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The JP Election Brief

Pulling back the curtain on the
drama of judicial elections
In this issue...

Election news from: Texas, Ohio, Illinois, 
Nevada, Wisconsin, New Mexico and 

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February 13, 2014

by: State Courts Staff

A new election year is underway, which means it's time to bring back the JP Election Brief! Every Thursday, Judgepedia staff will bring you the latest in judicial election news as candidates across the nation prepare to defend or challenge thousands of judgeships.

So far, filing deadlines have passed for candidates in the following states: Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Nevada, New Mexico, Ohio, Texas, West Virginia and Wisconsin.

This week, we take a look at candidates who have switched parties, a candidate who is already being investigated for corruption and some who got a free pass to election. Races in New Mexico and Wisconsin are also highlighted and we'll break down Indiana's election methods.

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Important dates:

Filing deadlines:

 Texas judge switches parties, runs for state supreme court

In the historically red state of Texas, Judge Lawrence "Larry" Meyers of the Court of Criminal Appeals raised eyebrows in an unexpected move this election season: he announced that not only is he running for the state supreme court in 2014, but he is leaving the Republican party to appear as a Democrat on the ballot. The switch makes him the first statewide Democratic officeholder in Texas since the 1990s.[1]

Commented Texas Democratic Party Chairman Gilberto Hinojosa,

I am thrilled to welcome Judge Meyers to the Texas Democratic Party. I am even more excited to know that Judge Meyers doesn’t stand alone. Every day, I hear from real voters that our party represents the strongest path forward for our state.[1][2]

Not everyone thinks the move is representative of a greater trend. Beth Cubriel, executive director of the Republican Party of Texas, said,

We think that brings the grand total of party switchers to the Democratic Party to two or three this year. And we’ve had 76 Democrats who have switched to the Republican party this year.[1][2]

Meyers, who was elected to the criminal appeals court in 1992, is seeking Place 6 on the state supreme court. He will be listed on the March 4 primary ballot. The other candidates running for that seat are Republicans Jeff Brown (incumbent) and Joe Pool, Jr. as well as Independent candidate Mark Ash.[1]

 Ohio probate court judge investigated for misuse of campaign funds and corruption

Mahoning County Probate Court Judge Mark A. Belinky, who recently filed petitions to run for re-election, is the subject of a corruption investigation, according to court documents obtained by local news organizations.[3]

Agents from the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation and Identification, along with sheriff’s deputies, recently searched Belinky’s court office as well as his Boardman Township home looking for bank records, campaign finance reports, lists of donations, lists of donors, ledgers, and any documentation, computers, or electronic media.[3] Officials were initially reticent about the nature of the investigation, but details emerged from court filings concerning the warrants.[4]

The documents indicate that the investigation centers on Belinky’s campaigns for office and his conduct while in office. The confiscated items are being labeled as evidence in possible criminal offenses including bribery, money laundering, and theft. No criminal charges have been filed as of February 11th.[3]

Judge Belinky already has a history of financial problems. He was taken to court by a Florida man last year who alleged that Belinky had not paid a $20,000 debt. In 2011, the IRS filed a lien on Belinky’s home, claiming he owed more than $32,000 in unpaid income taxes. Belinky released a statement in response to news about the investigation, saying that the Mahoning County Probate Court was still “open for business,” that he has cooperated fully with authorities,[3] and that since his election, he “has faithfully discharged [his] duties as Judge of the Mahoning County Probate Court.”[5]

 Bollinger set to win circuit court seat already

Every Thursday, Judgepedia's State Courts Staff highlights interesting events in the world of judicial elections across the nation. Make sure to use Judgepedia's Election Central the rest of the week as a hub for all your judicial election needs.
The race to fill the soon-to-be-vacant seat of retiring Illinois Judge Katherine “Kitty” McCarthy has reached an early finish. Attorney Paul G. Chiligiris said last Friday he is withdrawing his Democratic candidacy for the Sixth Circuit seat in Macon County.[6]

Chiligiris, 47, said in his announcement,

At this time, I feel it is best to continue to focus on my law practice and continued professional development as an attorney.[6][2]

Chiligiris’ Republican opponent R.C. Bollinger, currently an associate judge for the Sixth Circuit, will now run unopposed in the general election. Both were unopposed in the primary, which takes place March 18.[6]

Bollinger said he is "excited about having the opportunity to serve our county as the next resident circuit judge."[6]

Chiligiris’ name will still appear on the ballot because absentee voting is already underway, according to Macon County Clerk Steve Bean. Votes for Chiligiris will not be counted.

 Two of Nevada's supreme court justices get a free pass to new terms

The Nevada Supreme Court elections were over before they began. The two justices with terms expiring this year, Kris Pickering and Mark Gibbons, did not draw a single opponent for the November 4, 2014 election. After the filing deadline passed on January 17, the justices found that they would be automatically re-elected to new, six-year terms without having to campaign at all.

This type of election has become a trend for the Nevada Supreme Court, which has not seen a competitive election since 2008. In 2010, incumbent Justices James Hardesty and Ron Parraguirre were re-elected without opposition and, in 2012, Justices Michael Cherry, Michael Douglas and Nancy Saitta were similarly unopposed.[7]

Gibbons, the current chief justice, has served on the court since 2002. That first election was a breeze for him, since he was also unopposed that year. In response to the 2014 candidate line-up (or lack thereof), he stated,

I’m gratified that my work on one of the nation’s busiest appellate courts has been recognized and that I will not need to run a statewide campaign for re-election.[8][2]

Pickering was similarly pleased and credited the court for proving itself. She said,

I think the fact that none of us on the court has drawn opposition in recent years shows that the court, as a whole, is functioning effectively.[8][2]

It is often quite hard to defeat an incumbent judge in an election. That fact, combined with the high cost of running a judicial campaign, reveals why many lawyers or judges may have been loath to challenge these justices.

The lack of competition also means that these justices have locked in their current $170,000 annual salary for another six years.

There will, however, be competition in other Nevada judicial races this year. For the list of races and candidates, see: Nevada judicial elections, 2014.

 Wisconsin 4-way showdown

The retirement of former judge John Hoffmann from the Waupaca County Circuit Court in Wisconsin has sparked a perfect storm for a competitive judicial election.

Keith A. Steckbauer, Edmund J. Jelinski, Vicki Taggatz Clussman and Brenda Starr Freeman have all filed for candidacy to replace Hoffmann. Steckbauer was appointed by Governor Scott Walker to finish the remainder of Hoffmann’s term. He ran a private practice for 17 years prior to that appointment.[9] The other three challengers bring a wealth of public and private legal experience to the race.[10] Clussman is a veteran assistant district attorney in Waupaca County, having served in that position for 26 years. Freeman has served as a probate contract guardian in Outagamie County and part-time district attorney in Waupaca County. Jelinski has been a private practice attorney since 2003, and was a district attorney previously.[11]

The upcoming primary on February 18 will eliminate two of the candidates. The remaining contenders will face voters in the April 1 general election. Though Steckbauer may have a slight incumbency advantage, he has only held the position for a little over a month. The possibility of split votes and all of the confounding variables that result from a four-way race make such a campaign difficult on candidates. The nonpartisan nature of Wisconsin judicial races means it is everyone vs. everyone.

For more information on Wisconsin's elections, please see: Wisconsin judicial elections, 2014.

 New Mexico magistrate court election spotlight

New Mexico:
Judge Richard B. Wellborn will be running for election to the Dona Ana County Magistrate Court in the 2014 election. He was appointed to the position in October 2013 by Governor Susana Martinez to fill the vacancy created by Judge Richard L. Silva's retirement. He will run in this election in hopes of serving a full term.[12]

A Dona Ana County attorney, Peter Goodman, wrote an opinion piece for the Las Cruces Sun-News in January that points a finger at judges who are switching political parties before the elections--Judge Wellborn included. In 2010, Wellborn ran (but lost) as a Republican for a district judgeship. He used to work under Republican Governor Martinez, and was appointed to his current post by her. In December, he switched over to the Democrats--an act, according to Goodman, done solely to increase his chances of winning. He also highlights the fact that Wellborn approached District Court Clerk Norman Osborne, who is planning to run for the same position as Wellborn, and apparently suggested he withdraw from the race. Wellborn said,

I don't think Norm would disagree that I'm doing a good job. If his first priority is the best interest of the court, it would be a selfless act on his part to withdraw (and seek the next vacancy) and that if he did that, which would show he put the court's interest above his own, then I would likely make a recommendation of him (if/when a vacancy occurred).[13][2]

Wellborn reacted to Goodman's piece with his own response in the Las-Cruces Sun-News. He emphasized the importance of impartiality in judges, saying "political moderation is a strength, not a weakness."[14] His beliefs have changed over the years, he says, but now most closely align with the Democratic Party.

You can view Wellborn's campaign website here (timed out).

 The scoop on Indiana

The filing deadline for candidates in the Indiana 2014 elections passed on February 7. A total of 211 candidates for judicial positions are currently registered to compete in the primary election scheduled for May 6.

In Indiana, circuit court elections are generally partisan with the exception of Vanderburgh County, where candidates run in nonpartisan elections. Partisan elections are also the norm in the superior courts, with the exception of Lake and St. Joseph counties, where judges are appointed by the Governor and must stand for retention after two years of service and at the end of subsequent terms. Judges on the Indiana Court of Appeals are required to face a retention election at the end of their ten-year terms.

While many of the races in the primary are unopposed, a small number of races have multiple candidates vying for a chance to run in the general election. The Marion County Superior Court, located in Indianapolis, is well contested with seven candidates registered for the Republican primary and twelve for the Democratic primary. There are also five Republican candidates running for the Hendricks County Circuit Court position. These contested races, along with the diversity of election procedures between counties in Indiana, will make for an interesting election to watch unfold.

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 Star-Telegram, "Filing ends, ballot set for 2014 election," December 10, 2013
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 Note: This text is quoted verbatim from the original source. Any inconsistencies are attributed to the original source.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3, "Investigation targets Judge Belinky's political campaign and suspected corruption," February 10, 2014
  4., "Attorney Generals office not releasing any details into Belinky investigation," February 9, 2014
  5., "State investigating Mahoning County judge," February 7, 2014
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 ‘’Herald & Review,’’ “Chiligiris drops from judge race against Bollinger,” February 8, 2014
  7. Las Vegas Sun, "Nevada Supreme Court’s Gibbons, Pickering to run unopposed for re-election," January 17, 2014
  8. 8.0 8.1 Las Vegas Review Journal, "2 Nevada justices, 21 Clark County district judges to get free rides to re-election," January 17, 2014
  9. County Post, “What makes a fair judge,” By Robert Cloud, January 30, 2014
  10., Waupaca county judge, district 2. Date accessed, February 10, 2014
  11. County Post, “Five candidates for judge,” by Robert Cloud, December 19, 2013
  12. Democratic Party of Dona Ana County, "Richard Wellborn Seeks Retention as Magistrate Judge," January 19, 2014
  13. Las Cruces Sun-Times, "Peter Goodman: Judicial candidates switch parties ahead of election," January 12, 2014
  14. Las Cruces Sun-News, "Judge in agreement with Goodman column," January 26, 2014