MANSFIELD — The judge in charge of protecting both the community and the future of juvenile offenders is in the hands of the voters on Tuesday.
Republican Steve McKinley from Bellville, appointed to the bench by Gov. Mike DeWine in March 2019 to fill the unexpired term of retiring Judge Ron Spon, takes on Democrat Roeliff "Rollie" Harper of Mansfield.
Both candidates have served as magistrates within courts in Richland County, and have experience in juvenile law. Neither has been elected to an official position.
According to McKinley, the base annual salary for Richland County Juvenile Court judge is approximately $150,000.
Harper and McKinley each met in-person with Richland Source on Oct. 27 and Oct. 29, respectively. Each candidate was asked the following questions:
- Please tell me a bit about yourself, including:
- Educational attainment
- Prior experience as an elected official
- Any other details you believe are relevant
- Please describe your judicial philosophy, and how it has shaped your rulings in the past.
- Tell me about a career-defining case that you're particularly proud of, and why.
- Why are you the best candidate for Richland County Juvenile Court judge?
- How do you balance protecting the community while also taking care of kids?
The following responses are listed in alphabetical order. To read the full transcription of the interviews, click the link below:
Roeliff "Rollie" Harper
Harper, 61, has served approximately nine years as a juvenile magistrate, and has been a practicing attorney for 29 years with hundreds of juvenile cases.
Harper graduated from Mansfield Senior High before attending Ohio University and the University of Toledo College of Law.
Harper described his judicial philosophy as strengthening and empowering, heavily influenced by his parents.
"They taught my brother and I that there’s no such thing as a negative experience, these are definable, teachable moments, opportunities to learn a positive lesson, if you will," Harper said.
"In order for metal to become useful, it has to be first forged in the fire," he continued. "And once you realize that there’s nothing out there that can hurt you, you’re free. You’re free to walk toward whatever it is you want."
Harper described himself as a "classic giver," who does his work not for accolades, but because it makes him feel good to help.
"It almost embarrasses me because so many kids have throughout the years come up to me saying 'if it wasn’t for you, I don’t know what I’d be doing with my life now,' and it almost makes me feel like I shrank from 6’7” down to about six inches tall, because it makes me feel really uncomfortable," he said. "Because I don’t do it for that, at all."
Harper believes children only learn by having consequences for their actions - a belief that stems from being raised by a Marine.
"(Kids are) mostly led by their hearts because their heads aren’t full enough yet, except from what they know from whence they came. And if they’re in a situation that’s horrible, they won’t see it as horrible. It’ll be normal to them," Harper said.
"So we have to get a connection with them, and then show them something different, and give them positive motivation when they do something right."
McKinley, 54, was appointed when Spon retired after 26 years on the juvenile court bench. Prior to his appointment, he served as a Richland County Domestic Relations and Juvenile Court Magistrate for more than 20 years.
McKinley earned a Juris Doctor and Master's degree in government from Regent University in Virginia Beach, Virginia. He received a Bachelor of Science degree in finance in 1990 from Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana.
McKinley described his judicial philosophy as conservative, following the letter of the law.
"It’s a simple way of understanding my responsibility because I’m not to extend myself beyond what a judge is supposed to do," he said. "I carefully read the law and then apply it the way it's been written.
"I’ve written probably well over 1,000 decisions in almost 22 years of judicial work, and I believe that my decisions reflect a scrupulous attention to what the law says."
McKinley said he is proud of his first case as juvenile court judge because two significant responsibilities were achieved: protecting the community, and protecting the youth's rights.
"There was a particular circumstance where it was difficult to get a witness there who was really crucial to understanding the facts of the case, and I took extra efforts to make sure that witness was present because I wanted that youth to have the best possible trial, all the protections that we should be entitled to under the Constitution," McKinley said.
"I’m proud of the fact that I took extra efforts to make sure that youth had the witness there so that I could carefully discern what the facts were, and then apply the law to the facts."
McKinley said he considers the gravity of an offense before exercising judgment, as well as the presence or absence of remorse with the youth offender.
"I know the community is in greater need of protection if there’s an absence of remorse. And I know that the child is less likely to commit an offense in the future if the child is remorseful about what they’ve done - not just remorseful about being caught, but remorseful about their action," McKinley said.
"I hope to develop a youth’s conscience, because I understand law enforcement will not always be around or a parent may not always be around to prevent a youth from doing what’s wrong, but if the youth is encouraged to develop a sense of right and wrong, then I believe they’re more likely to be law-abiding and restrain themselves from doing the wrong thing."