Nasal, Lopez vie for judge position

MIAMI COUNTY — Two people are vying for the position of Miami County Municipal Court Judge on the Nov. 2 ballot.

The seat is currently held by Judge Gary A. Nasal, who was appointed to the Miami County Municipal Court bench on March 11, 2013 and is currently seeking re-election. Nasal had spent the previous 18 years as the Miami County prosecutor. Prior to that, he had served as a municipal court prosecutor and was engaged in the private practice of law in Troy.

Jessica Lopez, who is currently the Miami County Recorder, is also seeking the position of Miami County Municipal Court Judge. Lopez was admitted to the bar in 2006. She has worked in private practice, and she has also worked as a guardian ad litem.

The following are questionnaires filled out by each of the candidates, starting with the incumbent:

• Gary Nasal

Family information: Wife, Mary E. Nasal, and step-son, Alex Baskerville.

Occupation: Miami County Municipal Court Judge.

Previous political experience: 18-plus years as Miami County Prosecuting Attorney and eight-plus years as Miami County Municipal Court Judge.

Qualifications: See above. My qualifications and experience as a practicing attorney having tried everything from parking violations to aggravated murder cases; my experience as the Presiding and Administrative Judge of the Municipal Court; my experience presiding over jury trials in the Municipal Court; my experience in having revamped the probation department in the Miami County Municipal Court to the point where it was named the number two probation department among all probation departments in the state of Ohio; my experience as a fiscally responsible elected official for almost 28 years in Miami County; and, most importantly, my ability to bring together all those varied experiences with an absolute commitment and determination to the fair and impartial administration of justice combined with the commitment to our community to make it a safe place to live, work and raise a family.

Reason for seeking office: To continue to serve in a very challenging and rewarding career in the law and the judiciary while serving the community in which I was born and have lived my entire life.

Goals for office if elected: To continue to effectively deal with the ever-changing challenges that face the Municipal Court in a professional, respectful, just, fair and impartial manner.

What do you see as the greatest need to be addressed in the position you seek: Change is inevitable in the Municipal Court. You have not heard my opponent address three of the most important issues facing the court in the immediate future. First, and foremost, the continuing drug epidemic. There is no silver bullet, but we are fighting daily and maneuvering daily to find new and varied ways to stem the addiction epidemic with programming that ends the cycle of addiction without losing sight of the fact that there is personal responsibility on the part of the criminal addict for the choice to break the law. We have a statewide recognized drug court, but we need to continue to seek new modalities of treatment to more effectively stem the tide of addiction and the supply of illegal drugs.

Second, the state has just passed a new bill on bonds that severely limits a judge’s discretion in setting bond on arrested alleged criminals. In a municipal court where the rates of defendants failing to appear takes up tremendous resources on the part of the court and law enforcement, to force us to free even more alleged criminals, who we know from history will not appear, during the pre-trial period, will likely exacerbate an already overloaded system and expand the game of cat and mouse.

Finally, the state has shifted primary responsibility for the treatment and detention of severely mentally ill alleged criminals to the local level, which as it stands, is woefully under resourced to deal with this tragic segment of the alleged criminal element. The folks that truly have severe mental illness have been shoveled for years into local jails where their mental states decline while they await evaluation and treatment to restore their mental competency in overcrowded state facilities and then are shuffled back to the local jurisdictions. Without any consultation with the local courts, or at least our local courts, the state will now require that the vast majority of those people be housed and treated locally in all but the most extreme cases and hospitalized locally in a facility that at last look had not even been designated in our district.

Daunting? Yes. Can we continue to soldier on and come to come to workable solutions to overcome the difficulties caused by these unfunded state mandates? We can. We will, provided we have a judge willing to be aware of and fight to find solutions to these vexing problems. I have been and wish to be a part of the solution to these issues in my next term as your Miami County Municipal Court Judge. You have to know the problems and acknowledge them to fix them. I’ve yet to hear my opponent acknowledge them… The fix? There has to be a more cooperative relationship between the state and local jurisdictions. It may well take upper court intervention into the constitutionality of some state action. It will definitely take a commitment from all of the local providers of the services called into action by these bills to handle the immediate crises they may create. I’ve been a part of that cooperation before and will work diligently to foster an environment that allows us to deal effectively, fairly and justly with these issues and the people affected by them.

• Jessica Lopez

Family information: My husband, Jay, our two children and our dog named Ringo.

Occupation: I’ve been an attorney since 2006 and currently serve as Miami County Recorder

Previous political experience: I have served as Miami County Recorder since 2013.

Qualifications: I believe that my legal experience, as well as my experience as a county-elected official, make me uniquely qualified to serve as Miami County Municipal Court Judge. I have been a licensed attorney since 2006. I have handled the types of cases that come before the Municipal Court. In addition to working in the private practice of law, I have served as County Recorder since 2013. Under my leadership, the Recorder’s Office has implemented technology that has saved taxpayer dollars, modernized operations and improved services to the public. The office has also offered services that address the needs of veterans.

Reasons for seeking office: I am seeking this position because I see opportunities for improvement in efficiency, technology and services for veterans in Miami County Municipal Court. I believe that my experience practicing law and my experience as a county-elected official make me qualified to offer a unique skill set that can effectively lead Miami County Municipal Court into the future. I am honored to have support from local attorneys, as well as individuals in law enforcement and in the Miami County Republican Party.

Goals if elected: If elected, my goals would be, first, to improve the efficiency of the court. Cases must be decided in a timely fashion. I also hope to implement technology that will improve efficiency in the overall operations of the court.

I also hope to implement a Veterans’ Court docket. Through the use of these specialized dockets, courts have the opportunity to address many of the underlying issues that can cause veterans to become involved in the criminal justice system. These specialized dockets can be implemented using existing resources and can be done at little to no cost to the county.

What do you see as the greatest need to be addressed in the position you seek?

The drug and opioid epidemic remain a problem for Miami County. I have spent a great deal of time talking with law enforcement and first responders about these issues.

It is vital that the courts work with community leaders, law enforcement and other elected officials to find community-based solutions that will effectively address mental health and substance abuse issues.

I can work with Judge Huffman, other elected officials, and first responders to collaborate and work toward solutions that treat and deter drug and drug-related problems.