Board hears protest hearing; Nasal seeks to remove Lopez from ballot


By Sam Wildow

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TROY — The Miami County Board of Elections held a protest hearing Tuesday evening from Miami County Municipal Court Judge Gary Nasal, who sought to get Jessica Lopez removed from the Nov. 2 ballot as another candidate for municipal court judge on the grounds that she does not meet the qualifications for municipal court judge.

Lopez, who is currently serving as the county recorder, is expected to run against Nasal for municipal court judge in November.

The candidates for the Nov. 2 ballot have not yet been certified, but the board unanimously denied Nasal’s motion to have Lopez removed from the ballot following the hearing, during which Nasal’s attorney, David Greer, stated Lopez had not spent enough time actively practicing law since she was admitted to the bar in November 2006. Greer stated the minimum requirement for a municipal court judge is six years of practicing law.

Greer went over three time periods in Lopez’s working history, including between November 2006 and April 2009 when she was working in private practices, between April 2009 and January 2013 when Lopez stated she was working in her own practice, and from January 2013 to the present during Lopez’s time as the county recorder.

“I did do work out of my home for some time,” Lopez said when asked about the time following when she left working for a private practice in Greenville in 2009.

Greer went over the time Lopez stated she was working in her own practice, specifically in regard to when she stated she worked as a guardian ad litem. Guardian ad litems are guardians appointed by a court to represent the best interest of a child. Guardian ad litems, as well as county recorders, are not required to be lawyers.

Greer stated that working as a guardian ad litem is “simply not the practice of law.” Lopez stated in the hearing that while she was not working as an attorney for the children she represented, the fact that she was an attorney allowed her to file motions and do other tasks that she would not have been allowed to do if she had not been an attorney. A witness for Lopez, Jennifer Walters, an attorney and partner at Huffman, Landis, Weaks & Walters Co., L.P.A., testified that guardian ad litems are “almost always attorneys.”

Lopez went on to testify that while county recorders were not required to be lawyers, she performed legal analysis in her role. She also stated she sought advice from the Miami County Prosecutor’s Office on legal matters for her office.

Greer stated the roles Lopez had since 2009 “do not constitute the practice of law,” claiming she was not qualified to run for municipal court judge.

“Even if you accepted her argument that what she’s doing is indeed the practice of law, there is nothing to quantify it,” Greer said.

Greer also went over financial records and other records he got from Lopez through a subpoena. Lopez stated records older than seven years were destroyed in accordance with the Ohio Revised Code.

Lopez’s attorney, Brodi Conover, said there are Supreme Court rules that distinguish between an attorney serving as a guardian ad litem and a non-attorney serving as a guardian ad litem, “and in order to do certain things, you have to be an attorney.”

Conover also stated a candidate does not need to be working full-time or receive payment while working as an attorney in order to meet the requirements for practicing law.

Following the hearing, Dave Fisher, chairman of the Board of Elections, explained the board’s reasoning behind not removing Lopez from the ballot.

“I think we all felt that Ms. Lopez was practicing law in some form as a guardian ad litem,” Fisher said. “She’s definitely standing in front of a court during those years.”

Fisher added the bar “was extremely high for Judge Nasal to prove she wasn’t practicing law.” Fisher also expects Nasal will continue to pursue this challenge.

“I look for it to get kicked up to the next level, and Judge Nasal has that right to do it,” Fisher said.

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