoted his hometown.
“He wanted to make people better even in the worst circumstances,” he said. “He was a human. A lot of judges, when they go out, they leave town. He stayed right here in town. He was who he was. He was the same here in town as he was in court.”
On Monday, Judge Robert Messham Jr., a retired Miamisburg judge, presided over Middletown Municipal Court. He was one of three judges appointed by the Ohio Supreme Court, said Steve Longworth, court administrator. The others: Tom Hanna and Mel Kemmer.
They will serve as acting judges until a replacement is named, Longworth said.
Mark Mangus, who operates the City Cafe in the city building, said Wall was a frequent customer and a generous man.
Mangus’ daughter, Alex, 16, a junior at Fenwick High School, is preparing to travel overseas and Wall frequently asked about her and placed money in a tip jar.
“He said, ‘Give this money to your daughter,’” Mangus said.
Another time, Mangus said, when Wall was picking up lunch, he overheard a woman talking about her child taking a trip. Wall reached into his wallet and handed the woman a $20 bill.
As Mangus relayed the stories, tears filled his eyes
“And I thought I’d get by the day,” he said.
While returning from Columbus Saturday night, he learned of Wall’s passing.
“It went from an excellent night to reality,” Mangus said. “They say tomorrow isn’t guaranteed.”
Staff writer Michael D. Pitman contributed to this report.