Saturday, February 03, 2001

Common Pleas gains 2 judges

Black appointees bring total of minority judges to three

By Dan Horn
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Two new judges will begin work in Hamilton County Common Pleas Court in the next 10 days.

        Gov. Bob Taft appointed the judges Friday in a move that brings to three the number of African-Americans on the Common Pleas bench. The governor appointed Republicans John West, now a municipal court judge, and Kim Wilson Burke.

        The new judges, both of whom are black, will join a Common Pleas bench that currently has one minority among its 22 judges.

        “I'm happy about that,” Judge West said Friday. “It's not the most important thing, but it does send a message to the community that the governor and county officials want the bench to be representative and diverse.”

        Judge Burke will lead the county's drug court while Judge West joins the general division of the Common Pleas court. Both will fill seats vacated by retiring judges.

        While Judge West's appointment was expected, the selection of Judge Burke was less certain. She was one of three candidates for the job, all of whom had strong supporters among county and GOP officials.

        Judge Burke, a juvenile court magistrate, was chosen ahead of assistant county prosecutor Steve Tolbert and Cincinnati attorney Jim Slattery. She previously was appointed to a municipal court seat in 1997 but left after losing a close election.

        Judge Burke could not be reached for comment Friday, but the retiring drug court judge, Deidra Hair, said she was pleased with Judge Burke's selection.

        “She'll be an excellent judge,” Judge Hair said.

        Drug court emphasizes treatment over punishment and has won praise because more than 90 percent of drug abusers who complete the program do not commit another felony.

        But the court also has faced criticism from some trial lawyers and judges who object to the way the court is assigned drug cases.

        A committee of judges met Friday to discuss the issue, and their recommendations will be ready for Judge Burke soon after she begins work Feb. 12.

        Judge West will take over the seat vacated by Judge John O'Connor. Cincinnati lawyer John Burlew is the front-runner to replace Judge West in municipal court.


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