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Published: Friday, 10/22/2004

Judges face off in debate for 6th District Court seat

BY JACK BAESSLER
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Two veteran judges barely concealed their dislike for one another during a debate last night as they asked voters to elect one of them Nov. 2 to Ohio's 6th District Court of Appeals.

Lucas County Common Pleas Judge William Skow boasted of his high rating in a Toledo Bar Association survey of judicial candidates that compared to a weak showing by his opponent, Lucas County Common Pleas Court Judge Robert Christiansen.

But Judge Christiansen, speaking to about 75 people at the University of Toledo during a program sponsored by the League of Women Voters of Toledo-Lucas County, said the measurement assessed by local attorneys means little to the average voter.

"Any rebuke from the criminal defense bar I take as a red badge of courage," he said.

It was a civil hour-long give and take, with a conservative Judge Christiansen unyielding about trial courts not being the place to rewrite laws, and the more liberal Judge Skow saying there can be good reasons in some instances for doing so.

At the end of the debate, Judge Christiansen, 56, complained that Judge Skow, 63, reeled off criticism that, because of the format giving Judge Skow the last word, precluded him from replying. It was a verbal stunt Judge Skow used in Bowling Green recently, Judge Christiansen said.

In his closing comments last night, Judge Skow criticized his opponent's infrequent use of trials to decide cases. "My opponent over the last two years has tried five cases," Judge Skow said. "I have tried 28."

Judge Skow said he has turned to using visiting judges only once in the same period. But Judge Christiansen has turned to them six times, Judge Skow said.

Asked about the figures after the debate, Judge Christiansen replied: "I lost track. He's been rattling off all this stuff."

After composing himself, Judge Christiansen explained trial court judges get the use of visiting judges for three weeks each year. "We do that to help clear our docket," he said. "To insinuate I cost the taxpayers any dollars is not true."

In assessing their strengths as judges, Judge Skow cited his even-tempered judicial outlook combined with good scholarship and a prodigious output of written court decisions.

For himself, Judge Christiansen said he has an aptitude for seeing through the complexities of a case quickly. "I think I am good at establishing a rapport with all the parties," he said.

On another topic, Judge Christiansen attacked one of the endorsements from the Ohio Patrolman Benevolent Association that Judge Skow has touted, saying the Better Business Bureau told him it is simply a fund-raising group with little money going to charity.

Judge Skow disputed Judge Christiansen's characterization of the group after the debate concluded. The association is one of the largest unions representing police officers in Ohio, with about 5,600 members, he said.

Both judges said their jobs sometimes require them to make unpopular decisions in the interest of enforcing the law. They pay a price for that sometimes, but it is the right thing to do, they said.

Judge Skow recalled a case in which a group of Toledo police officers challenged The Blade's publication several years ago about police internal affairs investigations and the discipline officers received.

The judge sided with The Blade. "I know it cost me the chance of a police endorsement, and they told me so. But it was the right decision for the right reason," Judge Skow said.

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.

Contact Jack Baessler at:

jbaessler@theblade.com

or 419-724-6050.



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