Appellate judge to fill vacancy on high court; French known for Ohio school-voucher case

Judge Judith L. French.
Judge Judith L. French.

COLUMBUS — Judge Judith L. French, perhaps best known for arguing the landmark U.S. Supreme Court case upholding the use of tax dollars to send students to private and religious schools, was named Thursday to the Ohio Supreme Court.

Republican Gov. John Kasich named the 10th District Court of Appeals judge to fill the vacancy to be created at the end of the year by the midterm resignation of Justice Evelyn Lundberg Stratton.

Mr. Kasich said he did not play a role in evaluating candidates until late in the process. The interviews were conducted by an informal panel of staff and attorneys, he said.

“My understanding is upon the first round, the judge didn’t do so hot, may have been a little nervous …,” Mr. Kasich said. “But she came back strong in the second round.”

Judge French, 50, of Columbus was the assistant Ohio attorney general who successfully argued the 2002 school-choice case upholding the constitutionality of Ohio’s first foray into vouchers in Cleveland.

At the table as co-counsel in that nationally watched case were Ken Starr, best known as independent counsel in the President Clinton investigations, and Ted Olson, former U.S. solicitor general.

Judge French will serve the two years left in Justice Stratton’s term and will run for a six-year term of her own in 2014.

“The Ohio Supreme Court has a long and storied tradition, and I’m so proud of being part of that now,” she said. “I’ve been able to go up a couple of times as a visiting judge, but I was always sitting in somebody else’s chair. So I’m so thrilled at the thought of having my own chair at the Supreme Court among so many talented professionals.

“They’re adjustable, just in case you’re wondering about that,” she added.

Thirteen judges and attorneys submitted resumes to the Republican governor, but one name that would have been considered a likely option was missing. Justice Robert Cupp, a Lima Republican who lost his bid for re-election on Nov. 6, took his name out of contention for the appointment.

At the start of the year, the seven-justice Supreme Court will count three new members. It will remain a 6-1 Republican majority and 4-3 female-majority bench.

Judge French had been considered a potential contender to take on Democratic Justice Yvette McGee Brown, also of Columbus, this year, but the Ohio Republican Party ultimately went with Butler County Domestic Relations Judge Sharon Kennedy from GOP-rich southwest Ohio.

The little-known Judge Kennedy surprised many by handily defeating Justice Brown.

“I decided that wasn’t the right race for me,” Judge French said. “I didn’t feel that I had all of the support that I wanted to go forward in 2012. In hindsight, I’m glad that I didn’t do that.”

In addition to Justices French and Kennedy, William M. O’Neill, a Democratic former appellate judge from Geauga County who defeated Justice Cupp, will join the court at the start of the year.

Among the other contenders was Pat DeWine, a new Cincinnati appellate judge and former Hamilton County Common Pleas judge.

Mr. Kasich said Mr. DeWine’s father, Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine, had advocated for his appointment.

“He advocated for his son,” the governor said. “He believes in his son. He loves his son, and his son is extremely talented. He’s also very young, and he’s new on this court. I would not be surprised to see Pat DeWine on the Ohio Supreme Court. It just didn’t happen this time.”

Contact Jim Provance at: or 614-221-0496.