2 judicial hopefuls on defensive

15-year-old misdemeanor, unpaid city loan surface in campaign

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    One candidate for Toledo Municipal Court has admitted to a conviction for breaking and entering about 15 years ago in North Carolina, and another candidate is facing criticism from the Lucas County Republican Party over her involvement in a family business that never fully paid back its loan to the city, leaving a third candidate so far unscathed by controversy.

    According to Craven County (N.C.) Superior Court records, Kenneth Phillips, an unendorsed Republican candidate, pleaded guilty to misdemeanor breaking and entering on March 25, 1998, and was given a suspended 60-day jail sentence and placed on probation for two years.

    Mr. Phillips, a Toledo attorney, said a girlfriend called him late one night from the video store where she worked, threatening to kill herself. He said he went to the business to help her, and pushed the door open, but she wasn’t there.

    Mr. Phillips said that he erroneously believed the record had been sealed under a plea agreement. Under Ohio law, once a case is sealed, it’s as if the proceedings in the case had not occurred.

    Dan Wagner, president of the Toledo Police Patrolman’s Association, which endorsed Mr. Phillips, said the candidate disclosed the conviction to the union last year.

    “This was something minor and when you look at the totality of the circumstances, it didn’t keep him from getting his law license to practice in Ohio, and all that he’s been doing since then has been positive,” Mr. Wagner said.


    Jon Stainbrook, chairman of the Lucas County GOP, which has endorsed Republican Joshua Lanzinger in the three-way municipal court race on the Nov. 5 ballot, declined to comment on Mr. Phillips' situation. But the party issued a blistering attack on Gretchen DeBacker, the Democratic candidate in the election.

    It cited her role in a family business that left part of a city economic development loan unpaid, as well as her removal from 10 guardianship cases assigned to her in Lucas County Probate Court for failing to file required timely reports on behalf of her clients.


    The family business, Sufficient Grounds Coffee Houses opened a store downtown in 1994 and received a $57,000 city economic development loan. The debt was sent for collection and in 2002, Toledo City Council passed an ordinance accepting the negotiated lump sum of $15,000 for the unpaid balance.

    “She should repay the money she took out of Toledoans’ pockets before she should be able to hold public office in Toledo and receive a paycheck from Toledo taxpayers,” the Republican Party’s statement said. “Judges and judicial candidates must be held to a higher standard.”

    Mr. Stainbrook declined to offer further comment.

    Ms. DeBacker denied that $42,000 went unpaid. She said the family made payments of $20,000 before making the $15,000 lump sum payment. That reduced the city’s loss to $22,000.

    She said the family opened the store at the urging of then-Mayor Carty Finkbeiner and lost more than $200,000 before closing it about 2001.

    “There was a legitimate dispute with the city of Toledo over whether and when we would have to pay those monies back,” Ms. DeBacker said.

    She said, “Jon Stainbrook and the Lucas County Republican Party have resorted to releasing false information about me in a desperate attempt to retain a seat in Toledo Municipal Judge,” and called herself “the most qualified person in the race.”

    The Republican Party statement said: “Judge Josh Lanzinger is the only clear and experienced choice for Toledo Municipal Court Judge.”

    Mr. Lanzinger, who was appointed in September to the vacant municipal court judgeship by Gov. John Kasich, declined to comment on the party’s criticism of Ms. DeBacker.

    “I didn’t have any part in that and right now, we’ve got a week left before the election, I’m really focusing on my campaign,” Mr. Lanzinger said.

    Staff writer Jennifer Feehan contributed to this report.

    Contact Tom Troy: tomtroy@theblade.com or 419--724-6058 or an Twitter @TomFTroy.