The Summit County Democratic Party is pledging to funnel “every penny” it can this year into the race for probate court judge.
One of the donations already is raising eyebrows.
Common Pleas Judges Alison McCarty, a Republican, and Elinore Marsh Stormer, a Democrat, are squaring off to replace Judge Todd Mc- Kenney, who isn’t running this fall to keep the seat.
Democratic Party Chairman Wayne Jones called it “the most important race in the county.”
Both parties want to control the judgeship, which handles estates and adoptions, because of the patronage jobs they can dole out to friends and family.
A Republican judge has held the position for more than three decades. McKenney was appointed last November to replace Bill Spicer, who retired after 31 years.
“We’re going to be giving every penny to Stormer,” Jones said.
The party already has started throwing money behind her candidacy, and Republicans are crying foul about a donation made in February.
Michael Cassetty, legal counsel to Fiscal Officer Kristen Scalise, donated $10,000 on Feb. 8 to the Democratic Party’s Judicial Fund, which contained only $54.06 at the time. The next day, $10,000 was given to Stormer’s campaign committee.
Cassetty is paid $100,297 a year as legal counsel.
State law limits individuals from giving more than $575 to a candidate for an election. Meanwhile, political parties can give $57,500.
County Republican Chairman Alex Arshinkoff said the $10,000 contribution has been the subject of much discussion and head scratching by party insiders across the state.
“You can’t use a party to launder money to a judge,” he said. “You cannot do that.”
Arshinkoff said it would be different if the party held a fundraiser and numerous people contributed to the judicial fund and then a contribution was made to a judicial candidate. But, he said, that wasn’t the case with this contribution, with one person giving a contribution and the same amount going the next day to one candidate.
Arshinkoff said several individuals are considering filing a complaint, possibly with the county elections board, Ohio Elections Commission and/or the Ohio Supreme Court Disciplinary Council. He said the county GOP will not take action.
“It’s definitely a big deal,” he said, adding that other political parties might follow suit if the contribution is permitted.
Jones has a different viewpoint on the donation.
“There’s nothing wrong with it — at all,” he said, adding that it’s “much ado about nothing.”
“Alex is trying to limit people from giving money,” he said. “I don’t think Cassetty had a conversation with Stormer. I don’t think he practices law at probate court.”
Cassetty didn’t respond to requests for comment.
McCarty declined to comment about the donation.
Stormer said she has no personal or business relationship with Cassetty and was unaware of the contribution to her campaign until after it was made. She said Arshinkoff is trying to smear her name by raising the donation issue.
According to campaign finance reports filed this year with the county elections board, Stormer has $45,708 available and McCarty has $27,603.
The donation and complaints by Republicans might be a signal the probate race will get ugly.
Opponents in past
Stormer and McCarty already have an unfriendly political history. They faced off in 2004 for a common pleas judgeship. Stormer won.
In that race, they accused each other of negative campaigning. The race included accusations of lying.
It surprised many that McCarty entered the judicial race this year at all.
McKenney, in an unexpected last-minute move, opted not to run for the position after being appointed to the post just last year by Gov. John Kasich. Political appointees typically run.
McKenney has said he wants to focus on community initiatives instead of campaigning.
Rick Armon can be reached at 330-996-3569 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Stephanie Warsmith can be reached at 330-996-3705 or email@example.com.