Michelle Wagner was elected to the sole vacant seat in Toledo Municipal Court on Nov. 8, replacing Judge Francis X. Gorman, who is retiring due to age restrictions.
Wagner, a 44-year-old Democrat, received 34,511 votes in her victory over opponents Mark Davis (16,814) and David Toska (8,824), according to unofficial results.
Her endorsements included Rep. Marcy Kaptur, Lucas County Auditor Anita Lopez, Toledo City Councilman Steve Steel and recent mayoral candidate Keith Wilkowski.
“I’m very, very pleased with the results,” Wagner said. “I’m astounded by them. We ran to win, but I didn’t expect to win two-to-one. It’s empowering and humbling at the same time. It was a wonderful night and we are very pleased that the voters thought I was the best candidate. I am very excited to start my new position.”
A few ideas
Wagner was born in Toledo’s Polish Village. She attended St. Ursula Academy, earned a bachelor’s degree in political science from Bowling Green State University and earned a law degree from the University of Toledo College of Law. Wagner served as a clerk for Judge Thomas Osowick and was a city prosecutor in Sylvania for 16 years.
Wagner and her husband Dave reside in south Toledo with their sons Samuel, Teddy and John Paul.
She plans to hit the ground running at the start of her first term on Jan. 4. She said she has a few ideas to improve Toledo Municipal Court.
Her first idea comes from Cleveland. While serving on the board of directors for Independent Advocates, she learned that Cleveland has a domestic violence docket in its municipal court. This includes a designated area where domestic violence victims go before the same judge in the same courtroom each visit.
“They have laid the groundwork for how they have it going and have a good model for us to follow,” Wagner said. “The cases have to be heard anyway; why can’t they be heard in the same place? Why can’t they be heard by the same judge as opposed to seven judges? Why can’t a prosecutor be specially trained? I don’t see it as pulling resources in that respect, it’s just consolidating cases into one area, one judge and one prosecutor.”
Another thing Wagner would like to see is an area where victims of domestic violence can wait, which would also feature a children’s area.
“We could have a separate witness room and waiting area for the victim that provides safety and peace where they wait,” Wagner said. “Ideally it would have some small toys and coloring books for a kids’ space. They always know who the prosecutor will be, who the judge will be and that there is a place for children to keep them occupied until the case is called.”
Wagner said she believes that only judges who want to work on domestic violence cases should do so and should be on a rotation of possibly two years for the domestic violence docket, to prevent the nature of the cases from wearing on them.
“That is the main goal of my tenure at Toledo Municipal Court,” Wagner said. “That is something that I hold near and dear to my heart and I would love to get that moving.”
After beginning her first term, Wagner will also look to implement ideas to increase efficiency inside the courthouse. The ways to do that include more responsibility for the magistrates and interns from the prosecutor’s office.
Under Wagner’s plan, the traffic court would be designated as a proof or plea court in which more cases would be heard and the magistrates and interns would handle minor situations such as speeding tickets, expired license plates and bounced checks.
“We need to look at ways to make it more efficient,” Wagner said. “One way I’d like to do that is look into a greater use of the magistrates. Those types of cases a magistrate can handle, or even utilize interns from the prosecutor’s office. An intern and a magistrate can certainly resolve a speeding case. Divert those cases away from the judges’ docket and away from a trial docket because they cost the city money and time.”
Wagner will join the six other judges in Toledo Municipal Court on Jan. 4.
“I hope to fit in well and get along with all the judges there to improve the courthouse for us, the employees and everybody,” Wagner said.