Two of Lucas County Common Pleas Court's senior judges are dueling for a vacancy on Ohio's 6th District Court of Appeals.
Robert Christiansen and William Skow, who have been in the courthouse since 1983 and 1986, respectively, are facing each other for the seat held by Judge Richard Knepper, who declined to seek another six-year term.
Judicial elections typically are low-key affairs that don't involve charges and countercharges which often dominate other races for public office. But this campaign has been marked by insinuations about out-of-control caseloads, the effect of campaign contributions on objectivity and fairness, and questions about qualifications.
The campaign is hotly contested with yard signs for both candidates in front of homes and businesses and billboards displayed throughout the area.
Judge Christiansen said his opponent's fairness and impartiality would be compromised because of money he has received in contributions from lawyers.
"Criminal defense attorneys - those are attorneys who represented accused felons - are heavily financing my opponent's campaign," he said. "It looks terrible because judges are supposed to avoid the appearance of impropriety. You can't let one or more known criminal defense lawyers work so hard to raise you money and deny they have any interest in your campaign. You can't have it both ways."
But Judge Skow said only about 30 of the about 220 lawyers who contributed to his campaign can be classified at criminal defense attorneys. He said a similar number engaged in civil litigation in defense issues for insurance companies and some judges and prosecutors have given to his campaign.
"It's the broadest possible mix of lawyers, including exclusively domestic relations lawyers, workers compensation lawyers. We even have a patent attorney and a couple of collection lawyers."
Judge Christiansen, a Republican, was appointed to Toledo Municipal Court in 1981 but lost the election for the seat in the same year. He was appointed to Common Pleas Court in 1983 and elected to the unexpired term for the office in 1984. He was re-elected in 1986, 1992, and 1998, when he ran unopposed.
An Army veteran who served in Vietnam, Judge Skow was appointed to Toledo Municipal Court in February, 1983, and elected to the unexpired term in 1983. He ran successfully for the full term in 1985.
Judge Skow was appointed to the Common Pleas bench in March, 1986, and elected to the unexpired term that same year. He was re-elected to a full term in 1988 and again in 1994 and 2000.
In the four elections, Judge Skow, a Democrat, has never faced an opponent. "There is a reason for that. I am doing a good job, and lawyers recognize that," he said.
The opinion of the attorneys was reflected in the Toledo Bar Association survey, conducted annually to gauge the qualifications of candidates running for judge. Judge Skow received votes for "highly recommended" from 249 bar members, while his opponent received 96 votes.
Of the 10 sitting judges running for election, either for new positions or to retain their seats, Judge Christiansen received the most responses for "not recommended" with 112, far outpacing the next candidate who had 71. Judge Skow received 45.
"I think that is a stinging rebuke for a sitting judge - for a veteran judge, especially," Judge Skow said.
"I think I have developed a reputation for legal scholarship and writing ability, which I think is unusual for a trial judge. But I think that will serve me well in the appellate court," he said.
Both candidates have received endorsements from law enforcement organizations.
The Ohio Patrolman Benevolent Association, bargaining agent for unions representing officers in 21 departments, has thrown its support behind Judge Skow. But Judge Christiansen touts his endorsements from the Toledo Police Patrolman's Association, Toledo Police Command Officer's Association, and four area chapters of the Fraternal Order of Police.
Law enforcement "knows both judges because we both have been judges for a long time. But they are adamant they want me in the position," said Judge Christiansen.
The court hears appeals from Common Pleas, Juvenile, and Municipal Courts in Lucas, Erie, Fulton, Huron, Ottawa, Sandusky, Williams, and Wood counties. The winner will join four other appellate judges, who each are paid $119,700 a year.
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