PORT CLINTON - An assistant county prosecutor who's running for Ottawa County Municipal Court judge has taken jabs at the incumbent for what he described as overuse of visiting judges.
Bruce Winters has claimed in campaign speeches and literature that Judge Frederick Hany II is away from the courtroom too often and has cost taxpayers needless money for assistance on the bench.
But Judge Hany said Mr. Winters is way off base with his claims and doesn't understand how the judicial system works.
Judge Hany, who's been judge here since 1991, said he's a one-person municipal judge who's forced to rely on help with his docket of more than 10,000 annual cases. He said that includes ethical conflicts of interest and days he must attend continuing education classes.
“You have to have [visiting judges],” Judge Hany said. “With my opponent, if he gets sick, is he going to close the court, is justice going to stop?”
Mr. Winters alleges that the court's visiting judges cost taxpayers $67,967 from 1997 to June, 2001. The judge said the cost was much lower, about $43,000 after the Ohio Supreme Court paid its share. That amounts to less than 2 per cent of the court's annual budget, Judge Hany said.
The issue is at the forefront of the Nov. 6 race between the two men who live in Oak Harbor - just three doors from each other.
Mr. Winters, 44, said the decision to run for judge was a difficult one because he and Judge Hany, 42, aren't enemies. As an assistant county prosecutor, Mr. Winters has argued misdemeanor cases in the judge's courtroom.
But Mr. Winters said it was a logical step for him to seek the office because of his varied legal and law enforcement background.
“It's something I've always wanted to do,” Mr. Winters said. “I think my wide range of experience lends a lot [to] the job.”
Mr. Winters has worked as a police officer, a juvenile probation officer, a private attorney, and now an assistant county prosecutor. He's handled civil and criminal cases.
If elected, Mr. Winters said he would change the use of visiting judges in the municipal court.
While Mr. Winters has brought attention to the use of visiting judges, Judge Hany said he has a concern of his own about Mr. Winters.
County Prosecutor Mark Mulligan and Mr. Winters are cousins, which Judge Hany believes could become a conflict of interest in municipal court.
“I'm concerned whether my opponent's impartiality might reasonably be questioned involving the prosecutor,” Judge Hany said. “I wonder how many visiting judge's would be needed then?”
Mr. Winters has denied it would be a conflict of interest and said that only Mr. Mulligan's assistants would appear in municipal court.
Since he was appointed judge in 1991, and twice elected, Judge Hany has established night court, an internship program for high school students, and a video arraignment set-up for offenders, among other improvements. Still, the judge said he's most satisfied with the way he's handled his cases.
“I'm a one-judge court with a big-city case load,” he said. “I'm most proud that we process those cases in a timely and efficient manner.”