Sunday, Jun 24, 2018
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GOP pushes Lanzinger for Ohio s top court

COLUMBUS - Ohio Republicans have pinned their hopes of padding their newfound philosophical control of the state Supreme Court on a second-year appellate judge from Toledo mounting her first statewide campaign.

Judge Judith Ann Lanzinger, 57, ascended to the six-county 6th District Court of Appeals last year after 17 years on the Lucas County Common Pleas and Toledo Municipal courts.

As a Republican woman succeeding in a major Democratic urban county, the other Judge Judy shot to the top of her party s radar screen. Despite being a largely unknown commodity outside northwest Ohio, she won the party s endorsement for the only seat on the Nov. 2 ballot not already held by a Republican.

She was selected over five other candidates, including three with more appellate experience, all of whom have sat in temporary assignment on the high court. Judge Lanzinger won t be eligible for such an assignment under court rules until next week.

“I look at my 19 years as a judge and think that I can really bring something unique to the court,” she said. “I believe I d be the only one who really worked her way up through the judiciary, if you wanted to look at it that way.”

Unopposed in the primary, she will face either Canton-based appellate Judge W. Scott Gwin or Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Judge Nancy Fuerst, who are competing for the Democratic nomination, on Nov. 2.

“She has the energy and commitment to build a strong support structure,” said Ohio Republican Party Chairman Bob Bennett. “Her personal story appeals across a broad range of the working class. She grew up in a middle-class, blue-collar family.”

Judge Lanzinger and her husband of 35 years, Bob, a self-employed home inspector, have two children, also attorneys.

She has served as an adjunct professor at the University of Toledo for 16 years, chaired the Ohio Judicial College, and has taught a variety of seminars to fellow lawyers and judges in Ohio and with the National Judicial College based in Reno, Nev.

“She has a philosophy that we find attractive,” said Linda Woggon, a Toledo native and vice president of governmental affairs of the Ohio Chamber of Commerce.

“She isn t an activist,” she said. “With her on the court, she would be considering cases based on law and not a specific outcome. Our members would get a fair hearing.” The chamber has yet to make an endorsement.

Tom Tomczak, a former chief city prosecutor now in private practice and working part-time for Democrat Lucas Treasurer Ray Kest, has been on both the winning and losing sides of cases before Judge Lanzinger.

“As far as sentencing, she is as reasonable as they come,” he said. “I ve appeared before her as a prosecutor and on the other side, and I think she works a lot on gut reaction. That s a good thing, but it has gotten her into trouble in a few cases where she might have been reversed.”

She drew criticism in 1994 when she accepted a plea in the highly publicized case of University of Toledo police officer Jeffrey Hodge, who handcuffed 19-year-old nursing student Melissa Anne Herstrum, drove her to a remote area of campus, and repeatedly shot her.

Hodge pleaded guilty to aggravated murder and kidnapping to avoid a death sentence. He is serving a sentence of 33 years to life at Warren Correctional Institution and has a date with the parole board in 2022.

“It was a situation that was handled like any other case I would normally handle,” said Judge Lanzinger, noting that the prosecutor agreed with the plea and the victim s family did not object.

“I specifically asked on the record if there was anyone to object,” she said. “There was not. I accepted the plea, and Mr. Hodges was sentenced to 33 years.”

There have also been reversals in some high-profile cases:

  • In 2003, U.S. District Court overturned the aggravated murder conviction and death sentence of Jamie Madrigal, ordering a new trial.

    Madrigal had been convicted of shooting 18-year-old Misty Fisher in the head during a 1996 restaurant robbery, apparently because she didn t open a safe quickly enough.

    Relying on a more recent U.S. Supreme Court decision, the federal judge held Judge Lanzinger shouldn t have allowed the jury to hear a police statement implicating Madrigal by his getaway driver when the driver made himself unavailable for cross-examination. The state has appealed the case to the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

  • In 2002, the state Supreme Court overturned the involuntary manslaughter conviction of Matthew Reiner. The Toledo automotive engineer was convicted in the 1995 shaken-baby death of his 2-year-old son.

    The court ruled Judge Lanzinger erred in granting immunity to the Reiners nanny, a move the court said hindered the defense strategy of pointing the finger at her.

    The U.S. Supreme Court later held that people not facing criminal allegations may be granted immunity, but the state Supreme Court still overturned the verdict. Without the nanny s testimony, the county prosecutor decided not to retry the case.

    Judge Lanzinger said she is satisfied with her batting average on appeal.

    “On many cases on the trial court, decisions have to be made very quickly,” she said. “As an appellate judge, the luxury of time is a wonderful luxury to have.

    “Our appellate process is designed to make sure cases that are handled at the trial level have been handled correctly,” she said. “As a trial judge, I was very grateful for the review of the appellate bench after a case would go up on appeal.”

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