On Oct. 8, following the national strife over Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation to the Supreme Court, two lawyers joined several dozen members of the public in UD’s Keller Hall for a conversation that proved to be more civil.
The two attorneys, Helen Wallace and Jeff Rezabek, are candidates for judge on Montgomery County’s Juvenile Court and came together for what was termed a “conversation” rather than a “debate.”
The Juvenile Court exists to hear cases involving offenders under the age of 18 and to facilitate custody and guardianship issues, such as foster children seeking adoption.
Rezabek is a 1991 UD graduate with degrees in history and psychology who also graduated from UD’s law school in 1997. Since then, he has worked in various public and private capacities, including as a lawyer for a private practice and as a magistrate for Dayton Municipal Court from 2009-2012.
Most recently, he served two terms in the Ohio House of Representatives, representing the 43rd congressional district consisting of parts of Montgomery County and all of its western neighbor Preble County.
Rezabek resigned as a state representative after the death of Montgomery County Juvenile Court Judge Henry Nicholas Kuntz, a UD graduate and adjunct professor who served on the Juvenile Court for 24 years, in May.
Ohio Gov. John Kasich appointed Rezabek to fill the vacant judgeship until Kuntz’s term ends in December. Prior to Kuntz’s passing, Rezabek already was running to replace Kuntz, who was retiring, and had won a primary election a few weeks prior.
The other Montgomery County Juvenile Court Judge is Anthony Capizzi, who also is a UD graduate.
The candidate competing against Rezabek, Helen Wallace, is a University of Cincinnati graduate who holds a law degree from George Washington University. A Cincinnati native, Wallace also has many years of legal experience, including work with the Ohio Attorney General’s office and the U.S. Department of Justice. She also noted she has a familiarity with Montgomery County’s Juvenile Court due to her service as a prosecutor and defense attorney there.
In their conversation, the candidates shared their views on various issues as well as personal values and anecdotes. Both Rezabek and Wallace were asked the same questions and were given opportunities to respond to each other if they wished.
The questions touched on issues important to Daytonians, such as what strategies each would take to tackle the familial issues that have resulted from the opioid epidemic. Wallace proposed an incentive program where participating in rehabilitation activities allows parents more time with children taken by Child Services and keeping families together whenever possible, while Rezabek emphasized closer cooperation with Child Services and quicker responses when crises such as the opioid epidemic arise.
Rezabek and Wallace also shared a common view on some issues, such as the need to reduce the use of group homes in the foster care system. Both stated children should only be placed in them when absolutely necessary due to problems that arise from housing minors together, especially when some have behavioral issues.
Both also agreed court appointed guardians of children should be better prepared for this role, with Wallace suggesting new guardians “shadow” experienced ones for learning purposes and Rezabek proposing raising the amount of required guardian training from 6 hours to 36.
The candidates did, however, have their disagreements – to the last point, Wallace responded guardians who already are parents do not need 36 hours of training to know how to care for a child. And Rezabek proposed using the local faith-based community to help find permanent homes for the rising number of foster children, while Wallace argued the solution lies more with addressing systemic inefficiencies and enforcing adherence to timelines to improve the speed of the justice system.
Through it all, the conversation remained mostly civil and respectful. A spectator tried to interrupt the debate by exclaiming Rezabek was a lawbreaker, but they were largely ignored by the candidates and audience.
Voters registered in Montgomery County will get to decide between Rezabek and Wallace on Election Day Nov. 6.
A livestream of the debate that has more than 1700 views is available on UD Law School’s Facebook page, however, it cut out after 19 minutes due to bandwidth issues.