Stow Municipal Court judges square off in Republican primary May 4
Lisa Coates seeking re-election with current term ending this year; Kim Hoover running out of turn to extend service, train successor
The two longtime Stow Municipal Court judges are, for the first time, running against each other in the Republican primary election next month.
Judge Lisa Coates, 53, who has served in the municipal court system since 2003, and Judge Kim Hoover, 67, who has served in the municipal court system since 1995, are seeking the Republican Party's nomination May 4 to run for a six-year term in the November election. Originally the Cuyahoga Falls Municipal Court, the court moved to its current location in Stow in 2009.
Hoover, whose current term doesn't expire for four years, opted to run now against the court's other seated judge because of age limits for judicial candidates.
The winner in May will advance to the November election ballot, where they could face opposition, although it would not be from the opposing political party.
There are no Democrats who filed by the February deadline to run in the Democrat primary on May 4.
The deadline for independent and non-partisan hopefuls to file to run in November is May 3. As of this week , no one had filed to run in those categories, according to the Summit County Board of Elections.
Between Coates and Hoover, whoever loses the primary election would not be allowed to run as a write-in candidate in the fall, according to the Ohio Secretary of State's Election Official Manual.
The court serves 16 communities in northern Summit County including Boston Heights, Boston Township, Cuyahoga Falls, Hudson, Macedonia, Munroe Falls, Northfield, Northfield Center Township, Peninsula, Reminderville, Sagamore Hills, Silver Lake, Stow, Tallmadge, Twinsburg and Twinsburg Township.
Why they're running
Coates, whose term expires at the end of the year, said she enjoys her work and wants to continue serving.
"I have a passion for what I'm doing," Coates said. "…I truly enjoy what I've been doing. I hope that I've been representing the citizens well as a judge…I want to continue doing what I've been doing, which is being a fair and impartial judge."
Due to his age, this will be the last time Hoover can run for election. The Ohio Constitution does not allow people to run for a judge position once they turn 70.
Hoover's current term does not expire until 2025, but said he is running now to try to extend his time on the bench and train someone to serve as presiding and administrative judge. In that role, Hoover has overseen the budget and the financial operations of the court since 2013.
"I've got to do the grunt work," Hoover said. "I've got to keep the doors open."
If Hoover wins a new six-year term, Gov. Mike DeWine would appoint a judge to the unexpired seat Hoover vacates. Hoover said he hopes to have a say in the appointment and would train that person to serve as presiding and administrative judge.
While acknowledging Coates should be his successor as presiding and administrative judge, Hoover said Coates has "not shown the willingness or the capability of taking it on. I do not want my court the year after I quit to suddenly fall into the same hole all the rest of the courts are in around the state."
Coates said she feels she would be able to handle the budgetary responsibilities as presiding and administrative judge, noting she did the job a few times in her early time on the court.
"I've been fiscally responsible," Coates said. "I'm trying to make it all work…I truly believe I would be competent to be an administrative judge and I would work with the city to make sure we stayed fiscally sound."
Employees tell Hoover they will not work for Coates
Hoover said he is also running because seven court employees have told him they "will not work [with Coates] in charge."
He said those employees have told him they have concerns about Coates' ability to handle the court's administrative and fiscal operations.
Coates said Hoover asked her if she wanted to know the names of these employees. She declined.
"I don't want to put our staff in the middle of this," Coates said.
Hoover said he's told the court employees to "stay out of" the campaign. He noted some workers wanted to send letters to the editor to newspapers, but he instructed them against doing that.
Hoover added he told them to "do your job. Let us have this little fight and let's have it be over on May 4."
Judges alternated duties from 2005 to 2012
When Coates first came to the court in 2003, Hoover handled the presiding and administrative duties in 2003 and 2004. From 2005 to 2012, the two took turns serving as presiding and administrative judge annually.
The judges, however, disagree on how that arrangement worked.
Hoover said he was "mentoring" Coates and allowed her to have "the title without the responsibility." He said he worked on training Coates in the ins and outs of the work that the presiding and administrative judge needed to do, but Hoover said he still handled all of those responsibilities.
"That was part of the problem," Hoover said. "She never bothered to learn any of it… after awhile, she showed no interest in the facts and figures … I still had to worry about [it]. It was silly for her to have the title if she wasn't going to take the burden off my back."
Coates, however, said she felt she handled the responsibilities.
"I had to hire people and I did firings during those periods of time," Coates said. "He wasn't sitting in the room …I was creating diversion programs…we were dealing with budgets, we were [dealing with] human resource matters."
Coates said she felt she "handled everything properly…[I] ran the court, didn't put us in the red. Our numbers were no different than when Judge Hoover was doing it…I am competent enough to run the courts."
LEADS investigation caused tension
Coates last served as presiding and administrative judge in 2012. Alternating responsibilities in the role ended after Coates had her colleague investigated over the use of the Law Enforcement Automated Data System (LEADS).
In late 2013, Coates notified LEADS representatives that Hoover had directed his bailiff to ask another bailiff to use LEADS to search the driving record of a friend of Wayne Jones, the then-chairman of the Summit County Democratic Party. The Beacon Journal reported in April 2014 that Jones had contacted Hoover seeking the information.
The Ohio Highway Patrol and Start County prosecutors investigated the issue and no criminal charges were filed against Hoover.
Coates said she sought advice of judicial mentors who told her she had "an ethical obligation" to report the incident.
But Coates said she has not served as administrative judge since the allegations were reported.
"It's very clear that [Hoover] was upset about that," she said.
Hoover agreed, saying Coates reporting the incident that led to an investigation was "a factor" in why he no longer allows Coates to serve as presiding and administrative judge. He said he felt Coates' action was "a total betrayal" of him and noted she could have "walked down the hall" to talk with him about her concerns.
Since 2013, Coates said she's asked "just about every year" to serve as presiding and administrative judge, and Hoover refuses.
Under state law, if there is a disagreement between two judges about who will serve as presiding and administrative judge, the judge with more seniority is given the responsibility.
Disagreement on staff bonuses
Hoover claims Coates has a pattern of verbally agreeing to an action but then refusing to sign paperwork to formalize the move.
Recently, Hoover said Coates in a staff meeting agreed to his recommendations of reducing court staff by 2 1/2 positions and granting a total of $10,000 in bonuses to two administrators for extra duty work, but when he asked her to join him in signing off both orders, she declined.
"That's why my administrators go crazy," said Hoover, who noted he does not have to have Coates sign the order.
The extra duty work of the administrators, Hoover said, was landscaping and janitorial work and would've cost more than $10,000 if contractors had been used to handle it.
Coates shared a different perspective. She said she and Hoover met with the court administrators to discuss the layoffs.
She said she "accepted the layoffs," but doesn't remember whether she was offered the chance to sign the layoff order and thus does not know whether she signed the order or not.
"I never told anybody I disagreed with the layoffs," Coates said.
At the meeting on the layoffs, Coates said the two administrators who were receiving the bonuses left the room, and she said Hoover asked her to agree to sign off on bonuses for the two administrators.
Coates said she told Hoover it "looks really bad" to give bonuses to two employees when other staff are being laid off, and added, "I never agreed to the bonuses,"
Coates added there are two other court employees who have received pay raises within the last several months. Hoover confirmed that an hourly part-time employee received their first raise in four years and a full-time employee in April received a $2,000 raise because the worker was assuming some of the duties that had been handled by one of the laid off employees.
The Summit County Republican Party does not endorse candidates in primary elections.
On her campaign website, judgecoates.com, Coates lists endorsements from: Summit County Council member Gloria Rodgers; Don Robart, former mayor of Cuyahoga Falls; Twinsburg Mayor Ted Yates; Alex Pavloff, chair of Ohio Young Republicans; Frances Buchholzer; Deidre Hanlon; and Judge Ted Schneiderman, who is retired from Summit County Court of Common Pleas.
Hoover said he has received endorsements from Bryan Williams, chairman of the Summit County Republican Party and the vice chairman of the Ohio Republican Party; Karen Arshinkoff, vice chair of the Summit County Republican Central Committee; Katherine Procop, former mayor of Twinsburg; and the Stow Conservative Coalition.
When he sought re-election in 2013 and in 2019, Hoover filed non-partisan petitions to go directly to the general election ballot rather than participate in a partisan primary. Throughout this time, however, Hoover said he has remained a registered Republican.
Judges have programs to help offenders improve lives
Both Coates and Hoover have programs to help offenders improve their lives.
On Thursday evenings, Hoover said he conducts courses with offenders on subjects such as substance abuse, theft and social responsibility, and violence impact — the last of which is offered to victims and perpetrators of domestic violence and other violent crimes. He noted he created the courses.
The offenders attending the classes are on probation and pay a probation fee to participate. After paying the guest speakers, Hoover said there is still money left over which is applied toward helping to cover the court's operating deficit.
Though the classes happen in the courthouse, he emphasized he is not acting as a judge at those times.
"We're here as fellow citizens trying to help," Hoover said. "That's how I start it off. When I show up, I'm in jeans. I say, 'I guess I'm still Judge Hoover, but we're not here to judge you."
Hoover said he delivers lectures and also has guest speakers such as attorneys, addiction counselors, support group leaders, professors and even a comedian share their knowledge and experience.
Hoover noted he receives letters constantly from people who say their lives were changed by the classes.
Coates started a mental health court — called Successful Treatment Results in Developing Excellence (STRIDE) — in 2010. She noted she receives grant money, primarily from the Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services, to fund the program.
In her early years on the court, Coates said there were a few men who regularly appeared on various offenses and she noted "it was clear" they had mental health issues.
As the offenses accumulated, some people would have to go to jail, but Coates said, "jail wasn't fixing the problem. [In] probation, we didn't really know how to address the problem very well."
The 24-month program is set up for people who were convicted of a crime that is a jailable offense, and who, Coates said, have a "severe, persistent mental illness that treatment would help get them back on track."
Every Thursday, Coates said she meets with the probation officer, coordinator, case worker, and a psychiatrist.
"We go through everybody [who is in the program] and we talk about how they're all doing, and where they need to be working on things," Coates said.
After the meeting with the treatment team, Coates said she visits with the participants to see if they are taking their medication and going to their doctor's appointments. Other life components such as employment and relationships are also discussed.
"We're here to help and try to get them back on track," Coates said.
Reporter Phil Keren can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter at @keren_phil.