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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 editorial declares.

Her proposals include holding off-year elections, strengthening voter education outreach, and increasing experience requirements for judges. In the winter, 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 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,” 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 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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Justice O’Neill: Ohio Oil and Gas Bought Fracking Decision

Justice William O'Neill

Justice William O’Neill

Last week, the Ohio Supreme Court ruled that oil-and-gas companies do not have to follow municipal regulations. The opinion may have been influenced by political donations from the same companies that benefited, according to The Columbus Dispatch.

“What the drilling industry has bought and paid for in campaign contributions they shall receive,” wrote Justice William M. O’Neill in his dissenting opinion. The article confirms that “Ohio’s oil-and-gas industry poured about $1.4 million into the campaign coffers of legislators and other state officials in 2013-14 — including about $8,000 for the justice who wrote the pro-industry ruling and $7,200 for another who concurred.” O’Neill is uniquely suited to highlight these issues, the article explains, because he collected no donations for his campaign. All $5,000 of his campaign’s expenditure was from O’Neill’s own pocket.

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Ohio Supreme Court Justices Butt Heads Over Fracking Decision

Ohio Fracking CaseIn a 4-3 decision, the Ohio Supreme Court ruled that “the state has ‘exclusive authority’ and that cities and counties can neither ban nor regulate fracking through zoning laws or other restrictions,” the Columbia Dispatch reports.

Residents of Munroe Falls, Ohio filed for an injunction against Beck Energy when the company began drilling without filing for a municipal permit, according to A lower court granted an injunction based on the state’s Home Rule Amendment, which gives cities the right to self government, “so long as their ordinances do not conflict with general state laws.”  However, both the appellate court and Supreme Court determined that the state regulations, passed in 2004 by the General Assembly, were sufficient. “We have consistently held that a municipal-licensing ordinance conflicts with a state-licensing scheme if the local ordinance restricts an activity which a state license permits,” Justice Judith French explained in the opinion.

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