NILES, Ohio (WKBN) – If you’ve driven anywhere near Niles recently, you’ve probably seen the campaign signs for candidates in one of the biggest races in Trumbull County this primary.
The signs are from four Democratic candidates — Gil Blair, Chris Shaker, John Gargano, and Terry Swauger.
For the first time in a long time, the judge’s bench inside Niles Municipal Court is up for grabs. All four candidates are vying for the seat to replace the current judge, Thomas Townley, who retires at the end of this year.
“This is an important race. This seat hasn’t been open in over 30 years and a lot has changed while Judge Townley has been on the bench,” Blair said.
Since the building that houses the court is in need of repairs and the city has financial problems, the candidates are brainstorming ways to save money while doing it.
John Gargano said electronic filing could help with that.
“I think that would help in reducing costs and reducing the postage and having those areas, you could reduce costs. We’re dealing with the city that has financial issues.”
Swauger has a similar plan.
“I intend to introduce technology to improve the efficiency of the court. I want to introduce online filing for attorneys to help with that,” he said.
Shaker would like to add specialized dockets, like drug court.
“The Ohio Supreme Court, through the specialized section, helps you set up that and I also think we should have a veterans court attached or bootstrapped to the drug court,” he said.
Blair said he’d like to see a housing docket, too.
“That’s something that Niles does not have, and it’s a docket program that I would like to institute if I’m elected judge to deal with the cases of blight and how we docket these housing cases.”
All four candidates have several decades of legal experience.
Shaker has been an attorney for 33 years, worked as a prosecutor for 15, and currently serves as an acting judge in Niles.
“I’ve litigated in all the courts…the municipal court — which is the lowest level of courts in the court system — common pleas, court of appeals, and the Ohio Supreme Court,” he said. “I’ve litigated successfully in all those courts.”
John Gargano has been practicing law for 34 years, serving as acting judge for 24 of those, and used to be the director of Trumbull County’s Job and Family Services.
“I have run a governmental agency,” Gargano said. “It’s just like any other business that you have to run. I have the experience and the knowledge of the administration. I could handle the personnel, I could handle the budget.”
Weathersfield Township Trustee and Warren City Prosecutor Gil Blair has been a trial lawyer for 21 years.
“I think my familiarity with public budgets and public funding gives me the experience for this job, along with my prosecutorial background,” he said.
Swauger doubles as the prosecutor and law director for Niles. He, too, has been practicing law for 21 years.
“I’ve been a prosecutor for over ten years. I’ve prosecuted over 25,000 criminal and traffic cases in that time. I’ve also, prior to that, was a public defender for ten years so I regularly appeared in municipal court, representing multiple clients,” Swauger said. “So I’ve been on both sides of the aisle.”
Each of the candidates for Niles Municipal Court Judge will appear on the primary ballot on May 2.