The Hamilton County Juvenile Court Election: O. Henry Ending, Part I.

Update: read the post about Judge Dlott’s Feb 8 2012 opinion about this race here.

Who would have thought that with the 2011 elections now over, the November 2, 2010 Hamilton County juvenile court election between John Williams and Tracie Hunter would still be undecided?

But this September, Judge Karla Grady, administrative and senior judge at the Hamilton County Juvenile Court suddenly and unexpectedly announced her retirement as of October 31 at the ripe young age of 57. Rumors about that abound.

As for the undecided 2010 election, over in federal court, Chief Judge Susan Dlott has held a trial on counting certain disputed provisional ballots, which could determine the winner of the Williams/Hunter race. Before this trial, Williams was ahead by 23 votes. Judge Dlott has made no decision in this case yet. Rumors about that abound.

So now, today, to the surprise of no one, Governor Kasich (in Ohio, the governor gets to fill judicial vacancies) announced the appointmentof John Williams to Judge Grady’s job. Williams will start work on Monday. This will make Williams the administrative judge in juvenile court—a position with considerable responsibility and patronage. But the one hitch—this appointment is only for the rest of Judge Grady’s term. So Williams will have to run in the November 2012 election to serve the rest of this term, which ends Feb 13, 2015.

So where’s the rest of the O. Henry ending to this tale? If after the federal lawsuit is over and done, Williams is declared the winner of that race, he can quit the seat he got today, and take the other one. The benefit? That’s a full six year term, maybe including a full year of back pay.(I don’t know enough about the particulars of whether a judge who wins an election after a year’s dispute, gets full back pay—I’d be interested in comments on that one). And he wouldn’t have to run again for six years. And he’d still have seniority and be the administrative judge. And Governor Kasich could appoint another Republican to the seat Williams would be giving up.

But what if after all the federal litigation is over Tracie Hunter is declared the winner of the Nov 2, 2010 election? The she and Williams would each get a judgeship,(she’d get a full 6 year term and the possibility of that back pay) and they’d get to serve together after more than a year of acrimonious litigation. O.Henry, indeed.

You can read more about the background to this juvenile court controversy here, and here.

The Supreme Court of Ohio is hearing two significant juvenile law cases on December 6. In re J.V. case # 2011-0107 involves the question of whether imposing an adult prison sentence on a juvenile is unconstitutional. In Re M.W. case # 0215 will tackle the question of whether a juvenile is entitled to a lawyer at an investigatory interrogation. Both cases will be previewed on the blog soon.