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August 15, 2008

Columbus man seeks to be Ohio's second out judge

Columbus--A former Stonewall Democrats officer is vying to become Ohio’s second openly gay judge.

If he succeeds in his run for Franklin County Common Pleas Court, Shawn Dingus, 36, of Columbus, will be Ohio’s first such judge to ascend to the bench by election.

Montgomery County Common Pleas Judge Mary Wiseman, the first out lesbian on an Ohio bench, was appointed by Gov. Ted Strickland to fill an unexpired term last October. She is also on the ballot November 4.

Dingus, who is a former vice president of the Stonewall Democrats of Central Ohio, said that honor is important to him. He has worked on the campaigns of three Franklin County gay judicial candidates over the years. All were good campaigns, though not winners on election day. The most recent was Bill Hedrick in 2004.

Dingus also helped Chad Foust in his bid for Ohio House in 2002.

In his race, Dingus is squaring off against Republican Richard Sheward of New Albany, who has been on the bench 18 years.

Dingus says he has two advantages over his opponent. The first is his judicial temperament.

“The Common Pleas Court deals with the public more than any other,” said Dingus. “My opponent can be abrasive.”

Dingus said he has experienced that side of his opponent while practicing in his court, and other attorneys have, too. In its 2008 performance poll of Franklin County Common Pleas judges, the Columbus Bar Association ranked Sheward 16th of 17 in judicial temperament.

That poll of practicing attorneys also found Sheward 17 of 17 in objectivity, below average in legal knowledge, tied for lowest score in sentencing, and ranking 16 of 17 overall.

Dingus, who passed the bar in 1998, graduated in the top ten percent of his University of Akron law school class with a cum laude distinction.

Before starting his own practice five years ago, Dingus worked as an assistant prosecuting attorney in Morrow County where he also represented the county’s Children Services agency.

While with a firm and as a sole practitioner, Dingus says he has a wealth of experience representing both plaintiffs and defendants in both civil and criminal actions. He has also represented clients in probate court.

“I bring more practical experience in various courts to the job than my opponent,” says Dingus, “even though he can claim he has been on the bench longer.”

Dingus has also been a member of the Democratic Party’s judicial screening committee for seven years.

In his current practice, Dingus represents LGBT clients in family court and in matters concerning custody. He also does planning for LGBT couples.

Dingus plays sports in gay leagues. He lives in western Columbus with his partner Wayne Henry.

Dingus said that although he is running as an out gay man, the issue has not come up publicly in the race.

“People around here are used to gay candidates by now,” Dingus said.

Behind the public campaign, however, Dingus said his opponent and his supporters have been heard using words such as “untraditional” to describe him, which could be veiled anti-gay messages.

Dingus said the area LGBT community is very active in his campaign. He says the effort differs from most judicial races because it relies heavily on a field operation.

“We’re out knocking on doors,” Dingus said, “and we have a Facebook group.”

“I want to engage people in this judicial race by being visible,” Dingus said.

Dingus has the early endorsements of the Franklin County Democratic Party and the Stonewall Democrats of Central Ohio. He has also applied for endorsement and financial support from the Victory Fund, a Washington, D.C. group that supports gay and lesbian candidates.

Dingus said it will cost at least $75,000 to win the seat, of which his campaign has raised nearly $20,000 already.

The race is the only contested Common Pleas Court contest in the county.

Dingus said the increased public involvement due to the presidential election will help him.

“I’m a big believer in self-motivation and strong work ethic,” Dingus said. “I’m the first in my family ever to go to college.”

“We’re working our butts off!”

Dingus’s campaign is on the web at www.dingusforjudge.com.


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