candidates have about a week to convince Republican voters they deserve to be on the ballot for Medina Municipal Court judge this fall. The incumbent, Judge Dale H. Chase, announced Jan. 13 he would not seek re-election for another six-year term.
Republicans seeking to succeed Chase are Fred Bougher, Joe Salzgeber and Gary Werner. The winner will face Democrat J.R. Russell and independent Bob Campbell on Nov. 7.
There will be no Democratic primary ballot May 2 because all the party’s candidates who filed are unopposed countywide.
Party affiliations for judicial candidates will not be listed on the general election ballot.
The Medina Municipal Court jurisdiction includes the cities of Brunswick and Medina, villages of Spencer and Chippewa Lake and 11 townships — Liverpool, Brunswick Hills, Hinckley, Litchfield, York, Medina, Granger, Spencer, Chatham, Lafayette and Montville.
Municipal court judges in Ohio are paid $125,850 annually.
The Gazette interviewed each of the municipal court candidates, who spoke about their motivation for becoming a judge and their plans for the office if elected.
Wadsworth native Fred Bougher began his public service career in 1973 as a Medina police officer. At age 26, he became the youngest person in department history promoted to sergeant.
Fred Bougher is a candidate for Medina Municipal Judge.
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He began attending the University of Akron Law School part time while still on the force.
He ran a local private law practice for many years after graduation.
Bougher, 65, later began working for local health care manufacturing company Invacare as in-house counsel. He now supervises the company’s staff of 50 attorneys who work nationwide. He typically travels at least bi-weekly to meetings and court dates.
Bougher has served as a city prosecutor and a defense attorney on criminal cases throughout the county. But he says his time in law enforcement gave him his ability to read people.
“I’m pretty good at having someone look me in the eye and know if they’re lying to me or not,” he said.
He said he has put this tool to good use on the bench many times over the decades. Bougher has presided over Medina Municipal Court in place of Judge Chase 300 times during Chase’s 30-year tenure.
Given his respect for Chase, Bougher said he only thought of entering the race after hearing Chase’s decision not to run again.
“It wasn’t until he said he was retiring that I considered it,” he said.
Because he’s been waiting so long for that retirement, this is Bougher’s first political campaign.
“It will also be my only campaign,” he added. “I would like to give back to the community that has been very kind to me and my family.”
Bougher raised two daughters in Medina. Both are successful medical professionals with their own growing families.
If elected, Bougher said he sees the need to make at least one adjustment to how the court does business.
He said he believes the county’s growing drug abuse problem has created the need to “set aside time every week for the (municipal court) judge to focus on those types of cases.”
He believes a separate drug court is financially untenable.
But sharing resources with Medina County Common Pleas Court could be one answer to many of the municipal court’s challenges, including the size of the building and its staff.
“In retrospect, the facility was downsized from what it should have been,” he said. “It is one of the busiest one-judge courts in the state.”
He believes early intervention for those with substance-abuse problems — both illicit drugs and alcohol — is one way the municipal court can serve the public.
“The secret is getting the right people into the programs,” he said. “And the two common pleas judges run good ones that can be leveraged by the municipal court.”
To that end, Bougher advocates for an enlarged city-county court complex that would share resources.
Having worked with Medina County commissioners and Medina City Council over the years, Bougher said he is confident he can help craft a solution to the ongoing debate over the courthouse expansion project that is near Public Square in Medina.
Brunswick City Councilman Joe Salzgeber, 48, has practiced law in Medina Municipal Court since the late 1990s.
He first worked as a prosecutor and then as a private attorney defending civil, criminal and traffic cases. He served as an assistant prosecutor with the Medina County Prosecutor’s Office from 1996 to 2003 and as a part-time prosecutor for the city of Medina.
Brunswick City Council member Joe Salzgeber is one of the three Republican candidates for Medina Municipal Court judge.
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He was a magistrate for the Brunswick Mayor’s Court from 2007 to 2008 and covered as needed for former mayor Dale Strasser.
Salzgeber said he has argued numerous cases before the Ohio Supreme Court and in several Ohio Court of Appeals districts.
If elected, Salzgeber said he wants to introduce two specialty dockets to the court’s workload.
“I think it’s time for a specialized veterans court docket to address the needs of U.S. military veterans with cases before the court,” he said “It’s been working well in other counties, so it’s time to try it here.”
He said he also supports the creation of a drug court docket in municipal court.
“Like the common pleas court, this could include jail time for detoxification and as a consequence for failing drug tests,” he said. “The main goal would be to break the cycle of drug dependency at the criminal misdemeanor level.”
Salzgeber said there is a need for the courthouse expansion that is being discussed with Medina City Council but is open to either new construction or remodeling the existing building.
“Either way, it needs to be done at a reasonable cost,” he said. “The court has had an increased caseload as the county’s population began expanding since the early 1980s when the current courthouse was built.”
If elected, he said he would pledge to work with the Medina County Battered Women’s Shelter and other social services agencies to protect victims of domestic violence, as well as with the Medina County Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and other agencies to protect animals.
Former Brunswick mayor Gary Werner has been a trial attorney for 23 years.
He practices law in Ohio and California and serves as a magistrate in Brunswick Mayor’s Court.
Gary Warner is a candidate for Medina County Municipal Court judge.
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During his four years presiding over mayor’s court, Werner said he arraigned and sentenced thousands of defendants on OVI, traffic and misdemeanor criminal offenses such as those he would see in Medina Municipal Court, if elected.
A Brunswick native, Werner, 54, served as mayor from 2010-13, vice mayor, councilman, and as a Board of Zoning Appeals member.
He graduated from Brunswick High School, University of California, Los Angeles, and Loyola Law School.
With his two young adult children at college, Werner said he enjoys playing the drums in a rock band in his spare time.
He said he is open to a courthouse expansion.
Werner noted that increasing the judge’s hours on the job could go a long way in dealing with the court’s growing workload.
Asked how long a judge’s hours should be, Werner only would say, “as long as they need to be.”
He said he is resistant to adding another courtroom and judge to municipal court until there is a proven need.
“I’m very frugal when it comes to spending other people’s money,” Werner said.
To that end, he said he donated his mayor’s salary of about $50,000 per year back to the city when he served.
He said he expected his public service experience would prove helpful in resolving the issue of expanding the facilities.
“I’ve worked closely with city councils on many contentious issues,” he said. “This one can be resolved easily if we look at what the county needs and make fiscally prudent choices.”
While Werner is open to a municipal court specialty docket for drug-related offenses, he said he comes back to the issue of cost as one of the deciding factors for any change to procedures.
“We might need it, but I’d take a look at whether we have the staff to do it well,” he said. “If there’s no cost and it can be done within the budget, then I’m open to it.”
Campbell was born in Lodi to two educators who taught at Black River, Cloverleaf, Buckeye, Brunswick and Highland high schools.
Medina attorney Bob Campbell is a candidate for Medina County Municipal Court judge.
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He grew up in Homerville and graduated from Black River High School in 1985. He was a member of 4-H and was one of the group’s Junior Leaders.
Campbell, 54, began his legal career in the county, serving as assistant county prosecutor from 1992 through 1995 as one of two primary felony trial prosecutors.
In 1996, he opened a private practice in Brunswick. In 2000, he moved his practice to Medina where it continues today.
He said he believes the municipal court judgeship is a “natural career progression” for his career.
“I’ve worked as an attorney on both sides of criminal cases and have served as an acting judge 80 times,” he said.
Campbell has deep roots in Medina and raised all three of his daughters in the county. His oldest daughter graduated from Medina High School in 2015 and he has twins who will graduate from the same school this year.
Following in his parents’ footsteps, Campbell has been involved in the local school system. He has served as a mock trial coach for Buckeye and Black River high schools, speaking at career day events at Black River High School, Medina High School and A.I. Root Middle School. He also has participated in pre-prom anti-drinking and driving programs at Brunswick High School.
Campbell coached youth basketball at the Medina Recreation Center and is a founder and board member of Still Here Basketball Inc., a local charity organization that helps bring basketball and citizenship programs to young people in the county.
Running without a party affiliation, Campbell pledges to conduct a “top-down review” of the municipal court’s work during his first month in office, if elected.
While a larger building and a second judge might be needed to deal with the court’s increasing workload, he said court data first must be studied carefully.
“We need to look at the details before we decide on an appropriate expansion,” he said.
He acknowledged the county’s growing illegal drug problem but balked at the idea of creating a special docket to address it in municipal court.
“We have two really good drug court programs in common pleas,” he said. “I’d rather we look at a way to leverage that before spending more money to create yet another one.”
Democrat J.R. Russell is an attorney at Goldman & Rosen Ltd. in Akron.
In addition to his role with the firm, Russell, 40, serves as part-time prosecutor for Lodi Village.
J.R. Russell is a candidate for Medina County Municipal Court judge.
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He has prosecuted and defended civil and criminal cases before a variety of municipal courts throughout Ohio.
“I have represented both sides of the different types of cases that will come before the Medina Municipal Court,” he said. “I have represented those accused of crimes and I have been a prosecutor for the past four years. I have represented both landlords and tenants. I have represented national banks, credit unions and individual people in municipal courts around the state.”
He also has argued cases before the Ohio Supreme Court and courts of appeals across the state.
His experience with municipal courts makes the Medina race the ideal opportunity for him, he said.
“I have the right experience and temperament to make sure that our court operates fairly, impartially and efficiently,” Russell said.
“I don’t see this as a stepping stone,” he added. “The municipal court is where I want to be. This is my opportunity.”
He is an advocate of introducing a drug court docket to Medina Municipal Court.
“The sooner we can intervene and get people help for addiction, the better off we are as a community,” he said.
Russell lives in Medina with his wife, attorney Monica Russell, and their two children.
Monica Russell practices real estate law at the Medina firm Critchfield, Critchfield & Johnston.
The Russells have been recognized in their field by the Ohio Super Lawyers and Rising Star list by Super Lawyers Magazine.
They attend St. Francis Xavier Church in Medina.
J.R. Russell has promised the family a vacation in exchange for their tolerance of the hours he’s been spending on the campaign.
Russell’s two young children have had fun attending campaign events with him, but his 7-year-old son is the family member most interested in politics.
“Two of his toy dinosaurs just had an election,” he said. “And one of them won by just two votes.”
Russell thinks the game could be a harbinger.
“I won’t be surprised if it’s a close election,” he said. “We’re out there trying to encourage people to get out and vote.”
Contact reporter Marina Malenic at (330) 721-4063 or firstname.lastname@example.org.