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The counties included in the voters guide are: Montgomery, Warren, Miami, Greene, Clark, Champaign, Preble, and Butler.

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Ohio Supreme Court

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    Mary DeGenaro

  • Melody Stewart

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Biographical Information

What are the two biggest challenges facing the state Supreme Court and how would you deal with them?

What ethical practices are critical to keep the judiciary independent from political influence?

How has your training, professional experience prepared you to serve on the Supreme Court?

As a member of the judiciary, what can you do on and off the bench to ensure that all Ohioans have access to justice?

What is your opinion of Ohio’s current cash bail system and what reforms do you think are needed?

The court often is asked to decide questions about open meetings and public records. What is your general philosophy when it comes to government transparency?

Experience 1986-2001 Private practice attorney. 2001-18 Judge on the 7th District Court of Appeals served as Presiding/Administrative Judge for 2 terms. Currently a Justice on the Ohio Supreme Court. 2011-13 Adjunct Faculty Youngstown State University Political Science Department. 2017-date Vice-President Ohio Women's Bar Association. 2015-date Ohio Civility Consortium Member. 2013-date Ohio Judicial Conference Ethics & Professionalism Co-Chair. 2005-date Ohio Appellate Practice Specialty Certification Board. 2007-12 Mahoning County Alcohol & Drug Addiction Services Board. 2003-date Public Library Youngstown & Mahoning County Board. 2011-date Mahoning Valley Historical Society Board. Former member of the External Advisory Boards of Youngstown State University College of Liberal Arts & Social Sciences and Cleveland State University Center for Women in Public Service. Farm Bureau Member. Member of the Italian Education Foundation, Polish Arts Council and the Ladies Ancient Order of Hibernians. 2018 Ohio Women's Bar Association Government Service Honoree.
Education 1983 Youngstown State University Bachelor of Arts Economics & Combined Business 1986 Cleveland State University Cleveland Marshall College of Law Juris Doctor
1) improve both the access to and the administration of justice on the Supreme Court and all courts statewide; 2) educate the public about the work of judges and lawyers. I have had success with both. The Ohio Supreme Court oversees the practice of law, including disciplining attorneys and judges, and also hears cases involving questions under the Ohio Constitution or of great general interest. The court only accepts cases meeting the criteria; less than 10% of the 100's of cases filed every year do. It used to take about 9 months for a decision, a long time for a 'no'. Since I joined the court we tested a new process and turn in votes on a rolling two-week basis; caught up with a backlog, and parties now learn about 2 months after filing whether their case was accepted. Because of that success, we are using the same process for requests to reopen a case, reconsider prior opinions, again for finality, and also motions to be admitted to practice law. In a mobile society, a lawyer in good standing from another state having to move to Ohio because of their spouse's job has limited employment options until they are admitted; making a more timely decision is important to their families and employers. And as virtually every disciplinary case I have decided involves and underlying substance abuse/mental health, I have begun building consensus statewide to reinstate mandatory continuing education on those topics, reinvigorating the Ohio Lawyers' Assistance Program to help lawyers before they commit malpractice, and encourage more proactive policies to treat addicted lawyers and judges. Regarding education, over 17 years I have spoken to countless groups and scheduled 7th District hearings at high schools. The Court has hearings at high schools twice a year and I want to increase that number. And find ways to assist distant school districts to bring students to the Court for hearings and our education center to further the students' civic education.
First and foremost the personal integrity of the candidate. I have decided each case I have considered over almost 18 years based on the rule of law, not upon any political considerations. I have never prejudged an issue or been swayed by public opinion or political expectations on how to decide a case. My first opinion as a Justice was a lone dissent in a criminal case. Groups of different viewpoints have endorsed me because they all agree I will be fair. Ohioans have always rejected giving up their right to vote for their judges; standing for judgement by the public to assess if a judge has been fair and impartial is an important check of the public to guard against judges straying from their oath. To balance the ability of a judicial candidate to have sufficient resources to get their message out and a fair impartial judiciary, there are unique and more strict rules in place for judicial candidates than for other candidates: prohibiting judges from actively, personally fundraising, they must have campaign committees to accept campaign contributions. Contributions can only be raised the year the candidate is on the ballot. Contributions are caped and there are limits on how much political parties and other groups can contribute. There are also special rules governing how judicial candidates make their case; they cannot make promises that they will decide a case or an issue in a certain way. And there is a process to follow if it is alleged that a judicial candidate has violated these rules and appropriate sanctions imposed.
Before becoming a justice, in an 8 county district on Ohio's eastern border which is a mini-version of Ohio (serving urban, suburban, rural, agriculture, manufacturing, small businesses, university and community college communities) over 17 years I wrote 1,000+ opinions in 3,000+ cases involving any issue that would come before the Supreme Court. In several significant cases appealed to the Supreme Court my reasoning was adopted. To improve the courts' efficiency and effectiveness relationships with judges/lawyers statewide is important, which I built through active membership in the Ohio Judicial Conference, the Ohio Civility Consortium, and the Ohio Women's Bar Association. Those relationships enable me to help organize a substance abuse seminar and was the moderator for a statewide sexual harassment seminar. I promote and educate the public about specialty courts addressing drug abuse, human trafficking and other criminal and juvenile/family issues; creative tools for judges to address the opioid/drug/mental health crisis and stop the revolving courthouse/jail and prison door. I am accessible to the public to dispel the myths popular culture has created about the legal system and tell them what Ohio's lawyers and judges really do to help people. I have never prejudged an issue or been swayed by public opinion or political expectations on how to decide a case. My first opinion as a Justice was a lone dissent in a criminal case. Groups of different viewpoints have endorsed me because they all agree I will be fair. I'm honored to be a part of a team of 200+ dedicated staff working at the Court to make sure Ohio's justice system is fair, impartial and accessible to all.
Advocate for adequate funding for Legal Aid, the Public Defender's Office and local criminal defense budgets through the Ohio Judicial Conference. Encourage pro bono services by lawyers, and create incentives to do so. Support law school efforts to create legal clinics. Evaluate court processes and create user friendly forms to enable the public to represent themselves in less complicated legal matters. Promote and educate the public about specialty courts addressing drug abuse, human trafficking and other criminal and juvenile/family issues; creative tools for judges to address the opioid/drug/mental health crisis and stop the revolving courthouse/jail and prison door. I am accessible to the public to dispel the myths popular culture has created about the legal system and tell them what Ohio's lawyers and judges really do to help people.
This is an important access to justice issue. A practical balance must be struck between preserving the presumption of innocence and ensuring attendance at all court proceedings. That is why the amount of bail set by a trial judge must accomplish those goals and the cost able to be paid by the defendant. The Court has already had committees working on this issue and currently has proposed rule changes under consideration. They have been put out for public comment earlier this year and we will be considering them. The Court and Ohio Judicial Conference committees have also been available to General Assembly committees addressing the issue to provide information about access to justice, constitutional, case law and statutory law effects and consequences of the current system and potential reforms.
Ohio's Sunshine and Open Records laws are particularly important to ensure transparency and effectiveness of public officials. They are tools that should be used regularly by the press and the public to determine how well office holders are fulfilling their duties and are acting ethically and legally. For the First Amendment's freedom of the press and the people's right to petition their government to have meaning, courts must protect these constitutional rights and ensure compliance. The records belong to the public, not the custodians and all official business must always be conducted in open, public meetings. I was in the majority in State ex rel. Cincinnati Enquirer v. Pike Cty. Gen. Health Dist.., Slip Opinion No. 2018-Ohio-3721 which ordered Pike County to comply with a reporter's proper public records request to view autopsy reports. In 17 years on the 7th District I heard multiple cases to ensure local governments complied with Sunshine Laws and made decisions in public sessions not executive sessions, and held with proper advance notice. When I was a member of Poland Village Council where I live, and on the numerous boards I served and serve on, I always make sure Open Meeting Laws are complied with.
Experience Currently a judge on the Ohio Court of Appeals - 8th District and have sat by assignment on the Ohio Supreme Court. Past experience includes: law professor, assistant dean, and lecturer at Cleveland-Marshall College of Law; law professor at the University of Toledo College of Law; director at the Case Western Reserve University School of Law; adjunct instructor at Ursuline College; Chair and Vice Chair of the Board of Planning and Zoning for the City of Euclid; Assistant Director of Law (Litigation Section) for the cities of Cleveland and East Cleveland, office manager for a healthcare staffing and management company.
Education Cleveland State University - Honorary Doctor of Laws; Mandel School of Applied Social Sciences, Case Western Reserve University - Ph.D.; Cleveland-Marshall College of Law, Cleveland State University - J.D.; College-Conservatory of Music, University of Cincinnati - Bach. of Music.
Unlike the right to appeal trial court decisions to the Court of Appeals, with few exceptions, the public does not have the right to have an appeal heard by the Ohio Supreme Court. The Supreme Court only hears cases of great importance to the state and the members of the Supreme Court get to decide which cases fit that category. Being comprised of justices who all belong to the same political party, I think that one of the Court's challenges is its ability to instill public confidence in the highest level of our judiciary when it is representative of one group/political party. On a similar note, I think that the lack of intellectual, experiential, background, and cultural diversity on the Court prevents it from being a better and a stronger court - representative of all people in Ohio and prevents the Court from being better able to discern issues of great importance to a state as diverse as ours. To deal with both of these challenges, I seek to be elected to the Court.
Some ethical practices that I believe are important to keep the judiciary independent and free from political influence are:

1. To not sit on cases where there is even the appearance of impropriety; 2. When campaigning to be elected or re-elected to a judicial office refrain from discussing personal views on political subjects; and 3. Always keep in mind the job required of you and never be afraid to do it.
As noted above, I have practiced law, taught law, am published in the law, and have written the law. I have been an appellate court judge for almost 12 years and I have been assigned by the Chief Justice of the Ohio Supreme Court to sit as a judge on other appellate districts and on the Ohio Supreme Court. I have been a law professor, an assistant dean, and an administrator at several law schools, and I was a civil defense litigator. I am the chair or a member of several boards and committees tasked with improving the legal system and educating judicial personnel across the state. In addition to my law degree, I have a social science Ph.D. which helps me to ask the right questions and come up with the right answers. The doctoral studies have also helped me to discern the potential unintended consequences of some laws or legal decisions.
I will continue to work with offices at the Ohio Supreme Court, bar associations, community groups, etc. on ways to improve access to justice and to the courts for all Ohioans at all levels of the judiciary. Some suggestions include having more night court hours, having lawyers do legal clinics or workshops throughout the community as part of their pro bono activities, and making better use of technology to alleviate some unnecessary inconveniences.
I believe that we need a new round of education for our judiciary on the bail system and I think that reviewing courts must take a more active roll in examining cases before them on this subject. See, e.g. Palmer-Tesema v. Pinkney, 8th Dist. Cuyahoga No. 107025, 2018-Ohio-1852. I also believe that there should be some reforms to make our courts more efficient, more effective, and more responsive to the citizens of Ohio.

Transparency in government is the rule. Exceptions to this rule are legitimate and legal reasons for lack of transparency and/or disclosure. Courts have to be diligent in discerning whether a public meeting should have been open to the public when it was not. Also, courts must be diligent in making sure that all public records requests are complied with or that there is a legitimate, legal reason for noncompliance. See, e.g. State ex rel. McElrath v. City of Cleveland, 8th Dist. Cuyahoga No. 106078, 2018-Ohio-1753.