Five people hope to succeed the late Middletown Municipal Court Judge Mark Wall on the bench.
Local attorneys Melynda Cook Howard, Beth Yauch Joseph, Terri King, Jeff Milbauer and James Sherron have filed petitions for election in November to fill the remaining two years on Wall’s unexpired term. Butler County Board of Elections Director Diane Noonan said it could be late March or early April before the petitions are certified.
Middletown police Chief Rodney Muterspaw said the next municipal court judge must be someone who really knows the community.
“This position is huge. It affects people’s daily lives,” he said. “You’re never going to get another Judge Wall … but what you can get is someone who is fair and firm. Not everybody in that courtroom should be locked up.”
For the police chief, that means someone who doesn’t take a “rubber stamp” to each case and takes his or her time with each one.
“That’s what Judge Wall did,” Muterspaw said. “He took great concern with each case.”
Wall, 70, died Feb. 11 at his Middletown home from a cardiovascular event, according to the Butler County Coroner’s Office.
State law mandates that petitions for election in November must be filed within 10 days of a vacated municipal judgeship. Because of when Wall’s death occurred, state law also mandates the election for this municipal judgeship be held in November.
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The short turnaround puts a candidate in an “awkward position” because they had less than two weeks to decide to run and gather at least 50 valid signatures on petitions, said Miami University Regionals political science professor John Forren.
“Not only have they had no time to put together any kind of comprehensive ‘campaign,’” he said, “they also must gather support quickly while also showing appropriate respect for the memory and legacy of Judge Wall.”
The Ohio Supreme Court appointed three retired judges to hear the cases in Wall’s courtroom.
“Ideally, we need someone who had Judge Wall’s lifelong ties to serving our community, clear command of the criminal justice issues facing Middletown, and capable of the same compassion and dignity to every person coming before the court,” Butler County Democratic Party Central Committee Chairwoman Kathy Wyenandt said.
Butler County GOP Executive Chairman Todd Hall said Wall “proved you can truly touch a community from the bench.”
Hall said the GOP will look for someone who has “similar conservative values” to Wall, as well as someone familiar with the area, a strong legal resume, and “brings a passion for the position.”
Forren said there is no apparent so-called front-runner for the temporary appointment by Kasich, but whomever receives it will have the incumbent’s advantage and “a leg up in the special election in November.”
The five candidates — if they are certified to be on the Nov. 7, 2017, general election ballot — will fill the final two years of Wall’s term, which does not end until Dec. 31, 2019, and run for election in November 2019 if they want to retain the seat.
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