In an election season with plenty of negative campaigning, particularly on the national level, the two candidates vying for the seat of Washington County Common Pleas judge say they expect a race free of talk about anything except their own experience and qualifications.
Citing a lengthy friendship, Randy Burnworth and Mark Kerenyi both say the race to replace retiring Common Pleas Judge Susan Boyer will be a display of professionalism focused on their own individual strengths.
"It's two guys trying to move up the ladder," said Kerenyi, 46, of 116 Mound Drive, Marietta. "I think it's going to be a good, clean, fun race."
Kerenyi and Burnworth, 60, of 465 Duck Creek Road, Whipple, both currently serve as magistrates with the Washington County Court of Common Pleas. Burnworth administers the domestic relations docket while Kerenyi handles the probate and juvenile division.
A practicing attorney for more than 30 years, Burnworth said it is his length and breadth of experience that qualifies him to follow in the footsteps of Boyer, who has served as judge for 26 years.
"I've been in practice 32 years. I've handled thousands of cases, both criminal and civil," Burnworth said.
Along with his 32 years as a practicing attorney, Burnworth has also served in the Ohio Attorney General's office for four years, including two when he served as the head of the Habeas Corpus unit.
He was appointed to serve as magistrate by Boyer and Judge Ed Lane in 2008, and he currently holds that same position.
"If all I did was try to emulate Judge Boyer and Judge Lane, it would be an honest aspiration," Burnworth said.
As a magistrate, Burnworth oversees divorces and dissolutions, domestic and anti-stalking protection orders and custody hearings.
The fact that he has worked for the government, in private practice and for the judicial system makes him a natural fit for the judge seat, Burnworth said. It is also a perfect way to end his legal career, he continued.
"It's a natural extension of my career in the law. It's like it's a perfect fit," Burnworth said.
Kerenyi spent six years serving as an assistant prosecutor for Washington County from 1998 through 2004. Prior to that he spent two years as an associate attorney with Atkinson and Burton.
Since 2004 he has served as magistrate with the court of Common Pleas, where he oversees delinquencies and determining if the rights of a child have been violated by police.
With eight years of judicial experience, Kerenyi said he has a broader experience as a magistrate that's more current in regard to the law.
He also noted he can provide longer service to the county as judge. Currently, Ohio has a law that stipulates residents cannot run for a judge seat if they are older than 70.
"I can offer the county four full terms as a judge," Kerenyi said, adding Burnworth can offer only two.
Serving four years in the United States Marine Corps, including time in Operation Desert Storm, Kerenyi said he understands the importance of freedom and the constitution.
"To appreciate freedoms, you have to work for them and fight for them," he said.
Kerenyi said he sought the judge seat for several reasons, including to protect the community, because he doesn't believe in judicial activism and he wants to make sure his children have a safe place to live.
"The community needs defended from all these people committing criminal acts," Kerenyi said.
Recent changes to sentencing guidelines in the state have complicated the picture for judges. House Bill 86 provided recommendations and stipulations that place lower-risk felony offenders in county jails.
That may be a key issue facing the next judge, as in the past judges have had more discretion over sentences, the candidates said.
Another issue Burnworth said will face the next judge is getting the court online. As the Internet becomes more prevalent, everything from the docket to filings are being made available without ever setting foot in a courtroom.
"People deserve to have access to the court and prompt, fair, decision making," Burnworth said.
Both candidates said the budget and the economy will also be critical in the future. Kerenyi noted that the county no longer has the funds to provide services like a drug court for suspects suffering from addiction.
Both candidates indicated they intend to remain in their current position and work with the other if they are not elected.