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Prosecutor challenges embattled Bryan judge

BRYAN - The city attorney who will challenge the Bryan Municipal Court judge on Nov. 6 isn't making a campaign issue out of the judge's recent troubles with the Ohio Supreme Court and Ohio Highway Patrol.

Kent North, 38, said he's trying to run a positive campaign against Judge Joseph Kiacz, 54, who is accused of scolding troopers in 1999 for not writing enough traffic tickets.

“It really is an issue. I still hear it being talked about,” Mr. North said. “But that's his problem. It's still there, and I don't want to take that road.”

Neither does Judge Kiacz, who said the trooper issue has been settled with the Ohio Supreme Court's grievance and disciplinary board - and should not be a focus of his campaign.

“That's pretty much off the radar screen as far as I'm concerned,'' the judge said. “We're concentrating on our positive [things].”

Judge Kiacz is accused of violating the Ohio bar code of judicial conduct and the code of professional responsibility for admonishing troopers for lax traffic enforcement. He allegedly said the city court needed the traffic-ticket money to help build a municipal building.

In his answer to the board, Judge Kiacz admitted he met and talked with an OHP lieutenant about the fact that the number of arrests on the Williams County portion of the Ohio Turnpike was down. But the judge denied tying that in with the court's need for income. He said he never told troopers that they needed to write more tickets.

Jonathan Marshall, secretary to the grievance board, said a decision on the matter will be filed next week.

Judge Kiacz started practicing law in 1973. He was the Bryan city attorney and municipal court prosecutor when he was appointed to the bench in March, 1994, to fill the unexpired term of a judge who retired. The next year Judge Kiacz was elected to the post.

The judge said he's proud of his accomplishments in office, namely increasing the hours and days his court is open to the public, improving the collection of court fines, and setting firm times for trials.

He said one of the most important changes he's made is increasing the number of community service hours that defendants have worked.

Last year, the judge said 711 people were ordered to perform more than 32,000 hours of community service.

The judge is touting his accomplishments and experience as the reasons he's the most qualified candidate.

But in doing so, he's issued one notice to voters about his role.

Judge Kiacz has pointed out in his campaign literature that he does not handle felony drug cases on arrests made by the Ohio Highway Patrol or other law enforcement agencies.

Some drug arrest cases, which have been heard in Williams County Common Pleas Court, have been controversial in past years because the patrol has been accused of racial profiling.

After Judge Kiacz was appointed to the municipal bench in 1994, Mr. North took over his role as city attorney and municipal court prosecutor.

Mr. North, a native of Bryan, came to the job from Toledo, where he had worked as a defense attorney in private practice.

Now Mr. North oversees all of the county's misdemeanor crimes, including traffic offenses.

“I've had the balance of five years defense work prior to this job,” Mr. North said. “I see how both sides think, and I think that gives me a balance of treating people fairly.”

Mr. North spends every day in Judge Kiacz's courtroom. As a result, he said he's noticed things that should be changed.

“I don't think the court is being fair and balanced in many of its punishments and decision making,” Mr. North said. “I think the people deserve better than that.”

If elected, Mr. North said he would do his best to listen to people and attempt to cut back on the court's overall budget, among other changes.

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