April 19, 2014

Elyria
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County Democrats may oppose Lilly

SHEFFIELD TWP. — Democratic Party leaders might find themselves having to take sides in an upcoming domestic relations court race.

Attorney Jim Walther, who also serves as an assistant law director in Lorain, filed petitions Thursday with the county Board of Elections to run for a newly created judge’s seat in the county Common Pleas court.

Two others — former judge Paulette Lilly and Elyria Assistant Law Director Honey Rothschild — have taken out petitions but have not yet filed them.

County Democratic Chairman Thomas Smith said the party typically stays uninvolved in the primaries. That might change this year, though, because Lilly is such a controversial figure, he said.

“There is the issue of her being a seated Republican judge, which might be a problem. We might want to consider someone with a more proven party pedigree,” he said.

Lilly said she registered as a Republican several years ago in order to get a job in former county Prosecutor Greg White’s office. Before that, however, she was a Democrat for 20 years, she said. Now she wants to return to her political roots and run for judge as a Democrat.

The county Democratic Central Committee will likely meet to discuss whether to back one of Lilly’s opponents, Smith said.

Technically, Ohio judicial races are nonpartisan. But that doesn’t stop parties from endorsing certain candidates in the primary.

But Lilly said Thursday that she believes people should look at her qualifications and be less concerned with her party ties.

Walther — who worked as a staff attorney for Common Pleas Judge Edward Zaleski and served as acting Lorain Municipal Court judge — announced his candidacy in August and said he’s been told he has his party’s support.

He criticized Lilly on several fronts Friday, saying he doesn’t think voters will take kindly to a candidate who switches parties.

Walther also said that if elected Lilly would be double-dipping — drawing both retirement and an active paycheck from the courts.

Lilly is no stranger to criticism. She is currently under investigation for alleged misuse of county vehicles and previously weathered objections about the firing of James Barilla, her magistrate.

She has said many of the accusations have been politically motivated.

Rothschild could not be reached for comment Friday.

Regardless of who wins, it’s not entirely certain what the new domestic relations judge’s job would be. State law requires Lorain County to create a new family court in 2009, but the exact responsibilities of the four judges have not been determined.

Lilly pushed for a family court when she served as a domestic relations judge. She said Thursday that it was one of her proudest accomplishments during her 12-year tenure.

Contact Jason Hawk at 329-7148 or jhawk@chroniclet.com.