In some states judges are appointed. In Ohio, they are elected. Is that a good idea? Perhaps surprisingly, most Ohio judges, even those who have experienced rejection at the hands of the voters, will tell you they think it is.
Why? Accountability. An elected judiciary cannot become remote and removed from the people. For an elected judge does not ultimately answer to other judges or lawyers, but ordinary citizens.
So, how are ordinary citizens to choose judges, since they cannot talk about pending cases or cases on appeal?
It’s not easy, but voters can look at values and experience.
Blade readers must make some key judicial choices this year. Mostly, they are happier choices than on higher and more visible levels of our politics.
Ohioans must pick three state Supreme Court justices this year, but only two races are contested. Republican Maureen O’Connor, a former lieutenant governor and member of the court since 2003, is seeking a second six-year term as chief justice. She is unopposed for re-election.
Appeals Court Judge Pat DeWine, a Republican from Hamilton County and son of Attorney General Mike DeWine, is running against Democrat Cynthia Rice, an appellate judge from the Warren area. Republican Pat Fischer, of Cincinnati, is running against Democrat John O’Donnell, a Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court judge.
The seats held by Republican Justices Paul Pfeifer and Judith Lanzinger are up for election since they have exceeded the mandatory judicial retirement age of 70.
Before being elected an appeals court judge in 2012, Mr. DeWine served three years as a common pleas judge. He has also been a city councilman and county commissioner. Some people think such experience sullies a judge. Actually, it humanizes.
Ms. Rice has served 14 years on the appeals court after a decade as a county and federal prosecutor.
Mr. Fischer has served as an appellate judge since 2011 after practicing in a law firm more than two decades. Mr. O’Donnell won election as a trial court judge in 2002 and ran unsuccessfully for the Ohio Supreme Court in 2012.
Both Mr. DeWine and Mr. Fischer are “conservative” jurists in that both see the judge’s role as an interpreter, not a maker of the law. They believe judges must defend the integrity of the law, not recast it in their own images. Judge Fischer, in particular, strikes us as an exceptional candidate for the court. He is a thinker. He is a careful and logical legal reasoner and writer. He is also something you don’t usually find in a judge: a person with perspective, one might even say humility. Both he and Mr. DeWine seem to have their feet on the ground.
The Blade endorses Pat DeWine and Pat Fischer for the Ohio Supreme Court.
There are two fine candidates for judge of Ohio’s 6th District Court of Appeals. The first is Lucas County Common Pleas Judge Gary Cook, who has been a trial court judge since 2004 and previously worked as an assistant county prosecutor and as a public defender. The second is Toledo attorney Christine Mayle, a partner in Thacker Robinson Zinz. The jurisdiction for the 6th District includes Erie, Fulton, Huron, Lucas, Ottawa, Sandusky, Williams, and Wood counties. Judge Stephen Yarbrough is retiring.
Judge Cook is certainly highly qualified and well regarded by the local bar.
But Ms. Mayle, who lives in Perrysburg and grew up and first practiced law in New York City, seems to us an outstanding candidate. She is young and energetic and brings a fresh perspective. Partly because she has worked extensively on anti-trust and banking cases, she is highly analytical. Appeals court judges must be analysts and be excellent writers.
The Blade endorses Christine Mayle for Ohio’s 6th District Court of Appeals.
Lindsay Navarre and Shelly Kennedy are both making their first bids for elected office, running for judge of the general division of Lucas County Common Pleas Court. Law school classmates and friends, each brings unique experience to the race.
Mrs. Kennedy was hired right out of the University of Toledo law school by then-Lucas County Common Pleas Judge James Jensen as his staff attorney. She now holds the same position for Ohio’s 6th District Court of Appeals. This means she drafts, and sometimes edits and polishes, legal opinions.
Ms. Navarre joined the Lucas County prosecutor’s office after UT law school, and she still works there. She is now an assistant prosecutor in the criminal division. She has tried scores of criminal cases, including high-profile murder and rape cases.
Ms. Navarre is regarded by other lawyers in the county as one of our finest trial lawyers. She is known for her poise and ability to think quickly on her feet in court, as trial attorneys must.
Mrs. Kennedy, as a legal researcher and writer by trade, calls herself “a neutral” — excellent training for a judge.
The Blade will not endorse in this race because, clearly, both candidates would make fine judges. This is a good problem for voters to have.
Each voter must decide for himself, or herself, whether trial work or legal writing and research seems a more fitting training ground for a common pleas judge. The Blade has every confidence that, in the fullness of time, both of these superb candidates will be judges.
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