CINCINNATI (TDB) -- There are fewer than a dozen African-American state court of appeals judges now holding office in Ohio. Cincinnati has one -- its first and only. Ohio became a state in 1803. But two centuries had to pass before a black citizen could take a seat on the local appeals court bench. Judge Bill Mallory was appointed last fall by Gov. Ted Strickland, a Democrat who noted that breaking the color barrier was long overdue. The seat on Ohio's 1st District Court of Appeals opened up because a veteran Republican, Judge Mark Painter, stepped down to accept a legal post at the United Nations. Painter was enthusiastic about the addition of Mallory. He said his successor -- although of the opposite political party -- would bring needed diversity to an important institution that had remained all white for far too long; that stasis should end with the 21st Century. The times had changed, racial attitudes had thawed, but the court's racial composition remained frozen until Mallory's transformative arrival.
Mallory has filed his petitions to run for election to the seat this year. The local Hamilton County Republican Party, however, appears determined to run a candidate against him, a white candidate. It is a peculiar disjunction that seems to indicate the GOP has a recurring aversion against black appeals judges in Cincinnati. In 2006, Hamilton County Republicans had a qualified judge in John Andrew West, who was prepared to move up from Common Pleas Court. He was passed over for a white man. West thought he was going to be the first African American, but the Cincinnati Enquirer reported "party leaders had other ideas." There is no link available to the Feb. 2006 story, but here are a few of the pertinent paragraphs:
"The dispute between party officials and West, 63, a Common Pleas judge, has prompted some black Republicans to question how the GOP makes decisions. It is also stirring up old criticisms that neither Republicans nor Democrats do enough to promote diversity in the courts. 'The courts should be representative of the community,' West said. 'This offends me a great deal, not just as a judge, but as a citizen.'
Why such aversion to paradigm-busting? At his swearing in ceremony, Mallory said West deserved to be there first, reminding everyone present that the GOP had given the back of its hand to one of its own, a widely respected African American jurist. This year, Mallory's expected opponent is a lawyer -- a white lawyer -- from a major downtown law firm with a long list of corporate clients. In 2004, this lawyer was involved in a federal court case aimed at implementing Karl Rove's efforts to re-election George W. Bush by stationing poll watchers in voting precincts with large numbers of African American voters. These poll watchers were supposed to challenge blacks. The plan was never implemented.
I should disclose here that Bill Mallory is my friend, and has been for more than two decades. When I retired from the Cleveland Plain Dealer, he invited me to be his law clerk (a job with the archaic title "constable") for a time while he served on the Common Pleas bench. He thought it would be enlightening for a journalist to see how things worked from the inside. He was right. But I also got to see him at work -- how he was consistently conscientious and conscious of his responsibility to society, all levels or society. He knew the world wasn't perfect. But he was adamant in his pursuit of justice.