COLUMBUS — Some voters may not have noticed amid the noise of the presidential and U.S. Senate races, but three of the seven seats on the Ohio Supreme Court are on Tuesday’s ballot.
Republican Justices Robert Cupp and Terrence O’Donnell are asking voters to re-elect them to their second, full six-year terms, while Democratic Justice Yvette McGee Brown is asking voters to ratify her appointment.
They face opposition, respectively, from former appellate Judge William O’Neill and state Sen. Michael Skindell, both Democrats, and Butler County Domestic Relations Judge Sharon Kennedy, a Republican.
Although they run in partisan primaries, judicial candidates appear on the ballot without party affiliations.
Justice Brown, 52, the first black woman to serve on Ohio's top court, was appointed to a vacancy at the start of 2011. She served eight years as a juvenile court judge in Franklin County Common Pleas Court before becoming the founding president of Nationwide Children’s Hospital’s nonprofit Center for Child and Family Advocacy.
“The reason I deserve to be elected is because of my record,’’ Justice Brown said. “I’m not just somebody who got here because I’m African American. … I honestly believe, if I can’t win this year, it does send out a message … I’m the most qualified person in this race.’’
Judge Kennedy, 49, has served as a domestic relations judge since 1999 and is the division’s administrative judge. She is a former police officer for the city of Hamilton in southwest Ohio.
“As the Ohio Supreme Court transitions in the next six years, with all of the seats that will open, if this court tilts in a direction to where we go back to where we were in the 1980s and 1990s … Ohioans will lose — not only lose what they think is important in that judges adhere to the constitution, but they also lose economically because business leaves Ohio again,’’ she said.
Justice Cupp, 61, served as state senator for 16 years. After term limits forced him out, he returned to Allen County as commissioner for two years before being elected to the Lima-based 3rd District Court of Appeals. He was elected to the top court in 2006.
“Just because I’m a justice on the Supreme Court doesn’t mean that I know the answers to all the questions and all the issues,’’ Justice Cupp said. “I value input. That may be part of my experience with the legislature. It’s helpful to approach things with an open mind and be able to tap the expertise of other people.’’
Mr. O’Neill, 65, of South Russell, served a decade on the Warren-based 11th District Court of Appeals. He is now a pediatric emergency room nurse at a Cleveland hospital.
He has sworn off campaign fund-raising and has made Justice Cupp’s acceptance of contributions an issue in the campaign.
“I’m opposed to lawyers giving money to judges, and I’m absolutely opposed to a judge sitting on a case where they have just taken a contribution,’’ he said.
Justice O’Donnell, 66, was appointed to a vacancy on the bench by then Gov. Bob Taft in 2003. Voters ratified that decision in 2004 and then elected him to a full term of his own in 2006. Before that, he served on the 8th District Court of Appeals and the Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court.
“I believe in the separation of powers,’’ he said. “As legislators, they are lawmakers. As executives, they are enforcers, and as members of the judiciary, we are interpreters, intent-finders, or those who would seek to apply the law to a given factual case.’’
Mr. Skindell, a state senator and former state representative from Lakewood, believes his experience in helping to write laws that the court interprets would prove valuable.
“When you have one side represented to such a strong extent as it is on the Ohio Supreme Court, it’s an injustice … and it’s not fair to all Ohioans, whether you’re Republican, Democrat, or independent,’’ he said.
The Ohio State Bar Association has rated Justices Brown and Cupp as “highly recommended;” Justice O’Donnell, Mr. O’Neill, and Mr. Skindell as “recommended,’’ and Judge Kennedy as “not recommended.’’
Contact Jim Provance at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 614-221-0496.