Sunday, Jun 17, 2018
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State bar association chastises Republican Party for Justice campaign ad

COLUMBUS — An ad-monitoring committee of the Ohio State Bar Association today blasted a new commercial financed by the Ohio Republican Party that accuses the challenger of a GOP incumbent Ohio Supreme Court justice of sympathizing with rapists.

The bar, which has rated Republican Justice Robert Cupp as “highly recommended,’’ said the ad impugns the integrity of the judiciary and judicial candidates. It reminded Justice Cupp that he signed the bar’s pledge to run a clean campaign and said his prior disavowal of the GOP ad was insufficient.

“Therefore, the committee now calls on you to go beyond publicly disavowing this ad as per your agreement in the above pledge, and demand that the Ohio Republican Party remove this ad and cease its airing and use in any form,’’ the committee's letter reads.

Justice Cupp later joined the bar in urging the Republican Party Chairman Bob Bennett to pull the ad, but the party is standing firm.

The party felt it necessary to go after former Democratic appellate judge William O’Neill in a way it has not gone after the Democratic candidates for other seats on the high court. Justice Cupp, of Lima, is seeking re-election to a second two-year term.

The bar said the ad, particularly its statement that “Bill O’Neill expressed sympathy for rapists’’ is misleading. The bar has rated Mr. O’Neill as “recommended’’ in this race, one step below the rating given to Justice Cupp.

“The committee’s reading of this indicates that then Judge O’Neill was performing his duties as a judge, expressing a commitment to preserving justice for all parties,’’ reads the letter to Mr. Bennett signed by the ad monitoring committee’s chairman, Maxine Thomas.

“It also bears noting that this rape conviction was ultimately overturned unanimously by a three-judge panel,’’ it reads. “In the committee’s estimation, use of the above-mentioned language in the ad is misleading, impugns the candidate’s integrity, and erodes the public’s trust and confidence in the judiciary.’’

It credited Justice Cupp for the written statement his campaign issued on Wednesday when the Republican Party unveiled the ad in which he said he learned of the ad’s existence only after the news conference.

“We are not aware that such an ad has actually been broadcast,’’ the campaign said. “However, 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.’’

Supreme Court races in the past have resulted in some of the most expensive races of their kind in the nation, involving ads financed by outside groups not affiliated with the candidates’ campaigns. Some of those campaigns took a nasty turn, particularly in 2000 when the Ohio Chamber of Commerce unsuccessfully challenged then Democratic Justice Alice Robie Resnick, of Ottawa Hills.

State law forbids such outside campaigns from coordinating their efforts with the candidates’ campaigns.

With Republicans now dominating the court 6-1, the campaigns this year have been relatively quiet as most attention and money has focused on the presidential and U.S. Senate races.

In a statement released after the ad’s release, Mr. O’Neill blasted both the party and Justice Cupp.

“I applaud the Ohio Republican Party for spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to publicize my judicial talents, and invite the world to review this well-written decision…,’’ he wrote.

“Shame on you, Bob Cupp,’’ he wrote. “To bring the word ‘rape’ into a Supreme Court campaign sends a clear message about the quality of a campaign you are running. Shame on you, Bob Cupp. This clearly demonstrates what you are willing to do to hold on to your job.’’

Unless an outside group steps in to mount a similar campaign on his behalf, Mr. O’Neill can do little to respond to the Republican Party’s ad on Ohio’s airwaves. He has sworn off campaign contributions as part his message that money and the judiciary don’t mix as he’s criticized Justice Cupp from taking money from parties and lawyers with cases before the court.

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