Judicial experience is the line that separates two exceptional candidates seeking a seat on Ohio’s Third District Court of Appeals.
The two candidates — Putnam County Common Pleas Court Judge Randall L. Basinger and Shelby County Common Pleas Court Probate and Juvenile Division Judge William Zimmerman – each have 40 years of legal experience and impeccable reputations in their communities. But it is the actual time as a judge, the types of cases he’s handled, and his genuine love for the law that has The Lima News endorsing Basinger.
This is the rare election, unlike some others we’re faced with this year, where both candidates are acceptable to us. Endorsing Basinger, while a close call, came down to the significant experience he has with the appellate court. During the 1990s, he heard around 200 cases in the 11th and 18th District Court of Appeals at the request of then Ohio Supreme Court Justice Thomas Moyer.
“I’m one of the very fortunate people that have a job I thoroughly enjoy. I’m amazed I get paid to do it,” says the 64-year-old Basinger, who grew up doing chores on the family farm in Putnam and Allen counties.
He’s served 28 years on the bench, hearing everything from medical negligence and property liability cases to others involving rape and 12 involving the death penalty. He has been assigned to hear higher profile cases as a visiting judge in 25 counties.
At home in Putnam County, Basinger has handled thousands of criminal, civil, domestic relations and juvenile cases. He’s taught constitutional law for 20 years at Bluffton University and accepted a position to teach trial advocacy at Ohio Northern University Law School. He’s previously taught at University of Findlay.
Basinger was a prosecutor prior to being a elected as a judge in 1987. He gained a conviction in the high-profile Kenneth Richey death-penalty case, which gained international attention. He also organized a women’s crisis center, which later became Crime Victims Services in Allen and Putnam counties.
If Basinger loses the race on Nov. 8, it likely will be because of his low-key campaign, which includes a decision not to seek political contributions for advertising. Basinger is relying on his record and some campaign visits to sell his candidacy, a noble gesture but one that’s a big gamble given the extensive geographic region served by the Third District court. It includes 17 counties – the most of any appellate court in Ohio — and stretches from Defiance County in the north to Union County in the south and to Van Wert County in the west to Crawford County in the east.
Zimmerman, 63, has been a much harder campaigner. He’s been all over the district, visiting county fairs and eating chicken dinners. He raised $30,000 in the primary election and hopes to raise another $30,000 before the general election to help get his message out.
That message is two-fold.
He points to his extensive work in the probate and juvenile divisions since being elected in 2008 as Shelby County Common Pleas Court judge. He’s also well known in Shelby County for his 30-plus years as a skillful trial lawyer. He’s tried more than 100 jury trials and 2,000 family court cases.
Zimmerman notes, “The two most common areas in the Appellate Court are criminal law and child custody law, and that’s in my wheelhouse, both of them are.”
The new Third District judge will replace Judge Richard Rogers, whose is retiring when his term ends in 2017.
The candidates will appear on the November ballot without mention of the political affiliation in which they belong. This is contrary to the primary, where Zimmerman easily won what many thought would be a tough Republican race and Basinger ran unopposed as a Democrat.
Basinger is a graduate of Bowling Green State University and Case Western Reserve law school. Zimmerman received his undergraduate and law degree from Ohio Northern.
If elected, Basinger would only be able to serve one term under Ohio’s age restrictions for judges, while Zimmerman could serve two terms.
The position currently pays $132,000 a year, which has not been increased since 2007.