Although attorney Michael Bonfiglio hadn't regularly been in a courtroom in years, that changed when he won a five-way race in November to succeed longtime Sylvania Municipal Court Judge M. Scott Ramey.
The new Judge Bonifiglio — who was sworn in Friday evening — literally has been at Judge Ramey's right hand, learning the ropes, case by case, nearly every day for the past month. He admits it's a tough learning curve.
Michael Bonfiglio is sworn in by Lucas County Common Pleas Judge Dean Mandros at Sylvania Municipal Court. Bonflglio is the first new Sylvania Municipal Court judge in 30 years.
“It is a challenge,” said Judge Bonfiglio, 62. “I enjoy a challenge, and I have been given so much encouragement from so many people and they're genuinely happy for me, which is humbling.”
Although the two were not acquainted before the election, Judge Bonfiglio said Judge Ramey has been “fantastic, patient, kind, generous with his time to a fault.”
“When I went to new judges training, many of the new judges were telling horror stories about the judge they were replacing and how this judge would not tell them anything and was just going to leave on Jan. 1 and let them find their way,” he said. “I started telling these people what my judge was doing for me, and they couldn't believe it. Judge Ramey has been just a prince of a man to me, quite the gentleman.”
After 30 years on the bench, Judge Ramey, at 69, chose not to seek a sixth term although he was eligible to do so. Ohio judges who turn 70 during their final term in office may complete that term but cannot seek another.
“It was my feeling that if I started a term I would have finished it, and that would have been six more years,” Judge Ramey said. “I didn't see myself wanting to be in this position six years from now.”
He said Judge Bonfiglio has been an excellent student.
“The court's going to be in great hands,” Judge Ramey said.
Judge Bonfiglio, who started his legal career as an assistant Lucas County prosecutor, later joined a civil law firm where he primarily handled personal injury and medical malpractice cases. In 2010, he was hired by the Toledo Bar Association as bar counsel, investigating and prosecuting lawyers accused of unethical conduct.
Judge Bonfiglio said he is starting his new job in large part because of his late friend, attorney Pete McHugh. Mr. McHugh, who died Aug 1, had planned to run for the judgeship before learning last January he had cancer.
“He called me and told me his diagnosis. I already had a pretty good idea about it,” Judge Bonfiglio said. “He said he would not be able to run. He had other things to take care of — getting well — and he encouraged me to run in his place.”
As it turned out, Judge Bonfiglio was the lone Democrat on the nonpartisan ballot, along with four Republicans.
“I was advised that the Republican vote would split itself up, but I was surprised I won,” Judge Bonfiglio said. “I think we ran a great campaign. I had excellent advisers.”
His volunteers were top-notch too.
“I had my mother-in-law holding a sign at a polling place in the morning,” he said. “My parents — my dad is 90, my mom is 86 — they had campaign literature on their walkers at Oakleaf Village,” an assisted living center in Sylvania.
Defense lawyers who practice at Sylvania Municipal Court said they respect Judge Ramey but are excited for the changes at the court, which include a new chief prosecutor — Christy Cole will succeed retiring Prosecutor Robert Pyzik. A new public defender — Chris Dreyer will succeed Nicole Khoury, who was elected judge in Toledo Municipal Court.
“It's like a parish changing its priest after 30 years,” said attorney Larry DiLabbio, saying the new “priest” will bring a new philosophy, new ideas, but will continue to serve the citizens. “It will be a complete change for the first time in 30 years.”
Lucas County Common Pleas Judge Dean Mandros, who swore Judge Bonfiglio in, said the two got to know each other as assistant county prosecutors three decades ago.
“I'm confident that Judge Bonfiglio will do an excellent job,” Judge Mandros said. “He is a very experienced attorney and will come to the bench with no ego, which is of benefit to all that appear in his courtroom.”
In addition to Sylvania, the court serves the villages of Berkey and Holland as well as Sylvania, Richfield, Spencer, and Harding townships and the parts of Swanton, Monclova, and Sprinfield townships that lie north of the Ohio Turnpike.
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