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Published: Tuesday, 9/13/2005

Board OKs Christiansen run for judge

At the end of a special hearing that was much like a courtroom trial, the Lucas County Board of Elections yesterday voted to allow former Judge Robert Christiansen to run for Toledo Municipal Court in November.

The former Lucas County Common Pleas Court judge, who recently lost an election bid for a seat on Ohio's 6th District Court of Appeals, filed petitions for the Municipal Court seat, and the elections board certified his candidacy in July.

However, Democrats challenged the certification in August, claiming Mr. Christiansen, a Republican, hadn't collected the 1,000 valid signatures needed to qualify for the nonpartisan race.

"This is not about candidates, it's about the integrity of the system. I think the board of election is kind of on the spot here," said Francis Collins, a Toledo lawyer who testified that he "sat around" with Jack Wilson, Lucas County Democratic Party chairman, to decide how to protest Mr. Christiansen's petitions.

Both men later filed protests.

Mark Berling, an attorney representing Mr. Christiansen, agreed that the integrity of the system is important, and said it was Mr. Collins who was putting it in danger. "This position to decertify [Mr. Christiansen's] petition is an assault on that process," Mr. Berling said.

Mr. Collins launched a three-pronged assault on the candidate's 1,011 signatures found valid by elections officials.

First, he noted that one of Mr. Christiansen's circulators put down a business address rather than a home address on one of her forms containing 11 valid signatures, thus constituting a "false statement."

Election officials verified that the circulator, Patricia Prephan, who spoke before the board, was a Toledo resident and registered Lucas County voter, and thus the point was moot.

Ms. Prephan testified that she hurriedly filled out the form and made a mistake.

Second, Mr. Collins attacked some of the signatures themselves, saying they did not match signatures on record, or were illegible. In the end, three of the signatures were dropped by the elections board, leaving 1,008 valid signatures.

Finally, Mr. Collins argued that a Republican employee of the elections board, Dennis Lange, a booth official, circulated one of Mr. Christiansen's petitions containing 11 valid signatures, which represented a conflict of interest.

Election officials acknowledged that their own code of ethics, interpreted from the Ohio Secretary of State's ethics code updated in January, states that "any employees of the board whose duties include review of the petitions should not circulate candidate or issue petitions."

Mr. Lange said while he was involved in the review of petitions, he did not review those involving Mr. Christiansen's race.

Election officials said none of Mr. Lange's written duties included the review of petitions, and the ethics code was a list of "best practices" rather than anything set in stone.

Jill Kelly, director of the elections, said the elections board will review the matter.

Mr. Christiansen will face off against Daniel R. Pilrose, a veteran Toledo Municipal Court prosecutor, and Samuel Nugent, a lawyer in the city law department, for the seat of longtime Judge Mary Trimboli, who is not seeking re-election.



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