For the first time in more than 30 years, there will be a new face behind the bench as Medina Municipal Court judge.
Dale H. Chase isn’t seeking re-election to a sixth term Nov. 7. He was first elected in 1987. Chase was re-elected four times, most recently in 2011. There are three candidates running for the vacant position: independent Bob Campbell, Democrat J.R. Russell and Republican Gary Werner.
- Age: 50
- Education: College of Wooster, bachelor of arts; Case Western Reserve, juris doctorate
- Family: Three daughters, Allyson, 21, Katy, 18, and Hannah, 18
- Occupation: Attorney at Robert Campbell Attorney
- Age: 41
- Education: Ohio State University, bachelor of arts, juris doctorate
- Family: Monica, wife; 2 children
- Occupation: Attorney at Goldman & Rosen Ltd. and municipal prosecutor for Lodi
- Age: 55
- Education: UCLA, bachelor of arts in economics; Loyola Law School (L.A.), juris doctorate
- Family: Lori, wife; Megan, daughter; Max, son
- Occupation: Attorney at Berns, Ockner & Greenberger
Question: What experience trying criminal and civil cases would you bring to the court?
Werner: “My trial work over 23 years has been entirely on the civil side. Cases tried have generally involved contracts and torts, eminent domain, constitutional challenges to local ordinances, mandamus petitions and election and administrative appeals.
“My criminal law experience comes primarily from the thousands of arraignments and sentencing proceedings I conducted presiding as mayor over Brunswick’s Mayor’s Court for four years (2010-13) and since then as a magistrate in that court.”
Campbell: “I have extensive jury trial experience. In my 25-year career, I have tried in excess of 100 jury trials.
“While I have tried both civil and criminal trials, most of my jury trials have been criminal cases.
“From 1992-95, I was an assistant Medina County prosecutor and was responsible for half of the felony cases indicted in the county.
“As a defense attorney, I have tried cases ranging from OVI to aggravated murder. I have also tried several civil cases to verdict. I have tried jury trials in four different municipal courts, including the Medina and Wadsworth Municipal Courts and have tried cases in common pleas courts in four counties. I have also argued before several Ohio Courts of Appeals and the Ohio Supreme Court.
“Additionally, I have trial experience as acting judge and have presided over several bench trials. I have also presided over a jury trial as an acting judge.”
Russell: “My trial experience is very broad-based, and not just limited to one area of the law. I have conducted both bench and jury trials in civil and criminal cases. I have tried cases throughout Ohio.
“Some of the civil cases involved claims where the demand was $1 million, others involved disputes over a few thousand dollars. I have represented national corporations, small businesses, consumers, landlords and tenants.
“With respect to criminal cases, I have prosecuted cases involving assault, child endangering, disorderly conduct, domestic violence, DUI, drug possession, menacing, obstructing justice, theft, trespass, and various traffic offenses to name a few.
“I have been recognized by the peer and achievement-based review by Ohio Super Lawyer publications for my trial work.”
Question: The recently created Municipal Court Jurisdictional Task Force is studying the future of courts in Medina and Wadsworth. What are your thoughts on possibly realigning the courts’ jurisdictions?
Werner: “My approach to spending public funds has always been very simple: narrow the need down to its real core, exhaust cost-free options to address it, then spend no more than is absolutely necessary, and only to provide what is truly needed.
“This is why the proposed realignment appeals to me. It presents an economical way to address the facility expansion question, which the Medina Municipal Court has been examining for more than a decade.
“The proposed realignment is intended to reduce the caseload imbalance between the Wadsworth and Medina municipal courts. The current boundary between the two courts puts substantially more cases in Medina’s court than in Wadsworth’s. … The adjustment will produce some administrative costs and shift some fiscal impacts between the two jurisdictions.
“But the goal is to help alleviate such caseload pressures as actually exist in the Medina Municipal Court. Doing so should shift the ‘expansion’ discussion toward addressing less expensive but still high priority issues, e.g., safe transport of defendants through the Medina Municipal courthouse, court personnel security, etc.”
Campbell: “… From what I understand, the task force is on at least its third proposal regarding what localities will be involved in the redistricting.
“Until a plan is finalized and proposed, it is impossible to assess its impact. One danger of moving cases from Medina to Wadsworth is that the Medina court may lose significant fine and cost revenue but not lose enough cases to allow the court to reduce operations in order to make up for the lost funds.
“The court will still need to employ the same staff to run the court’s operations. This will simply transfer whatever issues Wadsworth may be having with revenue to Medina. It is possible that a reduction in cases would allow Clerk of Courts Nancy Abbott to fire staff to save money, but that is a question better answered by her.
“I have yet to see how the people of the Medina Municipal Court’s jurisdiction are benefited by this proposal. I also fear that there are detail issues about how this redistricting would be accomplished that have not been thoroughly considered, if at all.
“I would hope that the motivation behind this plan is what is best for the citizens of Medina County, but I fear that this is being driven by political motivations that put the people second.”
Russell: “Currently, there is a significant disparity between the caseload of the two jurisdictions by several thousand cases.
“The jurisdictions do not contain an equal number of townships. The Medina Municipal Court contains 11 townships, while the Wadsworth Municipal Court contains the remaining six townships.
“I believe the analysis should be whether the inconvenience and disruption of realigning some townships is outweighed by the benefit to the communities. I believe that I am the only candidate who has addressed the various townships directly to obtain the thoughts and concerns of the residents and township officials of the respective townships.
“The only two townships that were not adamantly opposed to the change were Chatham and Granger townships. However, some officials were concerned that the number of cases generated by those townships did not justify the further inconvenience to their residents, and they did not have enough information on the potential impact of the change.”
Question: Judge Chase has set aside $4 million over the years from court fees to help fund a municipal court expansion, which has yet to take shape. Do you believe court space is adequate, and is this an efficient use of fees?
Werner: “The 1982 site plan for the current Medina Municipal Court building allocated basement-level space for a future, second courtroom.
“The court’s own data show that the number of trials it conducts has been trending downward over the last 15 years.
“Ohio Supreme Court statistics for 2015 show that a dozen or more, single-judge municipal courts in Ohio with similar jurisdiction dispose of thousands more cases annually than are disposed of in Medina Municipal Court.
“These suggest to me that even if the caseload demand is high enough to justify considering a second Medina Municipal Court judge, or even expanded facilities, the building’s designers anticipated such a possibility 35 years ago. … The $4 million set aside was collected pursuant to state law, and deposited in a “special projects” fund.
“The statute limits the purposes for which that money may be used. The amount is insufficient to build a new court facility, at least along the lines of the facilities proposed over the last decade.
“But it may go further in improving access to the building’s lower level, tightening up internal courthouse security (for court personnel and defendant transport), etc.”
Campbell: “The court space is not adequate. While the courtroom is large, there is not sufficient space for people who have business before the court.
“Victims, witnesses, defendants and attorneys all share the same waiting space. This creates issues of security. When it is necessary to try to separate a victim or victims from defendants, the victims are placed in the room where the court’s copy machine is located. It is not appropriate.
“There is no place for attorneys to have confidential conversations with their clients. Prisoners are walked down a hallway that passes the magistrates’ office and is the only means of passage between the clerks’ office and the area that houses the bailiffs, court administration and the judge’s chambers. This creates another security issue.
“The courts’ magistrates share a desk. Not an office, a desk. Magistrate Lawrie sits on one side and Magistrate Leggett sits on the other. I could go on, but suffice it to say the space is no longer appropriate for the business of the court.
“Further, the redistricting ideas that have been floated would not address the issues regarding the sufficiency of the building.”
Russell: “By statute, such funds can only be used for very specific purposes, such as the acquisition of additional facilities or the rehabilitation of existing facilities or community service programs.
“The clear purpose for the establishment of the fund was for the acquisition or rehabilitation of facilities. Even if it were legally permissible, it would not be right to use the funds for some other purpose than what they were collected.
“I believe the funds must be used to upgrade or build a new facility. The current municipal court building is inadequate for the public’s needs.
“The city and the new judge will need to come to a consensus on the appropriate and fiscally responsible approach.”
Question: Why should voters choose you over your two opponents for Medina Municipal Court judge?
Werner: “Each of the three candidates is offering the voters his own specific experiences and skills.
“But, respectfully, my experience and skills better qualify me to assume this position. First, I’m better prepared than my opponents to do the work of this Court.
“About 97 percent of the cases in Medina Municipal Court are terminated by taking pleas and imposing sentences. While presiding as Mayor over Brunswick Mayor’s Court, I did exactly that, i.e., taking several thousand pleas and imposing sentences, every week, for four years, and on many occasions since as a Magistrate in that Court.
“And the charges on which I was imposing sentences were of the same nature as the OVI, traffic, and misdemeanor criminal charges that account for 90% or more of the Municipal Court’s docket. One of my opponent’s has done similar work on maybe 80 or so occasions, and the other, to my knowledge, has done none of it.
“Second, unlike either of my opponents, I have experience in elected office. As a mayor and as a councilman, I spent a decade bearing responsibility for managing public funds, departmental budgets, capital facility and infrastructure planning, personnel and staffing matters, equipment purchases, municipal services, etc.
“The Municipal Court Judge position involves more than just legal skills, which all three of the candidates possess in varying degrees. That Judge runs a public office, with a departmental budget, and is responsible for capital facility planning, personnel and staffing matters, equipment, etc.
“My elected office experience also involved an education in public financing, public debt management and retirement, sinking funds and leveraged public capital projects, etc. That experience, acquired over years working with other elected and appointed public officials, affords me a leg up in the work the new Municipal Court Judge will do with Medina officials to manage the Municipal Court.”
Campbell: “The voters should choose me because I am the candidate with the most specific, extensive and diverse experience.
“I have committed my life and career to Medina County. I grew up here, raised my children here and have devoted my entire career to serving the people of Medina County.
“Neither of the other candidates has shown the level of commitment to Medina County that I have. I don’t believe either has ever had a law office in Medina County.
“Further, my experience in the Medina Municipal Court is extensive and my opponents’ is practically non-existent. According to figures provided by the Medina Municipal Court in May, I have been counsel of record in over 560 cases in the Medina Municipal Court.
“Mr. Russell has been counsel of record in four cases and Mr. Werner has never been attorney of record in the Medina Municipal Court. It is likely that Mr. Werner has never set foot in that court as an attorney.
“I have served as acting judge in the Medina Municipal Court over 80 times. Neither of my opponents has ever served as acting judge in any court. It appears their interest in the court began when Judge Chase announced his retirement.
“ As a prosecutor, defense attorney, and acting judge I have become expert in the types of cases that come before the court, OVI, domestic violence, etc. as well as the constitutional and evidentiary issues that present themselves in those types of cases. Mr. Werner is a zoning lawyer. Being well versed in zoning law does not prepare one for deciding issues involving searches and seizures, the complexities of OVI law, or prepare one to try to help an opiate addict seek recovery.
“Finally, I have never run for political office before. Mr. Werner is a career politician. This is the second office that Mr. Russell has sought in the last two years. I am not simply seeking whatever job is on the ballot.
“I am seeking the job I have spent my life and career preparing to do.”
Russell: “I have extensive experience in municipal courts throughout Ohio.
“I have been on both sides of all of the types of cases that come before a municipal court, for both civil and criminal matters.
“I am the only candidate who has served as a municipal prosecutor. In addition to my private practice at my law firm, I serve as the municipal prosecutor for the Village of Lodi here in Medina County. The first criminal jury trial that I would preside over as Judge, would not be my first criminal jury trial.
“I have never been suspended from the practice of law or sanctioned by the Supreme Court of Ohio. I understand the time and attention to detail that it takes to be an effective administrator.
“I am committed to the rule of law, and applying the law as it is written. I am committed to treating all those who appear before the court with respect. I do not believe that I have an entitlement to this position. I must work to earn and maintain the confidence of the community.
“Finally, I am the only candidate committed to seeking the grant funding necessary to establish a specialized drug court docket to provide a specific framework to help those struggling with addiction and willing to work a program.
“A specialized court docket can maximize efforts to reduce the costs of incarceration, reduce levels of recidivism, and save lives with accountability and a framework to succeed. Participants would be required to complete an assessment, submit to random and regular drug testing, and attend weekly sessions with the Judge and recovery team.
“I understand that the Common Pleas Court has two excellent programs in place to combat the problem. However, we can supplement their efforts, and a municipal court generally has an opportunity to connect with people struggling with addiction first.”