Gavel Grab

Editorial: Nonpartisan Judicial Primaries Good Start for Debate

Ohio Supreme Court Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor’s call to scrap political party labels for judicial candidates in primaries (see Gavel Grab) “is big enough by itself to launch a good debate,” a Canton (Ohio) Repository editorial says.

Justice O’Connor recently delivered a speech unveiling an eight-point plan for reforming Ohio judicial elections, and holding nonpartisan primaries was a central point. Another suggestion is for the state Senate to confirm gubernatorial appointees to the Ohio Supreme Court.

The editorial states, “The eight changes O’Connor proposed last week should start an important conversation across the state.” Other media coverage included Ohio Public Radio, ”Chief Justice of Ohio Supreme Court Has Ideas for Reforming Process of Electing Judges; and Cincinnati.com, “Judge: Take politics out of our races.”

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OH Chief Justice: Party Labels Have No Business in Judicial Races

“Party affiliation has no place in judicial elections, period,” declared Ohio Supreme Court Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor at the State Bar Association’s annual convention this week.

The Associated Press reports that O’Connor unveiled an eight-point plan for reforming Ohio’s judicial elections. Primarily, she recommended ending partisan primary races for judges.

“Now is the time to revisit this topic once and for all, not to do away with judicial elections, which voters made clear they want, but to strengthen them,” O’Connor said.

State Supreme Court Justice Bill O’Neill argues that O’Connor’s plan ignores the critical issue in judicial races: campaign contributions. 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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Ohio Court Election Winner Insists that Justice is for Sale

Bill O’Neill won election to the Ohio Supreme Court last week after he pressed a theme that money has a corrupting effect in judicial elections. This week, he’s still making waves.

In the liberal Think Progress blog, guest writer Billy Corriher wrote a post about O’Neill that was headlined, “Ohio Bar Association Pressured Judge To Keep Quiet About Justice For Sale.”

In a letter dated Nov. 3, Maxine Thomas, chair of the Ohio State Bar Association Judicial Election Campaign Advertising Monitoring Committee, wrote O’Neill that material on his campaign website “falsely implies that justice is for sale in Ohio.”

The letter elaborated, “Especially troubling was the question your materials: ‘what do these [judicial campaign] contributors expect in return, justice or influence,’ and the visual of money on the table.”

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Commentary: Judicial Elections Flooded by Special Interest Money

With spending records on state Supreme Court races shattered in 2012, voters are beginning to doubt whether judges can be impartial or not, says a USA Today column. Over half of the $28 million that was spent on TV ads in this election cycle came from interest groups, the column says, citing Justice at Stake and the Brennan Center for Justice’s press release.

The author of the column, Billy Corriher with the Center for American Progress, notes that spending was especially high in states with contentious races. This included North Carolina, Michigan, Florida, Alabama, and Ohio.

Corriher says that the candidates who spent the most on their campaign were not always the victor. In Ohio, Supreme Court Justice Yvette McGee Brown lost her seat despite raising $1 million (see Gavel Grab). Judge Bill O’Neill won a place on the Ohio high court after “refusing to accept any campaign contributions.”

“It is simply wrong for a Justice on the Ohio Supreme Court to solicit a half-a-million dollars from contributors to get elected and then to sit on cases involving those very same contributors after you are elected,” O’Neill said on his website. Read more

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After Ohio Court Election, Will Reforms be Considered?

The defeat on Election Day of two incumbent Ohio Supreme Court justices has led some state leaders to question the existing campaign and election process for choosing top judges.

“I don’t blame the people. I blame the candidates and the system that doesn’t allow the candidates to get known,” said state Sen. Keith Faber, who will be Senate president next year, according to a Columbus Dispatch article. “When you have a system that limits the ability for judges to campaign and raise money, I think that’s the problem.”

The Constitutional Modernization Commission, tasked with spending the next decade to look at the state Constitution and recommend changes, ought to review Ohio’s judicial elections system, said House Speaker William G. Batchelder. He is a former judge, and his wife sits on a federal appeals court.

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Two Incumbent Ohio Justices Lose Re-election Bids

For the first time in recent years, two sitting Ohio Supreme Court justices were unseated from the bench in an election, according to the Columbus Dispatch. Republican Justice Robert Cupp (right) and Democratic Justice Yvette McGee Brown (left) lost to their challengers on Tuesday.

Butler County Judge Sharon Kennedy, a Republican candidate, won over Brown. Democratic candidate William O’Neill topped Justice Cupp, a Cincinnati.com article notes. O’Neill will be the lone Democrat on the high court.

O’Neill was recently accused in an ad by the Republican Party of having expressed “sympathy for rapists” (see Gavel Grab).

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Ohio Judge Asks GOP to Yank ‘Rapist’ Ad Against Foe

BULLETIN: Democrat Bill O’Neill, targeted in a GOP attack ad, has threatened to sue the Ohio Republican Party if the ad isn’t taken down, the Associated Press reported.

After the Ohio State Bar Association chastised a GOP TV ad saying a state Supreme Court candidate “sympathizes with rapists,” the Republican justice supported by the ad asked the GOP to pull it.

“Justice [Robert] Cupp and his campaign disavowed and criticized the independent state party ad the moment we found out about it, and we call on the state party to remove it from all forms of public distribution,” the Republican’s campaign spokesman Mark Weaver said, according to an Associated Press article.

A Republican Party spokesman said there were no intentions to withdraw the ad.

Regarding a 12-year-old appeals court ruling by Democrat Bill O’Neill, the TV ad (see Gavel Grab) states, ”When crime occurs, victims deserve justice but, as a judge, Bill O’Neill expressed sympathy for rapists.”

O’Neill wrote in the ruling, “Rape is a crime of violence which ultimately devastates the lives of at least two people” — the victim and the attacker, who is “labeled for life.” Read more

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Ohio GOP Ad Calls Judicial Dem. Candidate ‘Sympathetic to Rapists’

A new ad released Wednesday by the Ohio Republican Party claims that Democratic Supreme Court candidate Bill O’Neill “sympathizes with rapists.” Republican Justice Robert Cupp has tried to distance himself from the ad and claimed he had no knowledge of its content, the Ohio Plain Dealer reports.

Mark Weaver, spokesman for Cupp’s campaign, said “Justice Cupp does not believe the purported ad is an appropriate approach to judicial campaigning, which is why he has not and would not approve a commercial like this.”

Matthew Henderson of the Ohio Republican Party confirmed that the ad was not brought to Justice Cupp’s attention beforehand, and that the party was doing it for themselves.

Ohio Democratic Party spokesman Jerid Kurtz argues that the “video is not possible without the consent of the campaign.” The ad refers to an opinion O’Neill wrote in 2000 which reversed a rape conviction, the article says. Read more

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