Hamilton Co. judges object over hiring process

CINCINNATI, OH (FOX19) - Some of Hamilton County's black judges are saying their appointment system is biased against minorities.

There are two open magistrate positions. One was held by Pete Outcalt. He retired. Allen Triggs was the other magistrate. He left for another job. He is black. The Municipal Court judges appoint magistrates who handle cases such as evictions, small claims, and arraignments.

The court had nearly 40 applicants apply for the positions. Last week, the group narrowed it down to six finalists; Three candidates are black, and three candidates are white. In the end, two women, Deb Casey and Jacqueline Ulreich Purcell, were appointed. Both ladies are white.

The five Hamilton County Municipal Court Judges who are black say the three black magistrate candidates are more qualified than at least one of the appointees, and should have been placed in at least one of the open positions.

On the other side, Judge Russell Mock, one of the Municipal judges who voted for the appointments, said race has nothing to do with the matter and should never be a factor in the hiring process.

After the final vote, the group of black judges wrote a letter to their colleagues on Thursday, asking the 14-judge court to reconsider. Judge Ted Berry and his four black colleagues wanted to consult experts of employment law to confirm that the standard is fair and equitable. That option didn't happen, and now he said the candidates are considering suing.

"My father who was the first black mayor of Cincinnati back in the 70s had a saying," said Judge Ted Berry. "He said that the more things change, the more they remain the same."

The vote by the judges took place at the Hamilton County Courthouse on Thursday. The two women were appointed by an 8-4 vote. It was split among racial and party lines, and filled with debate.

"It was very, let's say, vigorously debated in the joint session where the two entries were signed by the eight Republican judges," said Judge Berry.

The five Democrats who are black did not sign to endorse the appointments.

Casey is an assistant prosecutor in Cincinnati. As for Ulreich Purcell?

"Well, she hasn't even practiced law in the last year and half," said Judge Berry. "She's lived in Florida, and volunteered in some capacity down there."

But Judge Mock who heads up the personnel committee said that's not the case. He said Ulreich Purcell has Municipal Court experience in Butler County.

As for the other candidates, Kevin Tidd, the remaining white candidate, is a law clerk. The three black candidates, Elizabeth Tye and Raeshon Mansoor have private practices, and Marva Benjamin is an assistant prosecutor with Cincinnati.

Fox19 reached out to all of the candidates on Tuesday. Tidd declined to comment. We couldn't track down Ulreich Purcell. Four others didn't return our calls. However, some critics say both appointees are minorities because they are women.

"My argument is that number one, the black candidates are imminently more qualified," said Judge Berry. "Number two, diversity is an aspirational goal mandated by the Ohio Supreme Court."

Fox19 also spoke with Judge Mock about the allegations. He sent us this statement:

"Race should never be a factor in the hiring process. Each of the female applicants were hired because of their experience, qualifications and expected judicial demeanor. Every judge on the screening committee initially agreed the six finalists were qualified. Unfortunately, some of my colleagues injected race into this discussion by insisting that a departing African American magistrate MUST be replaced with another African American.  While the majority of the Court which hired these two qualified women embrace the importance of diversity, the assertion that a hire MUST be of a certain racial makeup is both improper and illegal. Just as the gender of the two new magistrates was not a consideration, race should not be as well.  It would be discriminatory for the Court to exclude any person based on race, religion or gender.  This is wrong in every workplace but even more egregious in our justice system.

The hires made by the Court were appropriate and legal. Both new magistrates are well qualified to serve the needs of the Court and every citizen in Hamilton County."

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