First in a series about municipal court judge races in Lucas County.
As opioid addiction continues to claims lives in Toledo, three candidates for judge of Toledo Municipal Court have differing views about what, if any, role the court can play in addressing the epidemic.
If elected Nov. 7 to the bench filled since 2006 by Judge Robert Christiansen, Toledo lawyer Dale Emch said he would call for establishment of a drug court much like the one that operates in Lucas County Common Pleas Court — a proposal that would require buy-in from a majority of the six other municipal court judges.
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By dealing with addiction that leads to misdemeanor offenses in municipal court, he said, drug users are less likely to commit the felonies that lead them to Common Pleas Court.
“A drug court could reduce the number of repeat offenders, save taxpayer dollars, and save lives,” Mr. Emch said.
Nicole Khoury, a private practice lawyer and public defender assigned to Maumee and Sylvania municipal courts, said that rather than create a specialized drug court docket — a lengthy and potentially costly proposition — she would do what she believes could happen on her first day as judge: Give defendants who want help with their addiction conditions to meet, and hold jail time over their heads as an incentive to work toward sobriety.
“I'm a firm believer that drug addicts are only going to get clean when they want to get clean,” she said. “I've gone to far too many funerals. I've talked to far too many parents. I have far too many text messages on my phone from clients who are now dead who said they want to get clean.”
And, Hank Schaefer III, an assistant city prosecutor, adamantly opposes creation of another drug court. He said he supports Lucas County Sheriff John Tharp's Drug Abuse Response Team program, which can connect heroin addicts with treatment and sober living housing rather than charge them with criminal offenses.
“The dollars that would be spent on drug court would be better spent on a domestic violence court, given that Common Pleas has a drug court,” Mr. Schaefer said.
All three candidates have said they would support creation of some form of a domestic violence court — an idea Judge Michelle Wagner proposed several years ago.
Municipal court judges preside over misdemeanor criminal and traffic cases, civil cases with less than $15,000 at issue, as well as felony arraignments.
Though the race is non-partisan — no party labels will be attached to the candidates' names on the ballot — Mr. Emch has promoted himself as the endorsed Democrat.
“I am a Democrat and I'm proud to be a Democrat,” he said in explanation.
Ms. Khoury, who said she is running a non-partisan campaign, is a registered Republican.
Mr. Schaefer calls himself “a reasonable Republican,” adding that he has taken no donations and does “not owe favors to anyone.”
All three candidates earned their law degrees from the University of Toledo.
Mr. Emch, 53, is a former newspaper reporter who worked at The Blade and is married to Blade city editor Kim Bates. He was an associate with Charles E. Boyk Law Offices from 2006 to 2010 and has been in private practice since then, doing civil litigation, personal injury, and criminal defense work.
Ms. Khoury, 40, said she started working for the Lucas County Public Defender's Office as an intern in 2001 “and never left.” She also performs in the local rock bank, Arctic Clam, and founded Project iAm, a nonprofit that raises money for families with children with autism.
Mr. Schaefer, 42, worked in private practice before joining the city prosecutor's office in 2013. If elected, he said he would work a full day every day. He said he would also streamline traffic cases so that people charged with minor misdemeanors could proceed from arraignment to trial rather than having to come to court three or four times to fight a ticket.
Municipal court judges are elected to six-year terms and currently are paid $125,850 a year.
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