Wednesday, April 5th, 2017
Two vying for Celina Municipal Court judge
By William Kincaid
CELINA - Just one countywide race will be decided at the polls in the May 2 primary - a contested Republican race for Celina Municipal Court judge, pitting Celina Law Director George Moore against local attorney Kathryn Speelman for the party's nomination to advance to the general election on Nov. 7.
The position has been held for many years by Democrat James Scheer, who chose not to seek another six-year-term.
No Democrats have filed to run for the seat, which has countywide jurisdiction.
Kathryn Speelman is looking to make the leap from being a practicing attorney to a Celina Municipal Court judge with countywide jurisdiction.
Speelman, 46, resides with her family in Maria Stein. She received a degree in marketing and financing from The Ohio State University.
She said she worked several years before going back to law school. Working full-time during the day while taking classes at night, Speelman earned her law degree from the University of Toledo, graduating cum laude, she said.
"I feel I'm qualified because I've been an attorney for over two decades," she told the newspaper. "With regard to the criminal side of the court, I've been a defense attorney. I've worked at a prosecutor's office and I've also been the acting judge, so I've sat in all three chairs, if you will, in the courtroom."
Many people think about the criminal side of the court, but there's also the civil division, a sector where Speelman said she's worked day in and day out for years, focusing on contracts, collection matters, landlord-tenant issues and zoning.
"So I feel I have the most well-rounded experience - not just the criminal and traffic but also the civil experience that's necessary to be judge," she said.
Speelman said a few years ago she expressed to current judge James Scheer her desire eventually to run for the position and started working as acting judge to gain experience. She said she's ready to leave behind a law practice that she's built over two decades to serve Mercer County citizens.
With age comes wisdom, Speelman pointed out.
"I feel I can be fair and impartial, and I think with having the amount of life and legal experience that I have ... I feel I'm able to judge people very well. Are they being honest with me? Are they being deceitful? Do they want help?" she said. "That's something that you learn over time."
Asked about her judicial philosophy and temperament, Speelman said she holds very traditional, conservative beliefs.
"I feel I'm very calm. I can listen to both sides," she said. "I'm very respectful to anybody who appears before the court. Regardless of why they're there, they're all entitled to be respected, and I will be impartial."
Speelman noted that she's never sought endorsements, saying those supporting her chose to do so on their own accord.
"I am on the opposite side of law enforcement. However, we have a mutual respect for each other's positions," she said. "My respect toward their position, even though we are on completely opposite sides, has garnered support from law enforcement and defense attorneys."
Speelman believes the role of judge is both to sentence lawbreakers and help steer offenders toward a path of correction. But disposition ultimately depends on the person standing in front of the judge, she added.
"If it's a first-time offense and it's a minor offense, I'm not against rehabilitation. I don't want to ruin somebody's career over something that might be totally out of character for them," she said. "Everybody can make a mistake, but if they learn from it - and they're not back before the court - they should have that chance to have their case either diverted or to be rehabilitated."
The court should consider chemical dependency and mental health issues when making a disposition, she said.
"If the court can help with services or providing resources to those who truly want help, I'm not opposed to that," she said.
On the other hand, the consequences for repeat offenders "would certainly be different," she pointed out.
"If they're regularly before the court, the sentence needs to be harsher each time so that you're sending the message," she said.
Sentencing depends upon the case's circumstances, she said.
"If they're there for an addiction or a mental health problem, that would be treated differently than somebody who has a total disregard for the law," Speelman noted.
Asked her thoughts about plea bargaining, Speelman said it's a necessary judicial process that happens between the prosecutor and defense attorneys.
"It's quite common based on the totality of the situation and the evidence in each individual matter," she said.
If elected, Speelman said she intends to use video arraignments to save money and to protect the public and inmates alike. From the jail, with video technology, Speelman would inform suspects of the charges, the maximum penalty and their rights before having them enter an initial plea.
"We are virtually the only county around that doesn't do video arraignments," she said. "When the jail was built, it was fully equipped with the electronics to do video arraignments."
Speelman stressed she would use the technology only for the arraignment, not the sentencing.
"I would never sentence somebody over a video system because that personal element needs to be present so I can judge their demeanor, their emotion, their character, before disposition is made," she said.
Money saved from video arraignments would be used for oversight of those with chemical dependency or mental health issues, she noted.
"I want to make a positive difference in those who find themselves before the court," she said.
City law director George Moore has his sights set on becoming the next Celina Municipal Court judge.
Moore, 35, is an attorney who also serves as prosecuting
attorney in the court. Pointing out he's a fifth-generation Mercer County resident, Moore lives with his family - wife, Lindsey, and three children, Maggie, George and Jude - in Celina.
He has received a political science degree from Wright State University and a law degree from the University of Dayton.
"I believe that my experience both in civil and criminal law gives me a unique background, which best qualifies me for this position," he said.
Moore said he began practicing law within Keith Faber's firm, which he said deals with the kind of wide-ranging difficult, complex legal issues seen in big cities, including business formation and litigation, personal-injury litigation, estate planning and some criminal defense work.
In 2011, Moore said he decided to run for city law director because he thought he could make a difference in people's lives using his defense attorney background to help evaluate cases as a prosecutor to ensure justice was carried out. Since being elected, Moore said he has prosecuted more than 8,000 cases and appeared at 250 hearings and at least five jury trials.
"I think that is by far the most experience of anybody running for this position," he said, adding he has "a very intimate knowledge and understanding of the ins and outs of this particular court here."
He pointed out his role as a prosector rendered him ineligible ever to serve as an acting judge on any criminal case.
Moore, who noted as prosector he recommends sentences to the judge, said he is sick of the repeat offenders appearing before the court.
"I want to deal more harshly with those that just aren't getting the message with what the court's doing now," he said.
If elected, Moore said he would take the same problem-solving approach in the court as he has in his entire life, including as a civil attorney and prosecutor.
Moore said he likes dealing with first-timers in court because "it's the best chance you have to stop repeat criminal behavior."
"Let's figure out what's causing this problem here. Let's solve this problem," he said about addressing an offender's underlying issues, such as anger, alcohol or drugs, through counseling. "Rather than just give you a fine and send you out the door, why don't we work with you, try to figure out what's going on and that way you won't be back?"
Moore said he's personally invested in Mercer County.
"I love it here. This is where I've chosen to raise my family and I want to make this a better community for all of us," he said.
Asked about his judicial philosophy and temperament, Moore said he's "a caring, compassionate problem solver."
"I think all three of those (qualities) apply equally to if you're dealing with a low-level first-time offense or a high-level ongoing repeat offender and everything in between," he said. "Also I think that would equally apply to anything in the civil realm as well."
Moore believes the role of judge is both to sentence lawbreakers and help steer offenders toward a path of correction.
"Anybody can make a mistake that ends up having them appear before the court. That doesn't make it OK, but that doesn't mean that they need the book thrown at them either," he said.
Moore said he would take a harsher route with repeat offenders.
"Every case is different depending on its facts and circumstances, but when I see an offender come up there for the fifth, the 10th, the 12th time, obviously what they've been getting as far as a sentence in the past is not getting the message across," he said.
Moore also noted that to remain as fair and impartial as possible, he is neither seeking nor accepting endorsements from anybody affiliated with the court.
Asked for his thoughts about plea bargaining, Moore said it's a necessary procedure as the court has limited resources, including one judge and one prosecutor, working the job 60 to 70 hours a week.
"There's a myriad of factors that go into every single plea negotiation on every single case. The system itself is designed so not every case goes to trial," he said, noting input is sought from the involved law-enforcement officers and corrective action is often taken by the offender.
Moore pointed to the county's drug epidemic, noting resolutions exist for offenders - recovery, jail or death. He said he wants an open-door policy under which people could address their problems to the court or law enforcement.
"I'd be a lot less willing to want to see them even charged, let alone have a conviction, because you have to want to help yourself before you can make it happen," he said.
Moore also said he wants to create a diversion program through which low-level, first-time offenders would undertake an educational component related to their crime, which wouldn't appear on their record.
He also calls for the probation department to ensure repeat offenders are following the law and to facilitate working relationships with addicts; establishing evening court hours for those, including victims and witnesses, who can't get off work during the day; and upgrading court technology to allow for video conferencing with the jail.