By Sam Wildow
COLUMBUS —The Ohio Supreme Court rejected a filing from Miami County Municipal Court Judge Gary Nasal this week, who sought to get his opponent Jessica Lopez removed from the Nov. 2. ballot.
During a protest hearing held in July, the Board of Elections unanimously denied Nasal’s protest to have Lopez — who is running against Nasal for the open municipal court judge seat — removed from the ballot. During the protest hearing, Nasal’s attorney, David Greer, argued 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.
When the Board of Elections denied Nasal’s protest, he filed a writ of prohibition with the Ohio Supreme Court to attempt to get Lopez barred from the ballot. The Ohio Supreme Court had to determine whether the Board of Elections “abused its discretion or acted in clear disregard of applicable law when it concluded that Lopez satisfies the six-year-practice requirement.”
This week, the Ohio Supreme Court denied Nasal’s writ of prohibition, concluding that Nasal “failed to show that the board abused its discretion or acted in clear disregard of applicable law by denying the protest and placing Lopez’s name on the November ballot.”
In the court’s majority opinion, the court goes over Lopez’s work history, which was discussed during the protest hearing with the board of elections. Lopez’s professional experience consists of the following:
• Between 2006 and 2009, she worked as an attorney in two law firms, Lopez, Severt and Pratt, Co., L.P.A., and the Law Offices of Scott D. Rudnick.
• Between 2009 and 2013, she operated her own practice, serving as guardian ad litem (GAL) in juvenile and domestic-relations cases in Miami, Darke, and Shelby Counties.
• From 2013 to the present, she has been the Miami County recorder.
During Lopez’s time operating her own practice out of her home, the court noted Lopez opened an Interest on Lawyers Trust Account, secured malpractice insurance, began seeking clients, and underwent a background check and precertification to serve as a GAL. In 2012, she received GAL appointments in Miami, Darke, and Shelby Counties.
The court disagreed with Nasal’s argument that “Lopez’s service as a GAL is not the practice of law.” The court’s opinion stated it agreed that GAL and attorney were two different roles, but it stated Nasal’s “conclusion — that a GAL cannot be engaged in the practice of law — is incorrect.”
The court did not consider Lopez’s time as a county recorder due to its finding that “Lopez’s 30 months working for law firms and 42 or more months in solo practice are sufficient to satisfy the six-year-practice requirement.”
Ohio Supreme Court Justice Patrick F. Fisher was the only justice to dissent to the decision to reject Nasal’s request. Fisher wrote in his dissent that Lopez “falls well short” of the statutory six-year requirement. He wrote, “Because, however, this court adheres to an overly deferential standard of review in this specific type of election case and computes the time an attorney spends practicing law in a rather confusing way, the lead opinion has ignored that fact and cleared the way for Lopez’s name to appear on the ballot as a judicial candidate anyway.”