PERRYSBURG - The spotlight was on three GOP hopefuls for Perrysburg Municipal Court Monday night.
|C. Drew Griffith (from left), Aram Ohanian & Molly Mack, candidates for the Perrysburg Municipal Court, speak during a "Meet the Candidates" event hosted by the Wood County GOP. (Photo: Enoch Wu/Sentinel-Tribune)
C. Drew Griffith, Molly Mack and Aram Ohanian presented their ideas and responded to questions at a "Meet the Candidates Night" sponsored by the Northern Wood County Republican Club and the Northwest Ohio Conservative Coalition.
"It is a hard choice that all of you have," said moderator Matt Reger, chair of the executive committee of the Wood County Republicans, and Bowling Green prosecutor. "And that's a good thing."
The candidates will be on the May 7 primary ballot to determine who represent the Republican party in the November general election for the judgeship of Perrysburg Municipal Court. Current Judge Dwight Osterud is stepping down after nearly 24 years and four terms on the bench.
During the event, Reger asked the candidates a series of pre-determined and audience-suggested questions, to which each of them responded and, at times, followed up.
For the first question, Reger asked how the candidates would work to protect the rights of victims, defendants, and the public in domestic violence cases.
Griffith, stating that when elected he would not tolerate people abusing or striking others, noted that 90 percent of such offenders who attend intervention or alternative sentencing programs "never offend again, but only about 60 percent complete it." The probation department, and proper monitoring, could assist with that.
Ohanian said that the most difficult part of those cases is getting victims to come to court. "You need to make sure that your court is one that listens to the victims, has follow-up," he said.
"Communication, I believe, is key, communication between law enforcement, between the probation department, and getting that information as to the abuser, that they have been a prior abuser, and getting that to the court," said Mack. She said that a special domestic violence docket might be implemented.
On a related question, Reger asked the candidates for their vision of the role of the probation department and how they might alter it.
"I think you build the victim advocate into the probation department in the context of domestic violence cases, for that type of monitoring," said Griffith, adding later that "the way to improve the action of the probation department is to see that they're vigilant, diligent" and doing their duties. Communication is also vital.
Ohanian agreed that monitoring is important, but not the only piece of the puzzle. "You want to make sure that the people, the victims especially, are given the opportunity to be heard." Follow-up, he said, is also vital - the probation department can determine if certain programs are reducing recidivism.
"What we need to do is just make sure the probation, the law enforcement, the victim and the prosecutor's office are giving information to the judge" to help an efficient and effective decision to be rendered, said Mack.
Reger asked the candidates if they would support the creation of special funds in the court, and for what purpose.
Ohanian recognized the importance of using funds efficiently, but "there are some special dockets that I think are important," including a veterans' court which can help veterans in difficult situations avoid legal trouble. "We owe a debt to our veterans and we owe it to them to bring them what they need," he said.
Mack said she works with the Wood County ADAMHS board as its legal counsel, and considered creating a special mental health docket.
"A special fund could be used to train and enhance the understanding of the court's staff to get the most bang for your buck out of technology enhancements," said Griffith, also advocating that funds be used to get civic and court information out to young people and perhaps get them interested in the profession.
As a follow-up, Reger asked further about mental health and other socially-based dockets, such as one focused on OVI.
Ohanian noted that most of the cases dealt with by the court have a mental health component. He said that addressing OVI separately could also have an impact.
"If you can address substance abuse, you can have an impact down the road," he said.
Mack noted that so many of the issues that go before judges are related to addiction "and mental health runs right into that as well."
"I'm not so certain that creating separate dockets in a single-judge court makes much sense," said Griffith, noting that they work in larger cities like Toledo.
On the subject of funding, Reger pointed out that some municipalities look at their courts as revenue enhancers. He asked for the candidates' fiscal philosophies.
"I don't think it's good policy to consider a court a moneymaking factor," said Mack.
"It really concerns me the idea that the judge is just the moneymaking source for the city. As far as fiscally responsible, there is a budget that's set and you need to work within its parameters."
Griffith, noting that he is a self-employed lawyer, said "I am well-attuned to the everyday expenses that can just sneak by," adding "I will be vigilant with taxpayer dollars." He said that, as some additional retirements are expected when Osterud leaves office, those positions could be examined to see if they need to be filled.
"Courts are not moneymakers. They never are. And that's just the nature of it," said Ohanian.
"We have to stop and take a look and see where the money's being spent and how resources can be better used."
As to their qualifications, Griffith noted his continuing experience as magistrate of Northwood's Mayor's Court, and as a defense attorney.
Ohanian highlighted his 20 years working with the Perrysburg court, including as a public defender, defense attorney, and prosecuting attorney.
Being a judge is "so much more than trying cases or hearing cases," said Mack, noting the amount of administrative work that it entails.
Regarding improving civil matters in the courts, all of the candidates agreed on the importance of available dispute mediation resources.
In his final question, Reger asked the candidates how they would work to facilitate the court's role in the community.
Mack hoped that the current Court Explorers and Mock Trial programs begun by Osterud could be continued, and said she would work toward making the court open, more accessible, and less intimidating.
"Everybody who comes before that court needs to be treated with respect and accessibility," said Griffith.
Ohanian agreed that respect and openness were also important, "and the court needs to be a place where people feel comfortable being."