Apr 29 2011
In Miamisburg, Ohio, the race to replace retiring municipal Judge Robert Messham is getting ugly. Partisan bickering and accusations of misconduct are making headlines. The twist? The candidates are both on the same side, at least politically. Candidates Robert Rettich and John Kolberg are locked in an increasingly messy squabble over the Republican nomination. The Dayton Daily News explains the situation:
Kolberg, who has served as magistrate at the court for 19 years and as an acting judge since 2002, was recommended over Rettich by the Montgomery County Republican Party Screening Committee in January.
But on April 14, the precinct captains in the court’s jurisdiction voted 23-4 to endorse Rettich.
Former Miami Twp. Trustee Dave Coffey, who is helping Kolberg’s campaign, said the April meeting was an “ambush.” Instead of focusing on judicial qualifications, Rettich supporters questioned Kolberg’s legitimacy as a Republican, Coffey said.
In addition to the political infighting, there are allegations that a Rettich supporter tried to get the retiring judge to convince Kolberg to withdraw, by threatening the jobs of current court employees.
Messham told the Dayton Daily News that Miami Twp. Trustee Deborah Preston told him April 16 that if Kolberg did not withdraw from the race, Rettich would fire all current court employees once he is elected.
Preston also told Messham that, if he brokered the deal to get Kolberg out of the race, he would be allowed to serve as a visiting judge at the Miamisburg court after he retires, Messham said.
Messharm said Preston never mentioned Rettich’s name, but said, “Bob, I’m only the messenger.”
Why is the endorsement of the County Republican Party causing such a scrap? Because of cold political reality; without a party endorsement, most judicial candidates in partisan races have a vanishingly small chance of reaching the bench. Endorsed candidates have a huge advantage in a party primary. If a candidate who fails to win a primary even has the option to run as an independent, he or she will be facing opponents who have the benefit of their parties’ assistance with campaigning and raising funds.
In a partisan judicial election, the endorsement of a party is invaluable. Party politics become more important than the experience and ability of the candidates. Qualified judges can reach the bench only if they’re also sufficiently skilled politicians. They must navigate the often contentious currents of party endorsements, and the often confusing ethical rules that try to balance the need for political campaigning against their impartiality on issues they might rule on once they’re elected.
We believe that Pennsylvanians deserve a system that gets appellate judges out of the business of raising funds and campaigning for votes. We think that skilled judges should be able to reach the Pennsylvania appellate bench on the strength of their experience, their ability, and their knowledge of the law, not their skill at winning political points. That’s why we support the switch to Merit Selection of appellate judges in Pennsylvania.Tags: judicial election, Ohio, politics