Judge Frances McGee and her Montgomery County Common Pleas Court judicial opponent Richard Skelton both consider themselves outsiders in some ways.
Usually, sitting common pleas judges in the county run unopposed. But McGee faces her second challenge after being appointed by Gov. Ted Strickland in 2007. McGee defeated Dennis Adkins in a close race in 2008.
Though judicial races are non-partisan, sources say there has been a gentlemen’s agreement in Montgomery County that once a candidate defeats an opponent, the other party waits for the next open position or appointed judge who hasn’t faced a challenge.
“I’m not a part of the old boys’ network, meaning that the qualities I had that made me someone the governor looked at for an appointment, came from my community involvement and not as the result of being a member of the (local) bar association,” said McGee, a Democrat. “I have roots in this community and I only want what’s best for it.”
Skelton, a Republican, is going against tradition by running, although some people in both major parties asked him not to.
“I’m 61 years old,” he said. “I think just because you’re in a position should not insulate you from challenge. I would not expect that. If I’m lucky enough to get elected and someone six years from now would want to challenge me, that’s their right. That’s the American way and you let the voters decide.”
Sources have said Skelton’s challenge of McGee led to Susan Solle, a Democrat, taking on Adkins — a Republican who ran unopposed in 2012 for a spot expiring in 2014.
Skelton has spent much more money campaigning — including television commercials — than McGee in an effort to tout his reputation and background in both civil and criminal cases.
He loaned his campaign $240,000, according to campaign finance reports filed with the Montgomery County Board of Elections. During the current reporting period he raised $27,402 in contributions and spent $209,286.
McGee has not loaned herself money for this campaign, but does carry a $60,500 balance on a loan she made to her campaign in 2008. During the current reporting period she raised $16,850 and spent $41,841.
“I’ve never been very political,” said Skelton, who added that he’s received endorsements and support from leaders in his party. “I’ve tried to learn what to do. I’m trying to cover every base that I can cover.”
McGee said she will run some commercials down the stretch, but doesn’t try to compete equally in that arena.
“I was outspent last time and I’ll probably be outspent this time,” she said. “But I think the fact that the family I was born into and the family I was married into have solid reputations throughout the community,” and that goes a long way.
McGee pointed to some potential criticisms regarding her back-logged docket and why she doesn’t craft the same sentences for defendants accused of the same crime.
Judge G. Jack Davis, who died in 2007, had worked a reduced schedule during his illness, and that other judges and attorneys accommodated that, McGee said. He had 45 pages of cases that were out of time, and it took years to catch up. That list is now down to two pages.
“I would like to have the opportunity now that the trials seem to have whittled down a bit,” she said “to introduce some programs that would be helpful to the community.”
McGee said her philosophy of sentencing is to determine what will motivate the defendant to not offend again.
“I don’t make up the law,” she said. “I’m able to use guidelines, especially in criminal cases, in crafting a sentence that would, I think, be a way of deterring this person from doing further crime.”
Skelton said that even as a defense attorney he has the endorsements of the big area Fraternal Order of Police organizations and that he has a reputation as being straight-forward and honest in his work at the Montgomery County courthouse.
“It’s the court that I know,” he said. “I know it from the civil aspect and the criminal aspect. I’m at the point in my career where I want to devote the last segment of my career to the service of my community, Montgomery County, where I was born and raised.”
Skelton is listed as an acting municipal court judge, but that he does that infrequently because of his busy practice. He said he would not say anything negative about his opponent.
Both candidates addressed the fact that McGee is the only minority on the county’s common pleas court bench, which would have none if she loses.
“Understand, I’m the only one on the bench who knows what it’s like to be stopped for driving while black,” McGee said. “I have some experiences that some of my colleagues nor my opponent doesn’t have.
“While it’s not the over-riding issue, we’re saying we’re living in 2014 and we’re a diverse community or a post-racial community. And yet you can’t even keep one African-American on the general division bench.”
Skelton said, in a general sense, he’s a believer in diversity.
“However … I am a believer that this particular job is an important job and while I believe in diversity, I also believe in any American citizen’s right, if they have the proper qualifications … to run for office.
“The time is right, and that’s why I’m doing it.”
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