Three lawyers seek open common pleas bench

STEUBENVILLE – Three attorneys are vying for the Jefferson County Common Pleas Court bench seat being vacated by retiring Judge David Henderson.

Craig Allen, 52, of 1117 Federal St., Toronto, Michelle Garcia Miller, 50, of 1218 township Road 156, Rayland, and Lydia Spragin, 52, of 333 S. Fourth St. are on the ballot in the May 6 Democratic primary.

Allen is a graduate of the University of Toledo College of Law, continuing his education at the Franciscan University of Steubenville, studying business administration and graduate-level education courses. He worked as a judicial law clerk in the U.S. bankruptcy courts in the Eastern and Western district of Arkansas. He returned to Jefferson County working for the Southeastern Ohio Legal Services, representing low-income clients. He then joined the county prosecutor’s office, serving there from 1993 through 2004, representing the county in criminal cases, as legal counsel for townships and in juvenile delinquency cases.

In February 2005, he opened his private practice.

Allen said he believes he is the only candidate to have practiced before the Ohio Supreme Court.

He currently is the elected law director in Toronto, having served from 2000 to 2003 and 2008 to the present.

“I am qualified to be a common pleas judge because I have practiced law in the common pleas court for more than 22 years. I have worked as an attorney conducting felony jury trials as both a prosecutor and as a defense attorney. Furthermore, I have represented numerous clients in divorce cases, child-custody disputes, probate court guardianships, probate estates and other civil cases.

“Because of my courtroom litigation experience, I have a unique perspective on how the rules of trial procedure and evidence should be applied, and why these rules are important to protect the rights of the parties involved in litigation, he said. “Often, as attorneys and judges, we incorrectly view the common pleas court as belonging to us as legal professionals because we work in the court system representing clients’ interests. But, the courts belong to the people. I will administer the cases before me and conduct myself on the bench with this always in mind.

“I am running for office because I believe that I will serve the people of Jefferson County with respect, dignity and humility. Over my more than 22 years of jury trial experience and my volunteer work throughout the Jefferson County community, I have developed the maturity, the sense of responsibility and the understanding of the importance of respecting all people that is needed to perform the functions of a common pleas judge for the benefit of all of Jefferson County, not just a select few.”

Allen said his goals include administering the cases before the court in a timely manner. He said he will cooperate with the attorneys and their clients on cases. “I believe that justice is better served when the judge functions as facilitator and not as a dictator.”

He also wants to administer a strong drug court program.

“Addiction to opiate based drugs is having a huge harmful effect on our community and its citizens. Men and women addicted to illicit drugs are unable to care for themselves and their children, which is straining the resources of our community’s charitable and governmental resources. Also, addicts are committing more and more crime in search of money to feed their never ending craving for more of their drug of choice. As a result, our community continues to experience the breakdown of our families and neighborhoods,” he said.

“I will work to keep the common pleas court running efficiently by communicating often with the office of the clerk of courts and the other judges in the common pleas court, which includes the juvenile and probate division.

“I will be a working judge. I will work as long as necessary to complete the tasks that need completed. I have never been a ‘9-to-5’ attorney, and I do not plan on being a ‘9-to-5’ judge if I am elected common pleas court judge.”

Miller became a registered nurse after graduating from the Ohio Valley Hospital School of Nursing in 1984. She worked as a registered nurse in Cincinnati hospitals and received a political science degree from the University of Cincinnati in 1993. She was a legal nurse consultant at a Newport, Ky., law firm, specializing in medical malpractice cases. Miller received her law degree in 2001 from the Northern Kentucky University Salmon P. Chase College of Law. She then worked in law offices through 2009, when she opened her own practice. She has been solicitor for the villages of Smithfield, Rayland and Tiltonsville and for Wells Township.

Miller has been a common pleas court magistrate in domestic cases since 2013.

“Having the benefit of serving as magistrate in the common pleas court here in Jefferson County, I fully realize the privilege, honor and duties that a judge faces every day. I also fully realize the many challenges we face today in our community,” she said.

“As a practicing trial attorney and common pleas magistrate, I am acutely aware of the needs of our community. I see it every day. Since the very beginning of my legal career, I have been involved with complex litigation and highly sophisticated trial work in both civil and felony criminal litigation. I have worked in both large and small law firms. With my strong Midwestern values instilled in me by my parents and my broad experience as a registered nurse, I have developed a keen insight and good judgment, both in front of and behind the bench, that will serve me well so that I may well serve the people of Jefferson County.

“Now more than ever, I am certain that we need a strong, independent judiciary. As an experienced trial attorney and magistrate, I know the importance of commitment, hard work and effort that is required to ensure that every citizen is treated fairly and impartially while holding those fully accountable under the law. I am the only candidate with judicial training by the Ohio State Supreme Court and the only candidate with actual judicial experience. As magistrate, I have rendered decisions from the bench that are crucial to the citizens of our county. I know firsthand the importance of well-reasoned, timely decisions so that our citizens, entangled in the legal process, can get on with their lives. I understand the importance of fairness to all who come before the court, and I am completely prepared to continue to apply my knowledge and passion for justice for the benefit of our county,” she said.

“I simply want to serve the people of Jefferson County with dignity, independence and impartiality. With a passion for justice, I want to ensure that we can all be proud of our judicial system here in Jefferson County and guarantee that the highest court in our county treats every citizen with fairness while being firm and decisive as I have done as your magistrate.”

As for her goals if elected, Miller said, “I will ensure that every single person receives just and fair treatment under the law; that our court maintains an independent judiciary free from influence and bias; and that in facing difficult decisions, those decisions shall be well-reasoned, made timely and are consistent with the ever-changing laws and needs of our community.

“Our courts must function in a manner that ensures prompt, decisive, well-reasoned decisions so that those relying on our judicial system are served in the most efficient manner possible. Currently, as your magistrate, I maintain my docket, promptly scheduling cases so that the citizens of Jefferson County are able to have their cases brought before the court and decided in a prudent, timely manner. I will continue to conduct all judicial proceedings just as I have as your magistrate. I know that many decisions that a judge makes are difficult with complex ramifications,” she said.

“When considering a candidate for common pleas judge, it is not simply the number of cases that an attorney handles that is important in reviewing a person’s qualifications, it is the manner and quality of their work that is critical. Our community looks to our judges for guidance, wisdom and fairness.”

Spragin graduated from the University of Mississippi in 1982 with a bachelor’s degree in biological science, Howard University in 1987 with a bachelor of science degree in pharmacy and the University of Akron School of Law. She was a member of the Panel of Chapter 7 Bankruptcy trustees, Region 9, from 1997 through 2009, and served on the U.S. Bankruptcy Court, Northern Ohio District, Strategic Planning Committee for two years beginning in 2002. She also is an ordained pastor, with 19 years of Christian service in Norwalk, Sandusky, Akron and Steubenville. She is a member of the Ohio Valley Pastor’s Network.

“Ideally, a judge should know not only the law and how to apply it properly, but should also have experience in practicing law, handling the types of cases that come before the court and understanding the basis for the case being presented. I have 19 years of legal experience representing clients in municipal, state and federal courts. I have been appointed a Chapter 7 bankruptcy trustee where I managed $2.1 million in assets; worked for a Fortune 500 company; interned in a city law department/prosecutor’s office as well as for a state legislative affairs office; served as a teacher, a pharmacist and a pastor.

“I have a professional thirst for continuing my legal education. I attended the Wisconsin Public Defender’s Trial Skills Academy in 2011 and was awarded a scholarship to the National Criminal Defense College in Macon, Ga., in 2013. As a business owner, I bring a unique perspective to the civil disputes that come before the court because I understand them not only as a lawyer, but also as an individual engaged in small business.

“I am running for judge because I have the experience that is required and necessary to best serve the residents of Jefferson County, and the heart to tackle the tough problems, such as our rising crime rate, with collaborative, creative, cost-effective, court-based solutions,” she said.

As for her goals if elected, Spragin said she would implement a mental health court, continue the drug court and follow the state’s sentencing guidelines.

“The judge of common pleas court must take a more active role in the community educating the public about the law and its consequences, increasing visibility in the schools before a crime is committed by bringing real court cases and sentencing face to face with the students, implementing a mental health court and continuing the drug court. The purpose of mental health courts is to improve public safety, court operations and the well-being of people with mental illness by providing those offenders with the support and structure needed to avoid further criminal behavior, resulting in reduced court and corrections related costs. Research indicates that those who successfully graduate from the mental health court have a lower rate of criminal recidivism.

“If we want to impact our crime rate, we must find ways within the courts to not only incarcerate offenders, but also as mandated by the sentencing guidelines always consider the need for incapacitation, deterrence, rehabilitation and restitution while ensuring that the sentence is commensurate with, and not demeaning to, the seriousness of offender’s conduct and its impact on the victim and consistent with sentences for similar crimes by similar offenders and not based on the offender’s race, ethnicity, gender or religion.”

As for making the court run in an efficient manner, Spragin said, “The mission of the court is to treat all people with respect and dignity, to offer integrity and civility toward members of the bar, while promoting firmness and fairness under the law. In order to achieve this mission we must be willing to investigate and implement cost-effective solutions, which enable people to have greater access to the court, including increased use of available technology. Second, we must be open to identify and explore what is working in other court systems to maximize resources and minimize recidivism, as an example the development of a mental health court and the continuation of drug court. Third, we must develop innovative means to increase revenues and/or community service through an effective fines, fees and restitution enforcement program.”