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Published: 10/21/2012 - Updated: 1 year ago

Court strikes down merger; Woodville, Clyde to vote

BY JENNIFER FEEHAN
BLADE STAFF WRITER

FREMONT — Sandusky County voters who live in areas served by the county courts in Woodville and Clyde will vote for judges for the two courts on Nov. 6 after all.

And voters who cast early ballots will be mailed a second ballot as early as Monday so they can vote on the judgeships as well, the Sandusky County Board of Elections determined.

The decision came at an emergency meeting called in response to Thursday’s ruling by the Ohio Supreme Court, which declared the merging of the two courts unconstitutional and ordered that an election for judges in Woodville and Clyde be held Nov. 6.

The ruling put the board of elections in the precarious position of having to hold an election for two races that were not on the ballot. Lisa Hartley, elections director in Sandusky County, said that by Thursday, 2,009 absentee ballots had been requested by voters living in the two court districts.

Ms. Hartley said new ballots containing only the two court races would be printed in the elections office and should be mailed out to absentee voters by Monday. Secondary ballots also will be printed for voters who choose to vote early at the board office and for those who vote on Election Day.

“It will get done,” Ms. Hartley said. “It is what it is. The Supreme Court ordered it, and we will do it.”

Only Judge John Kolesar filed for the judgeship in Clyde, while Beth Tischler and Mary Beth Fiser filed petitions to run for the judgeship in Woodville. The current judge in the Woodville court, Herbert Adams, is prohibited by his age from seeking another term.

Ms. Hartley said the ruling does not affect voters in the cities of Fremont and Bellevue or in Ballville, Sandusky, and York townships. Those residents are served by the municipal courts in Fremont and Bellevue.

The state legislature earlier this year approved a bill merging the courts in Woodville and Clyde into one Sandusky County Municipal Court and appointing the two current judges, whose terms expire at the end of this year, to remain on the bench an additional year. The bill called for election of a new full-time judge in November, 2013.

But the high court said in a unanimous decision that the merger of the two county courts was unconstitutional, in part because the state legislature is not empowered to appoint judges. The Supreme Court also struck down an earlier decision by the 6th District Court of Appeals that called for a special election to be held before the end of the year, saying the judicial race must be decided at the general election.

The merger of the courts, which was purported to be a money-saving move, had been contested by the mayors and police chiefs from Woodville and Gibsonburg, who contended it was unconstitutional.

Sandusky County Prosecutor Tom Stierwalt said all voters in the court districts will have the opportunity to vote on the judgeships — if they choose to. “Whether they get it in the mail and say, ‘I already voted,’ and throw it away, I don’t know,” he said.

Elections officials are asking voters to complete and return the new ballots as soon as possible. Ms. Hartley said she did not know what the additional ballots and mailings would cost.

Contact Jennifer Feehan at: jfeehan@theblade.com or 419-724-6129.



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