Thursday, February 26, 2004

Judicial races crowd primary

Butler County has three bench races, mental health levy

By John Kiesewetter
The Cincinnati Enquirer

HAMILTON - Butler County Republican voters will find three judicial races on the primary ballot, plus the countywide mental health levy.

In all three court races, the Republican primary winner will be unopposed in November, unless an independent candidate files petitions by Monday.

ELECTION SECTION Special Election Coverage
Butler County Domestic Relations Court magistrate Eva Kessler, 55, and former Hamilton mayor and council member Adolf Olivas, 48, are vying for the job of retiring Domestic Relations Court Judge Leslie Spillane.

Kessler, of Hamilton, has worked 19 years as a magistrate. If elected, she wants to start identifying divorce cases with bitter custody and visitation rights so they can be immediately ordered into alternative dispute mediation.

Olivas, of Hamilton, has been an attorney for 23 years, with a concentration on family law issues. "It's an area of the law I practice in, and an area of the law I like," Olivas said.

In the Juvenile Court race, Judge David Niehaus, 59, faces a challenge from Gregory Stephens, 34, Butler County chief juvenile division assistant prosecutor.

Niehaus, of St. Clair Township, has served as a judge for juvenile cases since 1981. Niehaus said the primary contest is "political, because I wasn't active in the party and didn't donate enough (money)."

Stephens, of Fairfield Township, has been an assistant prosecutor handling juvenile cases for 61/2 years. He says he wants the make the court more efficient so rulings could be made faster. He was "not recommended" by the Butler County Bar Association because the organization is "protective of judges," he said.

Campaigning to replace Judge Anthony Valen of Middletown on the 12th District Court of Appeals are H.J. Bressler, 64, of Hamilton, and Suzanne L. Wynn, 40, of Georgetown. The Middletown-based court serves Butler, Warren, Brown, Clermont, Clinton, Preble, Fayette and Madison counties.

Bressler said his 23 years as a Butler County judge is the biggest difference in the race. "It's absolutely vital to have judicial experience in the Court of Appeals because they judge the judges," said Bressler, an attorney for 36 years.

Wynn, a U.S. Treasury tax law specialist, has been an attorney for 12 years, including two supervising the Montgomery County Public Defender's office appellate division. Her lack of judicial experience should not be a factor, she said. "Being an appellate judge is more research and writing. I love research and writing."

She also wants the court to conduct some sessions in all eight counties, and to establish a branch office in Washington Court House.

The biggest races in Butler County, however, may be the smallest ones. Republican Party Central Committee members face opposition in 103 of the county's 289 precincts. Many of the challengers were recruited by Michael A. Fox and his supporters after he was not endorsed for re-election by the party last fall.

Until last month, Fox was in a contested primary race. But party leaders engineered a job swap between state Rep. Greg Jolivette, who was running against Fox, and Commissioner Courtney Combs, who was running for Jolivette's legislative seat.

The only countywide issue is a half-mill, five-year Butler County mental health tax. It would generate $3.5 million annually, and allow the agency to restore services.

The owner of a $100,000 home would pay an extra $15 a year.

Hamilton voters also will decide whether to fund The Shuttle, the city's bus service that began operation in October. A half-mill, five-year levy would generate about $449,000. The owner of a $100,000 home would pay about $15 a year more in taxes.

The Hamilton-only system would be operated by the Butler County Regional Transit Authority, which shut down county bus service in 2002 after three countywide levy failures in two years.


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