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U.S. Judge Hands Ohio a Defeat in Marriage Ruling

Federal District Judge Timothy Black of Ohio ordered on Monday that Ohio officials must recognize the marriages of same-sex couples that were performed in other states where such marriage is legal, the Associated Press reported.

Gavel Grab has documented a recent increase in legislators’ calls to impeach judges who rule on the marriage issue, and Judge Black is one who has been targeted. Earlier this month Ohio state legislator John Becker renewed demands that Judge Black be impeached (see Gavel Grab), following the judge’s indications of how he expected to rule in the case decided this week.

In his ruling on Monday, Judge Black said that refusing to recognize marriages of same-sex couples violates constitutional rights and is “unenforceable in all circumstances.” Ohio intends to appeal Judge Black’s ruling, and the judge did not decide immediately whether to stay his order pending appeal.

Click here to learn more from Justice at Stake’s web page about impeachment threats against judges.


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Ohio Supreme Court Chief Justice Lays Out Plan for Judicial Reform

Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor is travelling across the state touting her eight-point plan that she hopes will create in her words, “A judiciary that is not influenced by personal opinion, by politics, or by any other extraneous information.”

Chief O’Connor has been a strong proponent of reform telling WXVU that polls show the public believes problems within the legal system exist.

“Judges you know can only make their decisions based on the law and the facts as they are presented to them at court.  And that is what’s vitally important,” O’Connor told the Clermont County Chamber of Commerce in Eastgate.

For more on this subject, please see previous Gavel Grab posts.

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‘New Politics’ Report Featured in Ohio News Media

A news outlet in still another state included in the “New Politics of Judicial Elections 2011-12” report has featured its findings and quoted two of its principal authors, Justice at Stake and the Brennan Center for Justice.

The news article, relying on the New Politics report, said that spending on state Supreme Court elections in Ohio totaled more than $3.8 million during the past election cycle and TV advertising amounted to $1.7 million.

Nationwide, an estimated $56.4 million was spent on judicial elections, according to the report, and more than $33.7 million of that went toward TV advertising.

“Judges are starting to look indistinguishable from other politicians. We don’t want our judges to be politicians in robes,” said Alicia Bannon of the Brennan Center, lead author of the report.

Bert Brandenburg, JAS executive director, cautioned that questions of impartiality are raised when spending on judicial campaigns comes from donors who may become parties to lawsuits before a judge. Read more

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Ohio Lawsuit That Led to Impeachment Threats to Continue

A broadened lawsuit that could lead to Ohio recognizing all same-sex marriages from other states will be allowed to continue.

According to the Daily Journal, “Judge Timothy Black rejected a request from state attorneys asking to have a funeral director removed from the lawsuit, a move that essentially would have squelched it.”

A ruling by Judge Black in the original case (see Gavel Grab) led to those who disagreed with his ruling to call for his impeachment.

That lawsuit would have applied only to two gay Cincinnati couples who married over the summer in other states, according to the Daily Journal.

Attorneys asked the judge for a broader ruling to require Ohio’s health department director to order all funeral directors and coroners to list gay clients as married if they were legally wed in other states.

In refusing to dismiss the case, the judge said that one reason the funeral director plaintiff could remain on the case is because of the possibility of that he could face prosecution.

A decision by the judge is expected in December.

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Ohio Judicial Candidate Sees no Room for ‘Politics in Justice’

A veteran judge seeking reelection in Stow County, Ohio considers himself a Republican, is running as a nonpartisan and faces a Republican opponent. Judge Kim Hoover finds himself in this unusual situation in part because he firmly believes that “[t]he concept of politics in justice offends me on every level.”

An Associated Press article offers a snapshot of Judge Hoover and his reelection bid, a rarity in the only state that holds partisan primary contests in judicial elections, followed by nonpartisan general elections. The AP says Judge Hoover found a legal technicality that he used to register as nonpartisan.

Summit County Court of Common Pleas Magistrate Kandi O’Connor is running for Judge Hoover’s Municipal Court seat with backing from the Republican Party. At the same time, O’Connor says she supports a reform sought by Ohio Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor to switch to nonpartisan primary contests in judicial elections.

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Chief Justice Derides Name Game in Ohio Judicial Elections

“Consider this: You’re standing before a judge who will decide your fate on a traffic violation, your divorce settlement, the custody of your children, or the estate of your parents. Do you care if the judge is a Democrat or a Republican? Do you want the judge to bring his or her political beliefs to these life-changing decisions? Should the judge’s political affiliation have anything at all to do with judging?”

“Absolutely not.”

Ohio Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor writes these words in a commentary, outlining a problem for Ohio residents. Justice O’Connor has promoted this year an eight-point plan for reforming Ohio’s judicial elections, and a central reform is ending partisan primary races for judges (see Gavel Grab); in the general election, no partisan affiliation is listed for judicial candidates.

In Ohio during a judicial election, the party affiliation of a judge is listed on the ballot in a primary. While in other elections this normally isn’t a problem, Justice O’Connor says, in a judicial election where the candidates are supposed to be objective and nonpartisan, this can severely damage the electoral process.

In fact, Justice O’Connor suggests, candidates may be chosen on the basis of last names. Her commentary cites the 1976 election between Justice Sweeney and Justice Brown. The Toledo Blade humorously chose Justice Sweeney on the basis of last name saying, the current bench already has two Justice Browns.

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Impeachment Sought for Judge in Ohio Marriage Case

Ohio’s constitution bans marriage of same-sex couples, but a federal judge recently recognized the marriage of a same-sex Ohio couple who wed out-of-state. Now Republican state Rep. John Becker (photo) has urged the start of impeachment proceedings against the judge for “malfeasance and abuse of power.”

Becker urged U.S. Rep. Brad Wenstrup, R-Ohio, to launch impeachment proceedings against Federal District Judge Timothy S. Black, according to a article. Here is Wenstrup’s reply:

“While Judge Black’s ruling violated the Ohio Constitution and the will of Ohio voters, the question of whether this decision also violated the U.S. Constitution remains before a higher court. I will watch those appellate proceedings closely to see if Judge Black’s decision is upheld and I have full confidence in the Ohio’s office of the Attorney General during the appeals process.”

When Judge Black recognized earlier this year the marriage of James Obergefell and John Arthur, who were wed in Maryland, he wrote, “This is not a complicated case.” He went on, according to the Washington Post,  ”The issue is whether the State of Ohio can discriminate against same sex marriages lawfully solemnized out of state, when Ohio law has historically and unambiguously provided that the validity of a marriage is determined by whether it complies with the law of the jurisdiction where it was celebrated.” Read more

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Judicial Selection Reform Proposals Generate Debate in Ohio

Ohio Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor recently unveiled an eight-point plan for reforming Ohio’s judicial elections. Primarily, she recommended ending partisan primary races for judges (see Gavel Grab).

Her proposals continue to spark discussion. A Cincinnati Enquirer editorial spotlights each of them and voices its backing. “We support her proposals and urge lawmakers, judges and others to build on the momentum of O’Connor’s efforts,” it says.

The editorial notes that Justice O’Connor’s reforms “don’t address the perception that donations to judicial campaigns taint the administration of justice,” and it discusses advocacy by retired U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor and others for merit-based judicial selection systems to address this concern. But it is unlikely that this kind of reform would succeed in Ohio’s current political climate, it adds.

 A letter to the editor of the Columbus Dispatch by Bret Adams argues strongly for “nonpoliticized merit selection,” saying Justice Maureen O’Connor’s proposals “have no impact on the issue of competency or experience.” Adams also questions the party-line appointments Read more

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Merit Selection Process Gets Good Grades from Ohio Scholar

Ohio Gov. John Kasich’s merit-based screening process for filling a state Supreme Court vacancy gets good grades from a participant on the vetting panel, law professor Jonathan H. Adler of Case Western Reserve University School of Law.

At the Volokh Conspiracy blog, Adler (photo) reports that Kasich named a group of Oho attorneys to screen candidates for the opening and evaluate their fitness. Ohio has hard fought judicial elections for seats on its highest court, but when a vacancy occurs between elections, it falls to the governor to fill the opening.

“Given that judges are elected, and Justice [Evelyn Lundberg] Stratton’s replacement would have to run for reelection in two years, one might have expected politics to dominate the selection proess,” Adler writes. “That was not the case, however, as the governor created a process to elevate merit above politics.”

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Ohio Chief Justice Seeks Merit-Based Selection of Top Judges

Ohio Supreme Court Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor says she will seek changes in the ways that top judges are selected, so that highly qualified judges are appointed and later face retention (yes-or-no) election votes, according to a Cleveland Plain Dealer commentary by Brent Larkin.

Justice O’Connor, the “biggest judicial vote-getter in recent state history,” told Larkin of her intentions, he wrote. He is former editorial director for the newspaper.

While his commentary included little detail of the chief justice’s proposal, Larkin noted the defeat of two veteran state Supreme Court justices by “less qualified” challengers on Election Day, and he quoted Justice O’Connor about the outcomes.

“Both parties lost with kind of their MVPs, most valuable players, good people, good jurists,” Justice  O’Connor said. “It wasn’t a qualifications issue. Democrats respected Bob [Cupp] and Republicans respected Yvette [McGee Brown]. We have to take a long, hard look at how we elect, at the very least, our appellate judges.” Read more

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