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Published: Thursday, 10/21/2004

For Ohio Supreme Court

WITH four of its seven seats at stake on Nov. 2, the worst thing that could befall the Ohio Supreme Court is the return of an activist majority intent on legislating from the bench. The best way to forestall another "Gang of Four" takeover is for voters to re-elect Chief Justice Thomas Moyer, retain Justice Terrence O'Donnell, and promote Judge Judith Lanzinger to the high court from the Toledo area appellate bench.

The activist group that enmeshed the Supreme Court in matters best left to the General Assembly still has a nucleus on the court in the robes of Justices Paul Pfeifer and Alice Robie Resnick. Justice Pfeifer will be on the ballot Nov. 2 but, unfortunately, he is unopposed because the Ohio Democratic Party could not muster a candidate against him.

That makes it imperative for voters in contested races to choose candidates who are pledged to interpret the law, not make it from the bench, as the "Gang of Four," led by former Justice Andy Douglas, attempted to do in the case of school funding and unwarranted awards in auto insurance cases.

The court's series of decrees in the DeRolph school-funding case from 1997 to 2003 improperly and unnecessarily involved the justices in a policy matter that should be decided by the legislature. As a result, many Ohioans still blame the court - wrongly, we believe - for shortcomings in public education.

Likewise, the 1999 Scott-Ponzer case, finally reversed last year, is a well known case of judicial activism that caused chaos in Ohio courts. Justices intent on getting a damage award for the widow of a man killed by an underinsured motorist ruled that her husband's employer's insurance policy should pay, even though her husband wasn't on company time or even driving a company car.

Although Justices Moyer and O'Donnell and Judge Lanzinger all are Republicans, party affiliation is not as important as their avowed intent to be impartial in all cases they consider, rather than entering the courtroom in Columbus with preconceived notions on how to rule.

Chief Justice Moyer, who is 65 and running his final campaign because of age restrictions on candidates, is in his 18th year at the helm of the court after eight years as an appellate judge. His opponent is C. Ellen Connally, former chairman of the board of trustees at Bowling Green State University. She is a retired municipal court judge who is well-regarded in Cleveland but whose qualifications do not support a leap to the state's highest court.

While we have expressed displeasure with the expense involved in renovation of the Supreme Court's headquarters building in Columbus, the chief justice has shown a steady hand in presiding over a court dedicated to resolving cases with robust legal debate rather than spurious activist discourse.

Justice O'Donnell, of Rocky River, who was appointed to the court earlier this year to replace Deborah Cook, was defeated in the tumultuous 2000 election by Justice Resnick. We endorsed him then and we do so again for the two years remaining on Justice Cook's term because we believe he would act impartially.

The same can't be said of his Democratic opponent, William O'Neill, an appellate court judge from the suburbs east of Cleveland. Judge O'Neill makes little secret of his activist bent and, thus, would be a misguided addition to a court that must return to its traditional centrist role.

The same can be said in the race between Judge Lanzinger, of the Sixth District Court of Appeals here in Toledo, and Nancy Fuerst, a Common Pleas Court judge in Cuyahoga County. Although we did not support Judge Lanzinger in earlier races, we believe she has emerged as the stronger candidate to take a seat on Ohio's highest court.

Most important, Judge Lanzinger pledges to be impartial while her opponent says she can be an activist if in her judgment a case demands one.

In summary, The Blade believes the right direction for the Ohio Supreme Court lies in the election of Thomas Moyer, Terrence O'Donnell, and Judith Lanzinger.



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