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Kovoor is ruled ineligible to run for judicial seat

LaRose cites ‘sore loser provision’ of Ohio law

Secretary of State Frank LaRose ruled Sarah Thomas Kovoor is not eligible to be the Republican candidate for a Trumbull County Common Pleas Court judicial seat, pointing to a state law that is commonly called the “sore loser provision.”

Kovoor, who already has a case in front of the Ohio Supreme Court seeking to get on the Nov. 8 ballot, isn’t giving up, saying: “I do not consider this to be over.”

Kovoor added: “I believe that the court’s decision will clarify this matter and my name will be placed on the Nov. 8 ballot. I’m fighting not only for my rights, but the rights of the voters to have a choice. This is a fight worth fighting and I will not give up.”

Unless the state’s high court overturns LaRose’s ruling, Cynthia Westcott Rice of Brookfield, the Democratic nominee and an 11th District Court of Appeals judge, will be the only candidate running for the open common pleas seat on the ballot.

LaRose, a Republican, sided Wednesday with the two Democrats on the county board of elections — Mark Alberini, its chairman as well as the head of the county party, and Diana Marchese — who voted Aug. 19 against Kovoor’s eligibility to be on the ballot for the vacant seat.

In Youngstown for an event when his ruling was released Wednesday, LaRose said: “I’m confident the decision we made” is correct.

Like Alberini and Marchese, LaRose’s decision cited Ohio Revised Code Section 3513.04, which states: “No person who seeks party nomination for an office or position at a primary election by declaration of candidacy … shall be permitted to become a candidate by nominating petition … by declaration of intent to be a write-in candidate or by filling a vacancy under section 3531.31 of the Revised Code at the following general election for any office.”

The only exceptions are for boards of education, the governing board of an educational service center or township trustee.

Kovoor, of Howland, lost the May 2 Republican primary for an 11th District Court of Appeals seat and was then appointed April 14 by the Trumbull County Republican Party’s central committee as its nominee for a position vacated July 31 by Democrat Peter J. Kontos.

Kovoor and the Trumbull GOP filed a lawsuit Aug. 24 against the Trumbull elections board to compel it to submit immediately position papers to LaRose on her eligibility question and for LaRose to “render his decision immediately, prior to receiving position papers from the board of elections.”

The board turned in their position papers Friday, two days after the lawsuit was filed, and LaRose made his decision Wednesday.

“It surprised me that before we made a determination they had filed that lawsuit,” LaRose said.

The lawsuit also asked the court to compel the elections board and LaRose to put her name on the ballot if the latter didn’t certify her.

“I continue to fight to ensure that the voters of Trumbull County have a choice between two candidates for judge of the Trumbull County Common Pleas Court in November and I have presented this matter to the Ohio Supreme Court,” Kovoor said.

Ron Knight and Arno Hill, the Republican election board members who voted to certify Kovoor, had asked LaRose to reconsider the law because Kovoor was appointed by the Republican central committee and when she ran for the court of appeals seat in May, Kontos’ seat wasn’t vacant.

LaRose said: “This is one of those things where the law is pretty black and white. I don’t get to do what I want the law to say. I’ve got follow what the law says and the law says in this case that if you ran in a primary and lost, you’re not eligible to be appointed to fill a vacancy on the ballot. I wish that wasn’t the case.”

LaRose said this isn’t a Democrat-Republican issue.

“I sided with the Democrats on the board of elections because that’s what the law says,” he said.

In his decision, LaRose wrote: “Courts, including the Ohio Supreme Court, have reviewed this law over the years and found that its language is straightforward, mandatory and constitutional. Likewise, the Supreme Court has noted that R.C. 3513.04 applies to ‘unsuccessful’ candidates as it is the ‘so-called sore loser provision.’ Additionally, various Ohio attorneys general have issued opinions finding that such candidates are prohibited from running in the general election if they unsuccessfully ran for another office in the proceeding primary election.”

Alberini said: “I’m delighted the secretary of state agreed with those who voted against certifying and that we followed the law and case law. We never want to exclude people from running for office, but the law was pretty clear she was not eligible.”

In addition to the state law, LaRose and the two Democrats on the elections board cited a Sept. 16, 2014, Ohio Supreme Court decision that Thomas Brown was ineligible to run for Ashtabula County Western Area Court judge in the November 2014 general election because he lost a Democratic primary on May 6 of that year for an Ashtabula County Common Pleas Court seat. The decision pointed to the state law prohibiting a person losing a primary from running in a general election in the same year.

The decision striking down Brown’s candidacy read: “Ohio clearly has a legitimate interest in preventing conflicts among party members, an interest in preventing the possibility of voter confusion and an interest in preventing candidacies that may conceivably be prompted by short-range goals.”

The decision also said Brown failed to “show beyond a reasonable doubt that R.C. 3513.04 is unconstitutional.”

Kovoor said her situation wasn’t like Brown’s because she was appointed by the Trumbull Republican Party’s central committee to be its candidacy for a vacant position and there wasn’t a primary for the seat formerly held by Kontos.

“I’m not surprised by this, but I’m disappointed,” Kovoor said.

Gov. Mike DeWine, a Republican, can choose a temporary judge for the seat to hold the position until the general election results are certified. Trumbull Republicans submitted three names, including Kovoor, on Aug. 11 for consideration for that appointment.

Trumbull Republicans held an “emergency meeting” Aug. 14 to select Kovoor. The meeting notice acknowledged it violated party bylaws that require 10 days’ notice before having such a meeting.

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