Login | August 22, 2019

Mahoning Area Court judge prepares to join appeals court

Legal News Reporter

Published: January 3, 2019

During his 18 years on the bench, Mahoning County Area Court Judge David D’Apolito said he worked to computerize the court, instituted a dress code for the public and above all treated everyone who came before him with dignity and respect.

“I give all defendants a fair shake,” said Judge D’Apolito, who presides over Mahoning County Court No. 4 in Austintown. “I think that is what I am most proud of. I treat everyone the same, punish appropriately or acquit if the state does not prove its case.”

After presiding over hundreds of cases, he is preparing to bid the court goodbye as he embarks on his newest challenge as a member of the 7th District Court of Appeals.

Judge D’Apolito replaces Judge Kathleen Bartlett, who was appointed last year by outgoing Ohio Gov. John Kasich to complete the remainder of Judge Mary DeGenaro’s term, who he appointed to the Ohio Supreme Court. Judge Bartlett, who ran as a Republican in the November 2018 election, lost her bid for a full six-year term.

Feb. 6, 2019 is the last day that Judge D’Apolito will hear cases as a Mahoning County area court judge.

He joins the court of appeals on Feb. 9. The court has jurisdiction over eight Ohio counties, including Mahoning, Columbiana, Belmont, Carroll, Harrison, Jefferson, Monroe and Noble.

“I am excited to join the court of appeals, but I will miss certain aspects of being a county court judge,” said Judge D’Apolito, who lives in Canfield. “The county courts are really the people’s courts and I enjoy the interaction with the public. I will miss the direct contact as well as performing weddings.

“I look forward to having the cases that I rule on have a much larger impact,” he said.

Mahoning County Area Court Judge Joseph Houser said Judge D’Apolito has done “a fine job” presiding over one of the busiest county courts in the state of Ohio.

“He keeps his docket moving and does not let cases linger,” said Judge Houser. “He is efficient and thorough in his legal work. If you are asked to step in and cover his docket, as we do from time to time, there’s not much sitting there to be done because he is on top of everything.

“I think his training as a private lawyer helped him immensely in his role as county court judge and I believe his background as a private lawyer and his county court experience will help him immensely when he takes the court of appeals bench,” Judge Houser said.

Judge D’Apolito grew up in Boardman, deciding on a legal career at a very young age after his cousin, retired Mahoning County Common Pleas Court Judge Lou D’Apolito, became a lawyer.

“Lou is 20 years older than me and he started it all,” said Judge D’Apolito. “My cousin Anthony is also a common pleas court judge and I have two nephews who are lawyers.”

After receiving his juris doctor from The University of Akron School of Law in 1989, Judge D’Apolito began sharing office space with Judge Lou D’Apolito.

“Lou is my hero,” said Judge D’Apolito. “He taught me everything I know.

“I started off doing court appointments in criminal law cases and eventually I got into domestic relations law, which is the practice area that I focused on.”

“When David got out of law school, I told him that I would teach him what I know about being a trial lawyer,” said Judge Lou D’Apolito, who retired as a common pleas court judge at the end of 2018. “I remember him saying his ultimate goal was to be a judge.

“I think serving on the appeals court is a perfect match for his skills,” he said. “David has an analytical mind, is fair and objective and he believes in the rule of law.

“David won’t let the community down. He has served as both an attorney and a judge for many years and is well prepared for the job.”

Judge D’Apolito was appointed as Mahoning County’s first county court magistrate in 1997.

Prior to being elected to the county court bench in 2000, he also served as a hearing officer for Boardman Township and as a prosecutor for New Middletown Village and Ashtabula County.

Judge D’Apolito has been re-elected to the county court bench three times.

“Over the last 18 years, the physical appearance and structure of the county courts have changed,” Judge D’Apolito said. “The courts have either been relocated or remodeled for safety and efficiency.

“We now take online payments and in February attorneys will be able to file their motions and complaints online.”

A number of years ago, Judge D’Apolito instituted a dress code in his court prohibiting parties from coming to court in T-shirts or shorts.

“The court needs to have rules of decorum,” said Judge D’Apolito. “We had people showing up for court in pajamas sometimes.

“I think it’s important that people show respect for the court and themselves.”

Mahoning County Area Court Presiding/Administrative Judge Scott D. Hunter has served alongside Judge D’Apolito for nearly 20 years.

“Judge D’Apolito was a magistrate when I became a county court judge in 1999,” said Judge Hunter. “He has always been deeply committed to the law and is a person of the highest professional and personal integrity.

“He possesses an excellent judicial temperament as well as a great understanding of public fiscal policy and the proper way to manage the expenditure of public funds,” said Judge Hunter. “Judge D'Apolito has always played an instrumental role in the drafting of our budget as well as negotiating favorable leases for the various area court locations.

“Judge D’Apolito has been an excellent judge,” said Judge Hunter. “He will be missed. The 7th District Court of Appeals’ gain is our loss.”

As February gets closer, Judge D’Apolito is preparing to close his law practice.

“County Court judges are considered part-time positions and as a result I was able to maintain my law practice,” said Judge D’Apolito. “The idea of having to stop taking cases and helping people is very hard.”

As of the publication of this story, no one had been appointed to replace Judge D’Apolito on the county court bench. There are four years remaining on his current term.

“Everything that I have accomplished over the last 18 years has been with the assistance of Judge Hunter and Judge Houser,” said Judge D’Apolito. “It has been an honor to serve with them.”