LIMA — For members of the local National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the decision of who will become the newest judge in Allen County is about more than the bench.
It’s about race and political party affiliation.
“We think the decision was based on political party affiliation and based upon race,” said Lima NAACP President Ron Fails. “White is right, black is out.”
The association is questioning the decision of the Allen County Republican Party’s Central Executive Committee, made up of about 90 members, which interviews applicants and then votes on which three to recommend to Ohio Gov. John Kasich to be considered as the next judge in Lima Municipal Court.
In light of a recent study by 24/7 Wall Street, ranking Lima as the seventh worst city in the country for blacks, Fails believes the community needs to have an “extreme reaction because we have an extreme problem.”
He sees appointing a black as judge as a step in changing the perception of Lima and the fact that Jerry Pitts, a local black attorney, was not recommended to the governor as “an example of why we are in the predicament we are in,” Fails said.
There are currently no black judges in Allen County and The Lima News could find no record of their ever being any.
Pitts is not involved in the NAACP’s efforts and said “I don’t need a protest.”
His response to the committee’s selection was: “I guess you picked the top three who were better than me, if that’s the case, that’s fine,” though he said he “wouldn’t try this again.”
There were six applicants for judge after Judge RicKard Workman announced his retirement in October, and the party board interviewed them all, said Keith Cheney, Allen County Republican Party chairman.
“The committee unanimously selected three qualified individuals to be forwarded to the governor,” he said.
Cheney would not comment on why Pitts was not recommended to Kasich, only saying that it is a personnel matter that the party doesn’t discuss.
When Pitts was interviewed by about 25 members of the Republican Party, he said he was the only black in the room. He also said he believes it would be “a bit more fair” if the governor decided who to appoint judge out of all six names, he said.
There has been some speculation about why Pitts wasn’t selected, as voting records say he first filed as Republican in 2012. He said he was formerly a Democrat but has been voting Republican for years.
Fails said the party should not take political party affiliation into consideration when recommending candidates to the governor.
“Our system of law is supposed to be above that. … For the good of the community, sometimes you have to go outside of the norm,” he said. “What we’re challenging is the process in light of what’s going on in this community.”
Fails and the NAACP plan to invite the committee to explain its process and write a letter to Kasich about its concerns, requesting he reject the Republican Party’s decision and consider what’s going on in Lima.
“There is no representation of us in the court system,” Fails said. “If the city is concerned about this, this was an opportunity for them to address that.”
Reach Danae King at 567-242-0511 or on Twitter @DanaeKing.