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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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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 CentralOhio.com 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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