Wednesday, December 20, 2000

2 judgeships to be unfilled for a month

By Dan Horn
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Hamilton County will be missing two judges for the first month of the new year.

        Republican Party officials said Tuesday they will need more time than expected to recommend replacements for two retiring Common Pleas judges.

        The delay means the county's other judges must scramble to cover cases for the retired judges, either by taking on more work themselves or by using visiting judges to handle the dockets.

        Court officials say the open seats could slow progress in dozens of pending cases. The greatest impact would be on the county's drug court, where hundreds of offenders are closely supervised by retiring Judge Deidra Hair and her staff.

        “Common Pleas Court is going to have to deal with it,” said Ohio Treasurer Joe Deters, the head of Hamilton County's Republic Party. “It's much more important to get this right than to get it fast.”

        The two judicial seats will be vacated Dec. 31 by Judge Hair and Judge John O'Connor. A committee of Republican lawyers will recommend replacements to Republican Gov. Bob Taft, who will make the final selection.

        The committee interviewed candidates over the weekend and was expected to recommend new judges this week.

        But that timetable was scrapped Tuesday when Mr. Deters said the committee will need more time. He said recommendations will not be made until mid- to late January.

        “There's not a problem at all,” Mr. Deters said. “It's not like a bomb's going to go off. The other judges will have to assist until the positions are filled.”

        Court Administrator Mike Walton said the delay could cause some problems. Most of them would likely be in drug court, where offenders are allowed to avoid prison if they follow strict rules for drug treatment.

        Mr. Walton said a combination of court staff, other Common Pleas judges and visiting judges will pick up the extra cases.

        The GOP's selection committee, which includes Mr. Walton and Prosecutor Mike Allen, will meet again early in January.

        The pool of candidates for the drug court position includes Cincinnati lawyer Jim Slattery, Municipal Judge Robert Taylor, former Municipal Judge Kim Wilson Burke and Chief Assistant Prosecutor Steve Tolbert.

        Municipal Judge John West is expected to win the committee's recommendation for Judge O'Connor's seat.


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