Incumbents came up big in Hamilton County municipal court races — with one big exception.
Municipal court judges aren’t well-known generally, but they have an important role: hearing criminal misdemeanor cases in the county as well as conducting initial hearings in felony cases. They also preside over civil cases involving claims of less than $15,000.
Elections for those positions — which have six-year terms and pay $138,000 a year — are broken up by districts, five of which encompass parts of Cincinnati.
In the first district, which covers the center of Cincinnati, incumbent Hamilton County Municipal Court Judge Dwane Mallory sailed to re-election unopposed. Mallory has the endorsement of the Hamilton County Democratic Party and has served a number of previous roles in the court system, including work as a trial attorney for the Hamilton County Public Defender’s Office and as a prosecutor for the City of Cincinnati.
Civil rights attorney Janaya Trotter Bratton took a decisive victory in another race in the first district for a seat vacated by Judge Fanon Rucker, who resigned earlier this year. Bratton bested current municipal court judge Elisa Murphy, who was appointed by Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine to fill Rucker’s seat in September, with almost 76 percent of the vote.
Murphy, endorsed by the Hamilton County Republican Party, was previously a magistrate in Hamilton County juvenile court and has also served in the county’s public defender’s office. Bratton, who was endorsed by the Hamilton County Democratic Party, has been involved in a number of local civil rights cases through her work with law firm Gerhardstein & Branch. Bratton ran unsuccessfully against Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters in 2012.
With 74 percent of the vote, incumbent Judge Tyrone Yates kept his seat in the second district in Cincinnati’s northern reaches in a contest with Hamilton County Juvenile Court Magistrate John Coleman.
Coleman, also a former public defender, was endorsed by the Fraternal Order of Police Queen City Lodge 69 and the Hamilton County Republican Party. Yates, a former Cincinnati City Council member and assistant attorney in the Ohio Attorney General’s office, had the endorsement of the Hamilton County Democratic Party, the AFL-CIO and other groups.
District three mostly encompasses Cincinnati’s northern suburbs. Incumbent Judge Ted Berry, endorsed by the Hamilton County Democratic Party, ran unopposed in that race. Berry was previously a trial attorney in private practice. He has been a municipal court judge since 2005.
District four includes parts of some eastern Cincinnati neighborhoods and nearby suburbs. Here, incumbent Judge Josh Berkowitz won a contest against challenger John Kennedy with 57 percent of the vote.
Berkowitz received endorsements from the FOP Queen City Lodge 69, the Hamilton County Republican Party, Cincinnati Right to Life PAC and other groups. He has been a municipal judge for more than four years. His challenger Kennedy has spent eight years working in the Hamilton County Public Defender’s Office and is currently the director of its common pleas division.
District five is outside the city limits. Here, Republican-endorsed Judge Heather Russell, the incumbent, won against challenger Kari Blume with 63 percent of the vote.
District six, another suburban district, saw Republican-endorsed Mike Peck win out over Democrat Arica Underwood with 73 percent of the vote.
District seven covers parts of Cincinnati’s West Side as well as its western suburbs. Here, incumbent Judge Gwen Bender ran unopposed for reelection. Prior to becoming a municipal court judge in 2017, Bender worked as an assistant prosecutor for more than two decades. She was endorsed by the FOP Queen City Lodge 69, Hamilton County Republican Party and the Cincinnati Right to Life PAC.