Originally published in The Akron Beacon Journal

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Joyce V. Kimbler's trouncing of Ed C. Pierce in Tuesday's Democratic primary for the 9th Ohio District Court of Appeals caught a lot of people by surprise.

Kimbler, a 43-year-old lawyer from the village of Seville in Medina County, was a political unknown in Summit County and the other two counties -- Lorain and Wayne -- in the court district.

Even in her home county, she had never been a judge or a prosecutor. A specialist in insurance law, she had never run for a judgeship before.

The Akron Bar Association rated Kimbler "not recommended," while Pierce, 60, a veteran Akron attorney with extensive criminal and civil experience, was judged "highly recommended."

So how did she attract 58 percent of the vote in Summit County and 62 percent across the district?

Some political observers said Kimbler appeared to have campaigned harder. But the race was hardly high profile. Neither candidate did much advertising.

Several politicians said Kimbler's gender may have helped. Women have done extremely well in judicial races in Summit County in recent years and now hold seven of 12 common pleas judgeships. In Akron Municipal Court, four of six judges are women.

But other observers cited another possible factor: Name recognition generated by the massive media coverage of the trial of Audrey Iacona, the 17-year-old Medina County girl accused of murdering her newborn.

The judge hearing the case was Joyce Kimbler's husband, James. For two weeks in February, the name "Judge Kimbler" was daily news on all five Cleveland television stations, as well as in area newspapers. The trial ended with a jury convicting Iacona of involuntary manslaughter, and Kimbler sentencing her to eight years in prison.

The name-game traditionally has been important in Ohio politics, especially in judicial races. Just count the number of Browns, Corrigans and Callahans who have won judgeships at all levels over the years.

But could the media spotlight on Judge James Kimbler during the Iacona trial have spilled onto his wife?

"It might very well," said Jesse Marquette, professor of political science at the University of Akron. "You have to remember these are very low-visibility races. We make a lot of decision as a result of linkages in the memory store of our minds."

Marquette said it was possible that voters unfamiliar with either candidate might make a "top-of-the-head" choice based on the only name they recognized -- even if they got the gender wrong.

"It is a reasonable speculation," Marquette said.

The theory will get a test this fall when Kimbler faces Donna Carr, now an Akron Municipal Court judge who was unopposed in the Republican primary.


© Copyright 1998 The Akron Beacon Journal

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