Montgomery County Juvenile Court Judge Jeff Rezabek was going to square off against Helen Wallace before he got to run as an incumbent. Rezabek was appointed in July by Ohio Gov. John Kasich after the death of longtime Judge Nick Kuntz.
Both candidates have been criminal defense attorneys and worked as Guardian Ad Litems representing children in juvenile court.
Rezabek, a 1997 University of Dayton law school graduate, was most recently a state representative for the 43rd District. Before that, he was in private practice and had been a substitute magistrate in Dayton Municipal Court.
“My judicial experience … places me well ahead of my opponent regarding direct experience as a judicial officer,” Rezabek said. “Additionally, I have been afforded first-hand experience with addressing administrative issues facing our court.”
Wallace, a George Washington University law school graduate, has lived and practiced law in Montgomery County since 2002 after working in a civil litigation firm in Cincinnati.
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Wallace was an assistant prosecutor in juvenile court and common pleas court including being assigned to CARE House cases. She started her own practice in 2005 and since 2006 has been a substitute prosecutor for Kettering.
“My opponent has never been a prosecutor, and is a career politician,” Wallace said, adding that she hopes to be the juvenile court’s first female judge. “I am running for judge because I care so much about our kids and court and know I can do the best job.”
Rezabek said the court needs better efficiency and creative energy to improve on existing programs.
“The court needs to be forward thinking and work with schools, the community and local business to reach out and address any needs to the children and families before they come before the court,” he said. “Juvenile Court can be more successful with more robust early intervention programs.
Wallace identified addressing the glut of custody cases and the drug crisis as the most pressing issues involving the court.
“We see generations of families now with addiction or suffering the effects of addiction — including the high rate of death among addicts,” she said. “The Juvenile Court has a family treatment court which works to keep parents sober and reunified with their children, but the capacity of that program is limited.”
Wallace said tougher penalties are needed against former juvenile offenders who recruit minors and are coaching them what to say to officials.
“If elected judge, I will enforce the law and apply corrections — strong sanctions — to any juvenile held responsible for a crime, or conspiracy to commit a crime, Wallace said. “Our current laws can be utilized to strongly sanction juvenile offenders.”
Rezabek said such cases need to be tailored to each defendant.
“The court needs to use the sanctions, programs and the court personnel creatively and effective toward each individual client, which will result in successful outcomes,” he said. “We have a very strong, diverse and creative court and by listening to all new and innovated ideas, along with the appropriate sanctions we can make our community safer.”
Though judicial races officially are non-partisan, Rezabek is a Republican, and Wallace is a Democrat.