WEB EXCLUSIVE: Seven compete for two judge positions

Grace Dobush

Next week, residents will elect two Portage County Municipal Court judges.

Both contests are for unexpired terms. Judges are usually elected on even years for six-year terms, but two vacancies led to the open positions.

Municipal judges hear traffic and criminal misdemeanor cases as well as civil cases where the disputed amount is less than $15,000. Two of the three municipal judges in Portage County are based in Ravenna; the other is based in Kent.

The first term, ending Dec. 31, 2007, became open after of the death of Judge Donald Martell. Judge Barbara Oswick was appointed to the position in Kent Municipal Court by Gov. Bob Taft last September and is now challenged by Timothy Ludick, Brady Lake solicitor and a former mayor of Kent.

Ludick, 54, also taught law courses at Kent State for 25 years and is an acting judge in municipal court. Acting judges, selected by elected judges, fill in when the elected judges are sick or otherwise unable to be in court.

Ludick said his experience is more varied and substantial than Oswick’s.

“My opponent was appointed to the bench because of Bob Taft,” he said. “And he has a history of making bad choices.”

Oswick, 56, a former felony child abuse prosecutor in the Portage County Prosecutor’s Office, said her experience on the bench makes her the best choice in the election.

“You have to get your feet wet to know what the problems are,” she said.

If elected, Oswick would like to meet with students to improve relations and reduce the number of drug- and alcohol-related offenses.

There are five contenders for the second vacancy, whose term ends Dec. 31, 2009. The position was vacated when Judge Laurie Pittman was elected to the Portage County Common Pleas Court. Judge William Nome was appointed to the judgeship in February and now is running against four for the spot. Ravenna law director Frank Cimino, attorney Melanie Miguel-Courtad, former county prosecutor John Plough and chief assistant prosecutor Denise Smith are vying for the position.

Cimino, 58, has been the Ravenna law director for close to 30 years and also served as the chief of the Prosecutor’s criminal division and as Kent’s assistant law director. In the past, he said, he handled up to 40 cases a week in municipal court.

“I’ve always been a fair and impartial evaluator of facts in each case,” Cimino said.

Miguel-Courtad, 36, an attorney who specializes in labor law, said she would like to increase jury pay and use the Internet for handling some court matters if elected.

She said she worked her way through college in restaurants and retail and can relate to college students more than her opponents.

“I represent clients,” Miguel-Courtad said. “I’m not a politician.”

Nome, 54, was a lawyer for 29 years and was a legal counsel for PARTA for about 20 years. He inherited a backlog of 105 cases when he was appointed to the bench, he said, and had decreased that amount by two-thirds by September. Nome said he would continue to pursue collection of delinquent court fees and handle cases promptly if elected.

“Justice delayed is justice denied,” he said.

Former Portage County Prosecutor Plough, 58, has practiced law for more than 30 years.

“I’ve had more jury trial experience than the other four candidates combined,” he said.

Plough wants to save time by establishing a night court, staggering arraignment times for traffic violations and using mediation in civil cases. He also wants to use diversion programs to avoid criminal records for first-time, nonviolent offenders.

Smith, 49, has worked in the Portage County Prosecutor’s Office for 14 years and has been chief assistant prosecutor for 11 years. If elected to be judge, she said, she would make sure proceedings are run in a fiscally responsible manner and work with court-related programs to ensure they are efficient. Smith said her administrative and prosecution experience give her a unique advantage.

“I’m dedicated to public service, law and order,” she said.

Contact public affairs reporter Grace Dobush at [email protected].