Four of five applicants to state appeals court would be rookie judges

Former judge Schweikert heads field awaiting Kasich appointment; Dennis Deters a hopeful

Feb 6, 2017 at 10:24 am
click to enlarge Ohio's First District Court of Appeals occupies the top two floors of the William Howard Taft Law Center on East Ninth Street in downtown Cincinnati. - Photo: Hailey Bollinger
Photo: Hailey Bollinger
Ohio's First District Court of Appeals occupies the top two floors of the William Howard Taft Law Center on East Ninth Street in downtown Cincinnati.

Two months after he was defeated in his first countywide election, former Hamilton County Commissioner Dennis Deters is one of five candidates for two vacancies on Ohio’s First District Court of Appeals in Cincinnati.

Gov. John Kasich’s office is providing no timetable for appointing successors to Pat DeWine and Pat Fischer, who were elected to the Ohio Supreme Court on Nov. 8. The five names were given to Kasich by the Hamilton County Republican Party, but a Kasich spokeswoman said the field isn't closed. The job pays $145,550 a year.

Deters, a Republican and former trustee in Colerain Township, came to prominence last January when he was appointed to complete the unexpired term of Greg Hartmann on the Board of County Commissioners. But in his first test before voters countywide, he lost to Democrat Denise Driehaus on Nov. 8.

Dennis Deters has no experience as a judge. He has worked as an attorney for close to 17 years. He expressed his desire to be a judge in a questionnaire submitted to Kasich in December.

“I believe in public service and our justice system,” he wrote in the questionnaire obtained by CityBeat through a public records request. “I respect the law and the rule of law. I believe that I have the diverse experience and common sense approach that would be an asset to our court system and our community.”

Of the other four applicants, only one — Mark Schweikert — has served on the bench. Schweikert became a Hamilton County Municipal Court judge in 1995, moved up to Common Pleas Court in 1999 for seven years and spent a decade as executive director of the Ohio Judicial Conference until 2016. He is now a visiting judge.

“I now seek to serve in the Court of Appeals where I think I can best apply my knowledge, skills and experience and continue in public service to the people of Ohio,” he wrote in his questionnaire.

Kasich has full authority to fill the two vacancies on the six-judge court. Kasich did away with a judicial review panel that examined candidates' qualifications and made non-binding recommendations. The panel was created by former Gov. Ted Strickland.

Another applicant is David S. Blessing, a Cincinnati attorney in private practice since 2004.

“I believe attorneys have a special opportunity and obligation to use their special skills to benefit the community in which they live,” he wrote. “I love my city and county, and a judicial position is the way I can best use my skills to benefit the community around me.”

Timothy McKenna, a private practitioner in Cincinnati since 2005, echoed that reason for seeking the job. He spent more than two years in the Hamilton County prosecutor’s office, the only applicant to have gone that surefire route to a judgeship here.

“I would like to serve as a judge as I would like to serve the people of Hamilton County, and my experience and skill set and personality have prepared me for the job,” McKenna wrote.

The fifth applicant, Charles “Chip” Miller, has practiced law with firms in Columbus, Cleveland and Cincinnati since 2001, the last 12 years with Keating Muething & Klekamp. He was the most expansive in explaining his pursuit of the job.

“As much as I’ve enjoyed striving for a client’s preferred result, I will find it more fulfilling to focus on objectively improving the law,” Miller wrote. “I understand the importance of getting the law correct and doing so in a well-reasoned, clear and concise manner.”

Mark Painter, who, as a Republican, served 13 years as a Hamilton County Municipal Court judge, then 14 on the First District Court of Appeals, is concerned about the dearth of judicial experience among the five applicants.

“It is troubling that four of the five have never been a judge, never made a judicial decision, never written a judicial opinion,” Painter told CityBeat. “While I believe that some outside blood is good periodically, four of the six appellate judges will be new this year. So some experience is needed.

“The most qualified by far is Mark Schweikert, who has been not only a judge, but also a very capable judicial administrator,” he said.

Should Kasich appoint Dennis Deters to one of the vacancies, it would create a potentially ominous dynamic on the court for defendants in criminal cases. Deters is the brother of Hamilton County prosecutor Joe Deters. Dennis Deters brushed aside any notion of that being a problem.

“Based upon my review, there is no conflict as long as he (Joe) does not personally appear before the court where I preside, which he does not and would not,” he wrote in his questionnaire.

CONTACT JAMES McNAIR: [email protected], 513-914-2736, @JMacNews on Twitter