ELYRIA — County Republicans have already begun looking for a replacement for Lorain County Common Pleas Judge James Burge, who was convicted Wednesday of falsification and tampering with records charges.
Helen Hurst, chairwoman of the Lorain County Republican Party, said she consulted with Gov. John Kasich’s office Thursday morning about the process that will be used once Burge, a Democrat, is officially removed from office because of the felony tampering charges. She said she will select a committee to review potential candidates.
Kasich spokesman Rob Nichols said the governor’s office typically asks for local Republican parties to screen and recommend three candidates to replace judges who leave the bench. Under Ohio law the governor fills judicial vacancies. Kasich is a Republican.
But Nichols also said that process won’t officially start until Burge is formally removed from office, something that could take some time, according to the Ohio Supreme Court.
Burge has been disqualified from acting as a judge since his indictment on public corruption charges in September and has continued to be paid while a visiting judge has handled his criminal and civil dockets.
Supreme Court spokesman Bret Crow said once the state’s highest court receives formal paperwork that Burge has been convicted, an order placing the judge on an unpaid interim suspension will be issued.
A vacancy won’t be created until the Supreme Court formally removes Burge from office or if he were to resign. Crow said it’s unclear exactly how long that process will take.
For instance, suspended Hamilton County Juvenile Court Judge Tracie Hunter was convicted in October of having an unlawful interest in a public contract but is still under an interim suspension. Hunter is appealing her conviction and is awaiting a new trial on charges the jury deadlocked on, according to Supreme Court records.
Burge, who took office in 2007 and won re-election in 2012, has said he will not appeal his conviction, but he has until 30 days after Visiting Judge Dale Crawford imposes a sentence in the case to appeal. That hearing is set for May 14, and Burge could receive a prison sentence in the case.
Burge was convicted of failing to properly disclose his connections to Whiteacre North, a company that owns 600 Broadway, a Lorain office building where several lawyers who have appeared before Burge have offices. The judge has called the case a politically motivated effort by county Prosecutor Dennis Will to remove him because of a long-standing feud between the two men, something Will has denied.
Once Kasich names a replacement, that person will only remain in the position until after the 2016 election, when voters will decide who will fill the remaining two years of Burge’s term, which is set to expire at the end of 2018, Lorain County Board of Elections Director Paul Adams said.
Hurst declined to comment on who might be in the running as a possible replacement for Burge, although she noted there are several Republican attorneys in the county and four elected judges — Avon Lake Municipal Court Judge Darrell Bilancini, Elyria Municipal Court judges Gary Bennett and Lisa Locke Graves and county Domestic Relations Judge Debra Boros.
Lorain County Democratic Party Chairman Anthony Giardini called speculating about who would replace Burge “premature” since Burge remains a judge and could still appeal.
Giardini also said if Kasich does end up naming a Republican replacement for Burge, Democrats will field a candidate in 2016.