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Time is ticking for GOP’s judge recommendation

The disarray among members in the Trumbull County Republican Party certainly must be raising concern over the party’s ability to successfully fill government seats with GOP members. Right now, that especially includes filling an open seat for Trumbull County Common Pleas judge.

Former Trumbull County Republican Party Chairman Ken Kline last month resigned abruptly as head of the local party. His chairmanship had been punctuated with divided factions and frequent disagreements among party membership.

New Chairman Michael Bollas was elected to fill the chairmanship post just last week. Moments before his election, even he had spoken about the party’s division.

“In all of my years, I’ve never seen such anger and disrespect” among party members, Bollas said. “In order for us to get anything accomplished, we’re going to have to make an attempt to bring at least most of the people together. I know in some cases that’s not going to happen, but we’ve got to make the attempts. We can’t have ill feelings. We have to work with everybody.”

Sadly, almost immediately following his election, talk of harmony and unity crumbled into factions and chaos that have plagued the local party.

Now the local Republican Party is charged with recommending three candidates to fill the seat recently vacated by longtime Democratic Trumbull County Common Pleas Judge Peter Kontos who retired last month.

Republicans desperately want to claim that seat for the long term.

Gov. Mike DeWine, a Republican, will help in that regard by filling the seat with an interim judge who will serve until the Nov. 8 General Election. DeWine’s office has told our politics reporter that person almost certainly will be a Republican, and the governor is awaiting a list from the local Republican Party of about three candidates from which to choose.

Kontos announced his decision to retire July 19, effective July 31. Now, nearly a month later, the Republican party still is vetting candidates in order to prepare a list for the governor. They said they have no statutory deadline, which gives them time to screen and vet candidates.

While we appreciate their desire to be thorough, urgency remains critical for the party.

Since Kontos’ retirement came too late for a primary election in the race, each party will put forth one candidate to appear on the November ballot. For the Republicans, that candidate almost certainly will be the same person to be appointed by the governor.

For local Republicans hoping to keep the seat, the clock is ticking. Republicans want whoever is selected to have an opportunity to serve as interim judge for as long as possible in order to build credibility before the election. Undeniably, the likelihood of that candidate being elected in November stands to improve with each day the judge sits on the bench hearing cases.

Initially, interim Trumbull County Republican Party Chairman Robert Carr, who took over temporarily after Kline resigned, said he planned to have the names of three finalists to the governor by Aug. 2. But on Aug. 4, party officials told our reporter they had now slowed down the process of filling the vacant common pleas court judicial seat with plans for a screening committee to recommend three finalists to the governor later this month.

That serves to limit the amount of time the judge will have on the bench and gain name recognition or improve the comfort level of voters with him or her.

Undoubtedly, the party’s disarray could have a negative impact on that process. We wonder how thorough the vetting process will be, considering the recent and unexpected turnover in party leadership, ongoing division and a new party chairman elected just last week.

It’s worth noting that the Republican appointee will go on in November to face a Democratic candidate who will be placed on the ballot by the Trumbull County Democratic Party. That Democratic candidate is widely predicted to be a very popular 11th District Court of Appeals judge and former federal prosecutor Cynthia Westcott Rice of Brookfield. Rice is the presiding and administrative judge of the appellate court. If selected by Democrats, the well-qualified jurist would be a formidable opponent for any interim Republican appointee.

With that in mind, urgency is of the essence for the Republican Party.

Further, it might behoove well-qualified attorneys who believe they would be strong candidates for consideration to apply directly with the governor’s office for the appointment.

Likewise, we urge the governor to seriously consider such submissions, and not to overlook them in favor the local party’s recommendations.

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