Mahoning Judge Belinky resigns

YOUNGSTOWN – In just two sentences to Ohio Gov. John Kasich, Mark Belinky resigned Friday as judge of Mahoning County Probate Court.

”Please be advised that the undersigned is the Judge of the Mahoning County Probate Court. I hereby submit my resignation as Judge of the Court effective this date,” wrote Belinky, who also sent the same letter to Ohio Supreme Court Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor.

Belinky, reached Friday evening, said he made the decision because he thought it was “the best interest of my family and myself.”

He declined to answer further questions. One day earlier he had told the Tribune Chronicle that he had ”not made that decision” to resign.

”I’m still sitting on the bench. That’s all I can really say,” Belinky said Thursday.

Belinky has been involved in a criminal investigation led by the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation, or BCI, which searched the former judge’s home in Boardman and probate court chambers inside the Mahoning County Courthouse on Feb. 7. Among the items taken were campaign finance reports, personal financial documents, computers and notes presumably related to the Oakhill Renaissance corruption investigation.

Belinky has not been charged with a crime.

Dan Tierney, spokesman for Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine, declined to comment on the ”ongoing investigation,” including whether the case has been presented to a grand jury.

Likewise, because the investigation is still in progress, Mahoning County Prosecutor Paul Gains also declined to comment.

Mahoning County Democratic Party chairman, Dave Betras, wrote in an email that he was ”shocked” when he heard the news that Belinky stepped aside.

”As I said when news about the investigation broke, I have faith in the BCI, the FBI and the judicial system, which has clearly worked its course,” wrote Betras. ”I think we as a community should all now focus on the future of the Probate Court and our community.”

In the immediate future, the Mahoning County Republican Party will present at least three names to Kasich, who will appoint someone to fill Belinky’s unexpired term, which ends in February 2015.

Mahoning GOP chairman Mark Munroe said he had contact with the governor’s office Friday and was asked to put together a local screening committee to find a slate of suitable replacements.

”It’s basically an application and vetting process,” said Munroe.

Meanwhile, there are two Democrats left seeking the party nomination in May. They include Susan Maruca, who lost to Belinky in the 2008 primary election, but secured the Democratic Party endorsement for this election and Christopher Sammarone, son of Youngstown City Council President Charles Sammarone. Time remains before the May 5 deadline for independent candidates to file to run for the seat.

Belinky finished third in the party endorsement in February. He said the criminal investigation ”hurt to some degree,” but did not think it was the full reason why he didn’t get the support from Democrats.

“I think I have been a very good judge and think the court is running fantastic,” Belinky said. “I think I have one of the best-run probate courts in the State of Ohio. I was very disappointed.”

Belinky earned about $105,000 a year as probate judge.