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February 1, 2008

Wiseman's challenger drops out after flap over comment

Dayton--The challenger to Ohio’s first openly lesbian judge has withdrawn from the primary race, a week after raising a controversy by questioning her ability to hear gay-related cases.

Judge James Piergies dropped his challenge to Mary Wiseman’s seat on the Montgomery County Common Pleas bench with a January 23 letter to the board of elections.

Wiseman was appointed to fill a vacancy last October by Gov. Ted Strickland. Piergies, a 13-year veteran part-time judge on the county’s district court in Huber Heights, was passed over for the seat.

He then challenged Wiseman in the Democratic primary, a rare move in politics.

During a January 16 endorsement interview with the Dayton Daily News, Piergies said that Wiseman should not hear cases involving Ohio’s same-sex marriage ban amendment or Dayton’s new human rights ordinance, because she is lesbian.

His comment, published the next day, drew the ire of the legal community and concerns over Piergies’ fitness for the job.

Wiseman responded that if he were correct, then Thurgood Marshall would never have been able to rule on a civil rights case.

Marshall was the first African-American U.S. Supreme Court justice, appointed after he successfully argued the landmark Brown v. Board of Education case that ended racially segregated schools. As a justice, Marshall heard civil rights cases based on Brown.

That weekend, a local attorney called for Piergies to withdraw from the race.

“If people of good will are going to stand by when this sort of thinly-veiled bigotry is thrown out and traded upon, then where are we?” attorney Steven Dankof Sr. told the Daily News.

Dankof accused Piergies of violating the canons of judicial conduct, and of raising Wiseman’s sexuality “in the hope that homophobia would rear its ugly head and propel you to elected office.”

Dayton Bar Association president Michael Krumholtz wrote in a letter to the Daily News: “All judges take a solemn oath to follow the dictates of the law in the observance of their judicial duties and to refrain from making decisions based on their personal background, religious beliefs, political viewpoint or lifestyle.”

“For our judiciary, this is their most sacred promise. It is the commitment that their decisions will be based on legal principles as opposed to personal choice,” Krumholtz wrote.

Two days later on January 22, the Daily News endorsed Wiseman: “Gov. Strickland was right to choose Wiseman. This contest is not close.”

The paper noted that Piergies’ argument against Wiseman hearing LGBT cases is “weak.”

Piergies dropped out of the race the next day, leaving Wiseman unopposed in the March 4 primary. She will face Republican Margaret Quinn in the November election.

“This campaign has taken on a tone never intended by me and therefore I believe it is in the best interest of everyone for me to withdraw,” said Piergies in a statement released through the Montgomery County Democratic Party.

Wiseman did not return calls for comment, but told the Daily News that Piergies had done “an honorable thing” by withdrawing.

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