CLEVELAND, Ohio — Few races in Tuesday’s primary can match the venom in Stow, where two Republican judges are squaring off in one of the region’s most contentious campaigns.
Lisa Coates and Kim Hoover are longtime jurists whose feuds over the years have reached beyond their courtrooms in Stow Municipal Court, where they are the only two judges.
In an unusual move, Hoover, who has four more years on his six-year term, is challenging Coates’ run for re-election.
The winner does not face a Democrat in November, but non-partisan candidates can join the race if they file by Monday. The court handles civil, traffic and misdemeanor criminal cases from 16 suburban communities in northern Summit County.
Hoover said he is vying for Coates’ job because she “has been a poor partner. She has tried to undermine me repeatedly.”
“I’m incredibly disappointed,” Coates said of her first primary race in 18 years. “I’m a longtime Republican, and I feel some in the party have abandoned me. Of course, he has a right to run. I just feel I didn’t get the support from some, including the party chairman.”
Bryan Williams, the Summit County GOP leader, did not return repeated calls on the matter.
Hoover said his challenge of Coates stems partly from Ohio law, which prevents judicial candidates from seeking office after the age of 70. Hoover is 67.
When his current six-year term ends, he cannot run again. He said by running against Coates, he will obtain a term that is two years longer than his current one. He said it also would prevent Coates from obtaining the status of presiding judge, which, for years, has gone to the senior jurist of the court.
Hoover has handled the job, which includes budgeting and personnel matters, since about 2013. He has been a judge on the Stow bench since 1995.
If Hoover defeats Coates, he will remain the presiding judge, he said. He also would be able to groom the person who takes his open seat, a candidate chosen by Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine. If Coates defeats Hoover, she will become the presiding judge when Hoover’s current term ends.
“I also didn’t want her to go into a primary without competition,” Hoover said.
He said their disagreements increased two years ago, when he claimed Coates supported a Democrat, Tania Nemer, in the race against him. Hoover defeated the challenger.
“That was the final straw,” Hoover said.
Coates said their relationship had been rocky for years. In 2013, she said, Hoover asked a bailiff to check a law enforcement database as a favor to Hoover’s longtime friend, Democratic powerbroker Wayne Jones.
The bailiff notified Coates, and she contacted the Ohio State Highway Patrol, which launched an investigation. Coates said she feared the request could be linked back to her, as she had been made aware of it.
Hoover, however, said he felt betrayed by Coates, as she never asked him why he sought the request and simply went straight to authorities. He said he did nothing wrong, and the investigation cleared him.
He said Jones requested help in figuring out how his girlfriend had her driver’s license suspended in Stow Municipal Court. Hoover said he initially didn’t recall the matter, and he looked on the court’s docket to find the case. When it wasn’t there, he said, he asked the bailiff to check the law enforcement database to see how the suspension came about.
The woman’s license was suspended because of a civil judgment in Summit County Common Pleas Court, Hoover said.
“It was a mistake. [Jones] thought the suspension came from our court,” Hoover said. “We looked and found that it wasn’t true, and that was it.”
The race has prompted Coates, in her campaign literature, to take the somewhat unusual step of urging Democrats and independent voters to go to the polls Tuesday and request a Republican ballot, a move she hopes will keep her in office.
The rift has affected the race and the message candidates have put out. Hoover said he is proud of his work as the longtime presiding judge. Coates said she is most pleased with her initiatives on the mental-health docket, which she oversees.
That work, however, is often drowned out over the bickering and in-fighting. Coates, however, said she fears the internal strife could have a more severe effect: It eventually could allow Democrats to gain a seat on the bench.
“Why would you want to risk that?” she said.