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January 11, 2008

Ohio's first lesbian judge faces a primary challenger

 

Dayton--Ohio’s first openly lesbian judge is being challenged in a primary election only four months after being appointed by Governor Ted Strickland.

Montgomery County Common Pleas Judge Mary L. Wiseman will face fellow Democrat James D. Piergies on March 4. Piergies is currently a judge in the Montgomery County District Court in Huber Heights.

A governor’s judicial appointments are rarely challenged by members of their own party. Another Democratic Common Pleas judge in the county, Frances E. McGee, is unopposed in the same election.

It is uncertain if Wiseman is being challenged because she is seen as vulnerable as a lesbian judge, or if it is because her challenger had been the choice of a strong union for the vacancy she was appointed to fill on October 22.

Piergies said he is running against Wiseman because he “would like to be a Common Pleas judge.”

“It’s available. It’s something I need to do,” Piergies said.

Piergies said he has 13 years experience on the bench and has taken nearly 130 hours of training.

“There’s a big difference in experience,” Piergies said, between him and Wiseman.

Wiseman could not be reached for comment.

Wiseman’s challenge may also be a protest of Strickland’s procedure for judicial appointments by local Democrats who want more influence over the process.

Strickland has taken much of the political maneuvering out of appointing judges, sometimes to the displeasure of county Democratic parties.

The governor created the Ohio Judicial Appointments Recommendations Panel, with eleven members representing the regions of the state, legal professionals and various interest groups.

The panel screens and checks the qualifications of candidates from lists made by the political parties, then makes a recommendation to Strickland based on merit.

During previous administrations, county parties often picked their choice locally and the governors approved it.

“Local parties are not getting what they want. The local parties want more control,” said Tom Ritchie, who directs the American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees union. He was also vice chair of the Montgomery County Democratic Party when Wiseman was appointed.

Ritchie also sat on the governor’s panel that recommended Wiseman.

But he stopped short of saying why Wiseman was being targeted by a fellow Democrat.

“I was not part of recruiting anyone to run against [Wiseman],” said Ritchie, adding that as a member of the Dayton city commission from 1998 to 2002, Wiseman had strong support from AFSCME.

“But I don’t want to say too much. I want to stay as objective as I can,” Ritchie said.

However, Piergies was AFSCME’s choice for the seat that Wiseman was selected to fill.

The Montgomery County District Court, like similar ones in ten other Ohio counties, hears minor cases such as traffic violations for communities without municipal courts. It is a part-time job, and Piergies also practices law.

The Common Pleas bench is a full-time position.

Piergies said he does not represent AFSCME, but does represent AFSCME members in labor disputes.

Wiseman and Piergies face off in the March 4 Democratic primary. The winner will run against Republican Margaret M. Quinn in November.

 

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