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Published: Wednesday, 6/18/2014

OHIO SUPREME COURT RACE

2 candidates rated highly by state’s bar association

BY JIM PROVANCE
BLADE COLUMBUS BUREAU CHIEF

COLUMBUS—In the view of the Ohio State Bar Association, two candidates for Ohio Supreme Court are “highly recommended” for the bench.

Unfortunately, they’re running against each other.

The other two vying for a second seat on the bench have either been deemed “not recommended” by the bar in this election cycle or in the last one in 2012.

Justice Judith French, appointed to the bench by Republican Gov. John Kasich in early 2013, and her Democratic opponent, Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Judge John O’Donnell, were both given the second-highest rating possible from the bar’s 25-member Commission on Judicial Candidates.

That means that at least 75 percent of the commission’s members consider them to have the qualities for an “outstanding performance” on the high court bench.

Freshman Republican Justice Sharon Kennedy chose not to participate in the rating process after the commission in 2012 gave her its lowest possible rating of “not recommended,” the first time that occurred since 1998.

But now her Democratic opponent, state Rep. Tom Letson, of Warren, has joined the still relatively exclusive “not recommended” club. A “not recommended” rating means Mr. Letson received the support of less than 60 percent of the commission.

The OSBA rating has not been a harbinger of electoral success. Then Butler County Domestic Relations Judge Kennedy went on to defeat the “highly recommended” incumbent Democratic Justice Yvette McGee Brown in 2012.

That year, then-retired appellate Judge William O’Neill, a Democrat rated simply “recommended,” defeated the “highly recommended” Republican incumbent Justice Robert Cupp of Lima.

“It’s not necessarily just about the endorsement of the state bar,” said Ohio Democratic Party Chairman Chris Redfern, who two years ago cited the bar’s opinion when criticizing then Judge Kennedy.

“It’s about the entire history of each candidate,” he said. “Sharon Kennedy has been a far right, Tea Party justice who, when given the chance, has sided with corporations and big-monied interests.”

Chris Schrimpf, spokesman for the Ohio Republican Party, said some members of the bar unsuccessfully sought a review committee to examine the neutrality of the rating process.

“Justice Kennedy is confident that voters can independently examine her 29-year record of service and legal experience and her clear ability to serve ably on the court,” he said.

OSBA Past-President Carol Seubert Marx chaired the commission.

Contact Jim Provance at: jprovance@theblade.com or 614-221-0496.



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