Four local lawyers — two Democrats and two Republicans — are seeking their party’s nomination for judge of Lucas County Domestic Relations Court.
On the May 6 primary ballot are Democrats Jay Feldstein and John Coble and Republicans Lisa McGowan and Joseph Clarke. The winners will face off in November for the judgeship now filled by Judge Norman Zemmelman, who is barred by age restrictions from running for re-election.
Mrs. McGowan, 46, has been practicing law nearly 21 years, the last 14 as an employee of the domestic relations court, which hears divorces, dissolutions, annulments, child custody, visitation, child support, property division, and related issues.
A native of Rome, N.Y., and graduate of the University of Toledo law school, she worked for 12 years as a staff attorney for Domestic Relations Judge David Lewandowski and the last two as a full-time magistrate, hearing temporary motions in pending divorce cases, writing decisions, and presiding over emergency hearings as well as post-divorce motions.
“Handling my own cases and doing my own docket and really connecting with people. ... I have really tried to work with people, and I think my mediation and arbitration background and experience has helped,” she said. “I really have gotten some great results with families and getting them to an agreement.”
A mother of two young children — her husband, Chris McGowan, is a criminal defense attorney — she said, “Family is just very important to me. I think I bring that to the job and I think people have benefited from that.”
Mr. Clarke, 37, her opponent in the GOP primary, said that about 80 percent of his private law practice involves domestic relations work — something for which he believes he has the right temperament.
“I just think it’s an amazing opportunity to help families through a very difficult time in their lives,” he said. “Their idea of a family is fundamentally changing for these people as they go through this process.”
A Cincinnati native and single parent of a daughter, Mr. Clarke graduated from UT’s law school in 2005. Both he and Mrs. McGowan said that if elected, they would seek to streamline the process for litigants by hearing pretrial motions leading up to a trial rather than having a magistrate handle those.
Mr. Feldstein, 59, the endorsed Democrat for the nomination, agreed that people going through a divorce need a less time-consuming, less expensive process.
“I would like to experiment with giving a firm trial date with maybe only one or two pretrial appearances rather than four or five,” he said. “One of the most frustrating things people say is, it seems to take forever to get a firm trial date. We never know when there’s going to be a light at the end of the tunnel.”
A Toledo native and UT law graduate, Mr. Feldstein said his private practice has included a wide range of civil and criminal work over the years, although he’s always done family law.
“Over the last 10 to 12 years, approximately 50 to 60 percent of my practice has been domestic relations work,” he said. “That’s where my interest has been so [running for judge] seemed to be the logical next step.”
His Democratic opponent, John Coble, is a longtime Toledo attorney with a diverse range of legal experience that includes civil rights work, personal injury cases, and family law. An unsuccessful candidate for Toledo Municipal Court judge in 2011, Mr. Coble, 57, also a UT law graduate, said he would like to preside over a court that deals with ordinary people.
“They’re not people who have million dollar cases. They don’t have big business disputes, or they’re not up on their fifth felony,” he said. “These are places where all of us come at some point in time. That’s what appealed to me about municipal court, and that’s what appealed to me even more about domestic relations court. You’re dealing with ordinary people in the toughest points in their life. That’s where you have the greatest effect on the quality of justice in our community.”
Echoing the other candidates, he said he would strive to improve the court’s case management system to keep cases moving more efficiently. He said he also would try to see whether domestic relations court and juvenile court — which has jurisdiction over child custody issues in situations where the litigants are not married — could be more consistent in the way they handle custody matters.
Contact Jennifer Feehan at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-213-2134.