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Court Rejects Challenge to Ohio Judicial Election Law

Leaving the political affiliations of judicial candidates off the general election ballot in Ohio is constitutionally sound, the Sixth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled, according to The Toledo Blade.

“The burden on the plaintiffs’ First and Fourteenth Amendment rights is minimal because political parties and judicial candidates remain free to provide, and voters remain free to receive, a plethora of information regarding whether a given candidate affiliates with or is endorsed by a particular political party,” U.S. Circuit Judge John Rogers said for a three-judge panel, according to Courthouse News Service. Read more

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Three Seats at Stake on 2016 Ohio Supreme Court Election

OhioFlag1Three seats on the seven-person Ohio Supreme Court will be on the ballot next year, in a state that is a major judicial election battleground.

Justice Paul Pfeifer will vacate a seat by his retirement, according to The Cleveland Plain Dealer, and candidates to succeed him include Republican Pat DeWine and Democrat Cynthia Rice, who are both appellate judges.

Vying to succeed Justice Judith Ann Lanzinger will be two appellate judges who are Republicans,  Pat Fischer and Colleen Mary O’Toole, and Common Pleas Judge John P. O’Donnell will run as a Democrat. Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor, a Republican, is expected to stand for re-election.

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Reform Aimed to Inform More Ohio Voters About Judicial Races

Ohio_quarter,_reverse_side,_2002Reforms led by Ohio Supreme Court Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor are aimed at raising the profile of judicial elections and helping voters be more informed about them, a Columbus Dispatch editorial says.

Part of the effort to get more voters to participate in judicial elections will be a website, Judicial Votes Count, to be launched soon. It will have biographical information about candidates, their responses to a standard questionnaire and lists of candidates’ endorsements.

While Justice O’Connor has spoken of interest by some in the legal community in a switch to merit selection of judges, she believes that is unlikely to be adopted given public opinion polling in the state, according to the editorial.

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Chief Justice O’Connor Touts Ohio Voter Education Website

17950861-mmmain1-150x147A voter education website specifically for Ohio judicial elections will come online on Sept. 1, The Columbus Dispatch reports.

Ohio Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor believes the website will improve voter turnout for these elections, the article explains. She offered the restrictions placed on judicial candidates as another explanation for low turnout, claiming the “whispered” campaigns are drowned out by the “shouting” of executive campaigns.

O’Connor has suggested other reforms, including moving judicial elections to odd-numbered years, and require candidates to accumulate more legal experience before running to be a judge.

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Editorial: Best Reform Goal in Ohio Would be Merit Selection

17950861-mmmainProposals by Ohio Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor to combat public apathy over judicial elections don’t go far enough, and “Ideally, judges in Ohio would be appointed based on merit,” a Cleveland.com editorial declares.

Her proposals include holding off-year elections, strengthening voter education outreach, and increasing experience requirements for judges. In the winter, Cleveland.com reported that the proposals were not gaining much political momentum (see Gavel Grab).

“For many Ohioans, the most important elected official they will encounter is the judge ruling in their divorce, or in their dispute with their employer or on the criminal charge and potential prison term they are facing,” the editorial said. But judicial candidates “are often given short shrift” on Election Day, it said. The editorial was headlined, “Ohio Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor’s judicial-election reform ideas make sense, as far as they go.”

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Judicial Campaign Restrictions Subject of Ohio Lawsuit

An Ohio judge is suing state officials over campaigning restrictions which she says puts her at a disadvantage in elections.

Colleen O’Toole already announced her candidacy in the 2016 Supreme Court election, but restrictions on fundraising and other campaign activities prevent her from doing much early self-promotion. The Columbus Dispatch explains that judicial campaigns are prohibited from raising money until 120 days before the primary. O’Toole is suing Justice Maureen O’Connor and two others, claiming that this and other regulations violate her First Amendment rights.

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Ohio Chief Justice Stumps for Judicial Selection Reforms

Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor of the Ohio Supreme Court plugged some of her ideas for judicial selection reform at a gathering of the League of Women Voters of Greater Cleveland.

She would like to see judicial elections moved to odd-numbered years in hopes that voters would get more information about judicial candidates and vote smarter, according to a Cleveland.com article. And she said that by November, a new website featuring information about every judicial candidate will be operating.

“The League supports the independence of judges with preference for merit selection,” Cleveland.com noted. Read more

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Ohio Touted as a Leader in Gender Diversity on Bench

Ohio_quarter,_reverse_side,_2002In profiling Florence Allen of Ohio, a trailblazer who became first female state supreme court justice in 1922, a local judge writes that Ohio is in the forefront of gender diversity on the bench today.

David Hejmanowski,  judge of the Probate/Juvenile Division of Delaware County Common Pleas Court, writes in a Morrow County Sentinel op-ed:

“Thirty percent of Ohio’s active judges are female, an increase of 5 percent in only one year, and we are one of only nine states in which the highest appellate court has a female majority (California, Washington, Texas, Arkansas, Wisconsin, North Carolina, Maryland and New York are the others). Five of Ohio’s 12 appellate court districts have female majorities and 31 of 68 appellate court judges in Ohio are women. The 9th District Court in Akron is presided over by an entirely female bench.

“Indeed, the last major gender divide in the Ohio judiciary exists in municipal and county courts, where only 61 of 239 judges are female.”

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Ohio Judge, a Former Police Officer, Recalls a Tragedy Averted

030215-justice-kennedy4Ohio Supreme Court Justice Sharon Kennedy, a former police officer, told a university audience about her own experience in threatening situations like those that have become topics of national debate.

According to the Journal-News, Justice Kennedy recalled a moment as a police officer when she was stopped at a traffic light in her personal vehicle, when a young boy pointed a shotgun from his car window at the rear of her car.

She drew her weapon and gave commands. He dropped his weapon, which later was found to be unloaded.  “It would have been a justified shooting,” she said, “but I would have killed a young man who could not have killed me, but I did not know it in the moment.” The newspaper article elaborated: Read more

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Ohio Chief Justice’s Reform Proposals Lack Political Momentum

Chief Justice Maureen O'Connor

Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor

Ohio Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor met with the Northeast Ohio Media Group earlier this month to discuss her proposals to combat voter apathy in judicial elections. An article from Cleveland.com explains that her three proposals – holding off-year elections, strengthening voter education outreach, and increasing experience requirements for judges – are not gaining much political momentum.

A voter education website would provide a “self promotional” tool for judicial candidates of all levels. Although this proposal has not garnered any significant opposition, experts doubt it will have much of an impact. The voters O’Connor wants to reach “are historically not the ones to research candidates,” the article explains. Still, supporters of the initiative say low information voters will benefit from having the highlights available on the one website.

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