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Ohio Chief Justice, Pushing for Reform, Releases Poll Data

VOTERA poll of Ohio voters shows that 56 percent “believe some unqualified people are elected to the bench due to problems with elections,” the Columbus Dispatch reported, and 44 percent agree or strongly agree that “courts are primarily political institutions where rival groups seek advantage under the law.”

On a more positive note for the courts, 76 percent said they agree or strongly agree when asked if  the “court system is the key protector of individual liberty, safety and property.”

Ohio Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor is pushing for a constitutional amendment that would shift judicial elections to off-years, in order for them to get more attention from voters. She released the polling data on Thursday. Read more

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JAS Partner Advocates for Changing Way Ohio Judges are Selected

Ohio’s Chief Justice has sparked a renewed debate over the best way to choose qualified judges (see Gavel Grab). One prominent  advocate for a switch from contested elections to an appointive-and-retention election system is the League of Women Voters of Ohio, a Justice at Stake partner organization.

“The League of Women Voters of Ohio has for years believed that the problem is that the kind of elections which work for politicians don’t work well for the judiciary,” LWV Ohio President Nancy Brown writes in a Cleveland Plain Dealer op-ed.

“Judges are different. Judges are not politicians in robes who promise to decide cases in a particular way who should be thrown out of office if they don’t keep their promises. Rather, judges are required to apply the law, regardless of their personal beliefs.” Read more

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Ohio Chief Justice: Consider Appointing, Not Electing, Judges

Chief Justice O'Connor

Chief Justice O’Connor

Ohio Supreme Court Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor, remarking on a high number of uncontested judicial elections in the state this year, says Ohio ought to consider appointing judges rather than electing them.

Justice O’Connor has discussed reform in the past (see Gavel Grab) although her proposals have not resulted in action by the legislature. She recently expressed her concerns in an interview with the Associated Press, which summed up her thinking this way:

“The goal is to take politics out of judicial campaigns, O’Connor said. She favors a system where the governor would appoint judges based on recommendations from a screening committee, with voters casting ballots in retention elections two years later to decide whether the judges should keep their jobs.

“That plan would ‘still allow the voters to weigh in, but you would be judging the candidate on their record, what have they done for the two years during the interim,’ O’Connor said. ‘That preserves the best of both worlds.'”

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Critical TV Ad in Ohio Court Race Draws Bar Rebuke

A TV ad in advance of the Ohio Supreme Court election, aired by Common Pleas Judge John P. O’Donnell, accuses incumbent Justice Judith L. French of being “in the pocket of big utilities,” referring to campaign contributions and her decision in a rate case.

A panel of the Ohio State Bar Association found Judge O’Donnell violated a “clean campaign pledge” and the ad’s depictions “falsely imply that justice is for sale in Ohio.” The Bar asked him to pull the ad.

The Bar’s action was reported by the Northeast Ohio Media Group. Justice French said about her opponent, according to the Columbus Dispatch, “Judges should be held to the highest standard. It’s concerning that he has gone negative and broken his promise to the voters and to his colleagues.” Read more

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Will Irish Surname Affect Election for Ohio Supreme Court?

What’s in a name? There’s a debate about that in an Ohio Supreme Court race. An Associated Press article puts it this way:

“Call it the hunt for Irish ‘ayes': Republicans charge that Democrats are trying to paint the ballot green in an Ohio Supreme Court race by recruiting a candidate based solely on his Irish last name.”

The candidate is Cuyahoga County Judge John O’Donnell. He is challenging Justice Judy French. In a GOP ad she is called “Judge Judi” to snag some of the popularity of “Judge Judy” on TV. Read more

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First TV Ads Aired in Ohio Supreme Court Contests

Two incumbent Ohio Supreme Court justices who are seeking re-election have begun airing TV advertising.

Justices Judith L. French and Sharon L. Kennedy, both Republicans, have teamed up to buy back-to-back ad time, a Columbus Dispatch blog reported. Democratic Common Pleas Judge John P. O’Donnell is opposing Justice French, and Democratic state Rep. Tom Letson is opposing Justice Kennedy.

The Brennan Center for Justice makes the ads available at its Buying Time 2014 website. Each ad includes images of the justice talking to officers in uniform. You can view Justice French’s ad by clicking here and Justice Kennedy’s by clicking here.

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Costly High Court Election Looming in Ohio?

gavel-and-cash.125192919_stdCandidate fund-raising in advance of Ohio’s Supreme Court election this fall already has surpassed a combined $1 million, according to local news reports.

The campaigns of incumbent Justices Sharon Kennedy and Judith French have reported balances of $709,030 and $679,739 respectively, according to a Toledo Blade article.

The incumbents are Republicans. The campaigns of their Democratic challengers, state Rep. Tom Letson and Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Judge John O’Donnell, reported balances of $12,722 and $136,011, respectively. Read more

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Ohio's Judicial Election System Upheld by U.S. Judge

A federal judge upheld Ohio’s unusual  system for electing judges while questioning its effectiveness at balancing disclosure with protection of impartial courts.

Ohio_quarter,_reverse_side,_2002U.S. District Judge Susan Dlott said the Constitution does not forbid the system of having candidates for judgeships run with party labels in primaries, and without party labels in general elections, according to the Columbus Dispatch. 

According to the newspaper, “Dlott questioned how the system tries to balance open disclosure of partisan politics with maintaining judges’ role as unbiased arbiters of justice. ‘Ohio’s Solomonic approach serves neither interest particularly well,’ she wrote.”

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Ohio Editorial Urges Tougher Recusal Rules for Judges

Ohio_quarter,_reverse_side,_2002More robust judicial recusal rules are needed in Ohio, given the weak rules that currently exist to police an important line between campaign spending and judges’ conduct on the bench, a Toledo (Ohio) Blade editorial says.

“When lawyers, litigants, and other interest groups have financial stakes in how courts rule, it’s unreasonable to think they would not expect a return on the investments they make in the form of campaign aid,” the editorial explains. That’s why strong recusal rule are important, it says. As for the weakness of the current ethics rules, it cites excerpts of a recent Center for American Progress report (see Gavel Grab).

While Ohio would be better served if it switched from electing judges to a system of merit selection, the editorial says, prospects for that reform are not good. It suggests recusal and disclosure reforms that could help, and it concludes:

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Ohio Court Incumbents Lead Challengers in Fundraising

Incumbent Ohio Supreme Court Justices Judith French and Sharon Kennedy lead their respective Democratic rivals in this year’s Supreme Court election, Common Pleas Judge John O’Donnell and state Rep. Tom Letson, in fundraising, according to Northeast Ohio Media Group.

Justice French has raised almost $260,000, and Justice Kennedy, more than $137,000. Judge O’Donnell has raised about $90,000 in the first quarter of the year, and Letson didn’t file a campaign finance report, saying he neither raised nor spent $1,000, the threshold for filing.


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