Tuesday, Oct 17, 2017
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Five vying for Sylvania Municipal Court judge seat

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    Sylvania Municipal Court

    The Blade
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    Chris McGowan

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    Michael A. Bonfiglio

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    John Thebes

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    Daniel Ellis

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    Anthony Spinazze

It's been 30 years since there's been a vacancy on the Sylvania Municipal Court bench, and the list of those who'd like to fill it is long.

Five local lawyers are running Nov. 7 for the judgeship held since 1988 by Judge M. Scott Ramey, who is completing his fifth term on the bench and is not seeking re-election.

On the non-partisan ballot are Democrat Michael Bonfiglio and Republicans Daniel Ellis, Chris McGowan, Anthony Spinazze, and John Thebes.

Mr. Thebes, 55, a private practice attorney, said he has participated in more than 75 felony jury trials, including 25 homicide trials. He is certified as lead counsel in death penalty cases and also practices in municipal courts and U.S. District Court.

Among his high-profile cases, Mr. Thebes represented Gerald Robinson, the former Catholic priest who was convicted of killing a nun and later died in prison. He said his courtroom experience “will serve me well as judge.” His priority if elected, he said, would be to “make the court operate as efficiently as possible … while ensuring the safety of the community.”

Mr. Spinazze, 46, a managing partner at the Sylvania law firm, Lydy & Moan, Ltd., said he practices civil and criminal law with his criminal experience being almost exclusively in municipal court both as a defense attorney and contract prosecutor.

He said he would “embrace technology to improve access to and the efficiency of the court,” including seeking grant funding to implement an electronic filing system.

Mr. McGowan, 58, said his law practice consists of criminal, traffic, and civil cases with extensive experience in municipal court.

If elected, he said he would work to create a veteran's treatment court that would specifically address the needs of veterans who find themselves before the court on criminal charges. Mr. McGowan said he also would like to see a prosecutor designated to handle domestic violence cases “to streamline the process for both the victim and the court.”

Mr. Ellis, 60, a partner at Lydy & Moan, works primarily on complex and commercial litigation cases and has substantial experience as lead trial counsel in such cases. He is proposing a “reformation” of sorts for municipal court focused on repairing harm caused by offenders, who in many cases may be before a court for the first time.

“I will work to obtain the cooperation of the victim, police, prosecutor, defense attorney, and community support agencies to help heal and transform all participants, their relationships, and the community at large,” he said, adding that rehabilitative services could take the form of counseling and work programs.

Mr. Bonfiglio, 62, has worked since 2010 as bar counsel for the Toledo Bar Association, investigating and prosecuting lawyers who engage in unethical conduct. Before that, he worked at a civil law firm and, right after law school, as an assistant Lucas County prosecutor.

He said he believes the court should have a dedicated drug court docket to more effectively address addicts and their crimes. Mr. Bonfiglio said he also would work to implement electronic filing and make more information about cases available online.

In addition to the city of Sylvania, the court serves the villages of Berkey and Holland, as well as Sylvania, Richfield, Spencer, and Harding townships and the portions of Swanton, Monclova, and Springfield townships that lie north of the Ohio Turnpike.

Municipal court judges are elected to six-year terms and currently are paid $125,850 a year.

Contact Jennifer Feehan at jfeehan@theblade.com or 419-213-2134.

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