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New Mahoning County Area Court judge discusses goals

Mahoning County Area Court Judge JP (Jonathan Paul) Morgan was sworn in on March 11. He was appointed to the bench by Gov. Mike DeWine to replace Judge David A. D’Apolito, who was elected to the 7th District Court of Appeals. In the photo, Morgan is being sworn in by Mahoning County Common Pleas Court Judge Anthony Donofrio. His wife Ronnie is by his side.(Photo courtesy of Judge JP Morgan).

Legal News Reporter

Published: April 18, 2019

From starting a suspended license intervention program (SLIP) to ensuring that people on probation have access to the most effective treatment programs— those are just two of the items on the agenda of Mahoning County Area Court Judge JP (Jonathan Paul) Morgan.

Judge Morgan was sworn in on March 11 after being appointed to the bench by Gov. Mike DeWine to replace Judge David A. D’Apolito, who was elected to the 7th District Court of Appeals.

While Judge D’Apolito previously served on Area Court No. 4 in Austintown, Judge Morgan has been assigned to Area Court No. 3 in Sebring. He will also preside over the 5 p.m. Monday court sessions in Austintown. 

Administrative and Presiding Judge Scott Hunter will handle the Austintown sessions on Mondays at 1 p.m. and Wednesdays at 9 a.m. Judge Joseph Houser remains on Court No. 2 in Boardman and Judge Molly Johnson now presides over Area Court No. 5 in Canfield.

“I am extremely excited to work with all three area court judges,” said Judge Morgan. “They have all been very welcoming and supportive.

“County and municipal courts are the first and sometimes only interaction that the average citizen has with the court system,” said Judge Morgan. “Because the cases heard are typically traffic violations, misdemeanors and low-stakes civil matters, county court judges have a unique opportunity to effectuate a positive outcome in the defendant’s life that will hopefully keep the person from returning to court.”

Judge Hunter said Judge Morgan previously appeared in the area courts on numerous occasions as a practicing attorney.

“He was always very professional, well prepared and did an admirable job on behalf of his clients,” said Judge Hunter. “Judge Morgan enjoys an excellent reputation in the community and has demonstrated a clear understanding of the unique nature of judicial service. He has displayed an excellent temperament for the position and I think he will do a fine job.”

Born in East Liverpool, Ohio, Judge Morgan moved to Mineral Ridge when he was in middle school, graduating from Mineral Ridge High School in 1993.

He received his bachelor’s degree in political science/criminal justice from The University of Akron and obtained his juris doctor from the Ohio Northern University Claude W. Pettit College of Law in 2001.

“As a young boy I considered being a lot of different things, but by the time I turned 12 I had decided to be a lawyer,” said Judge Morgan.

He married his wife Ronnie right after college. Ronnie, a former elementary school teacher, works part time at Heartland Christian School in Columbiana, the school that all six of their children attend.

Judge Morgan began his career as a law clerk at Brennan, Frederick, Vouros & Yarwood in Youngstown, but not long after he started he was offered a position as an associate at Ivanchak & Fowler in Warren.

When the firm dissolved in 2002, he opened his own practice JP Morgan Esq. in Warren, where he continues to focus on criminal defense and domestic relations matters.

Warren Municipal Court Judge Terry F. Ivanchak said Judge Morgan is the “right” person for the job.

“Judge Morgan worked for my father until he passed away unexpectedly in 2002,” said Judge Ivanchak. “I was not working at the firm at the time, but after Judge Morgan started his own practice he came before me on many occasions.

“He was always very prepared and very conscientious,” he said. “He was very concerned about achieving a positive outcome for his clients. I believe that the type of matters he handled in his private practice gave him the necessary background to take over as county court judge.”

Between 2003 and 2005, Judge Morgan filled in as an acting prosecutor in Niles and Newton Falls and from 2017 to 2018 he served in the role again in Niles.

From 2007 through 2016, Judge Morgan was a contract employee for the Office of the Ohio Public Defender in Trumbull County, representing clients in misdemeanor and felony matters.

Judge Morgan is a member of the Mahoning County, Trumbull County and Ohio State bar associations and is a former chair of the Trumbull County Grievance Committee.

In 2009, Judge Morgan received the Volunteer of the Year Award from the organization now known as Community Legal Aid Services Inc.

Although becoming a judge was always part of his life plan, he moved up the timetable after the Ohio Supreme Court suspended Area Court Judge Diane Vettori-Caraballo in January 2018. She chose not to seek re-election, leading to a six-person race for her seat.

“It was a unique opportunity and after talking it over with my family, I decided to run,” said Judge Morgan.

Judge Molly Johnson won that election, but when Judge Morgan learned that Judge D’Apolito was vacating his seat, he applied for the appointment.

Judge Morgan is now working closely with Judge Johnson on a number of initiatives.

“It was not a contentious campaign and we each ran on our own merits and qualifications,” he said. “We all walked away with our dignity and now Judge Johnson and myself both share memories of the campaign, where we got to know one another.”

Judge Johnson described Judge Morgan as “always quick with a smile and a kind word. He has taken to the bench quite well and is a very welcome addition.”

As he settles into his new role, Judge Morgan said his top priority is to reduce recidivism. One of the first steps toward that goal is to start a SLIP program to help defendants with suspended driver’s licenses get them reinstated.

“I will be working with the other judges to see if we can apply for grants to cover the costs of beginning the program,” said Judge Morgan. “In this area, driving is essential and you cannot just tell people not to drive. If we can help get them valid, I believe this will reduce them returning on new charges and reduce the dockets of many of our area courts.”

Judge Morgan is also meeting with county court probation officers to review existing treatment providers to ensure those on probation have access to the best and most effective programs.

“It is important that our agency partners are offering courses of treatment that truly help participants to recover and change negative behaviors to positive ones,” he said. “If we can make changes that result in a more manageable docket, there will be more time for probation ‘call-backs,’ which allow judges to directly oversee the progress an individual probationer is making.”

Outside of the legal profession, Judge Morgan is a former secretary and current vice president of the Heartland Christian School Board. He is also a former board member and former vice president and secretary of the Pregnancy Help Center in Youngstown.

Judge Morgan has volunteered as a youth baseball coach for the Mill Creek Junior Baseball League and is currently a varsity baseball coach at Heartland Christian School. He also coaches elementary basketball at Heartland Christian School.

The judge and his family attend Tabernacle Presbyterian Church in Austintown, where Judge Morgan is a regular Sunday school teacher and vision team member.

In the not too distant future, Judge Morgan said he will be back on the campaign trail, as he must run in the November 2020 election to fill the remainder of Judge D’Apolito’s term, which ends Dec. 31, 2022. He will then have to run to serve a full six-year term.

“I’m in this for one purpose, to make our community a better place,” said Judge Morgan. “I will take every day on the bench as an opportunity to do just that.”