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Published: Friday, 6/6/2003

4 Ohio justices hold court for GOP hopefuls

BY FRITZ WENZEL
BLADE POLITICAL WRITER

The Lucas County Republican Party marked a high point in judicial fund-raising last night, playing host to four of the seven sitting justices on the Ohio Supreme Court at an event designed to benefit local candidates for seats on the bench.

It was the first time in memory that a majority of the court had appeared at the same local fund-raising event, said Bernadette Noe, chairman of the county GOP.

“The Franklin County people said `We can't even do this,'” said lawyer and event chairman Tim Kuhlman of a conversation he recently had with a colleague in Columbus, where the court is based.

“It's a long-term goal of the party to get qualified judges. This is something that helps,” Mr. Kuhlman said, in part because lawyers are more likely to enter a race if they know their political party can offer them seed money for their campaigns.

About 100 people, mostly lawyers, attended the event at the Toledo Club on Madison Avenue, where Chief Justice Thomas Moyer and Justices Maureen O'Connor, Evelyn Lundberg-Stratton, and Terrence O'Donnell spoke.

Ms. Noe said about $10,000 was raised for a special fund set aside for judicial candidates.

By law, political parties must establish separate accounts for candidates for judgeships.

All four justices are Republicans, who now control the court - a change from last year, when the GOP held a majority of seats but could only watch as Democrats exercised ideological control. Republican Justice Andy Douglas used to be the swing vote, regularly siding with Democrats. He was unable to run for re-election last year, and Ms. O'Connor captured the seat.

Beginning his speech, Chief Justice Moyer said, “I've been told I am smiling a lot more” since Ms. O'Connor joined the bench in January. “It's my privilege to introduce you to the new Gang of Four.” The remark was an ironic reference to the title given by The Blade's editorial writers to the old majority that, in 1997, ruled unconstitutional the method used by Ohio to fund its public schools.

That case triggered years of sometimes acrimonious battles over school funding among lawmakers in Columbus who tried to comply with the court's mandated remedy. The controversy receded last year after Ms. O'Connor's election to the court changed its balance.

Mr. O'Donnell, an unsuccessful candidate for the high court in 2000, was appointed to the bench recently to fill the seat left vacant by Deborah Cook, who won a federal judicial appointment. Mr. O'Donnell has served on the court just 11 days.

“The most striking aspect for me on the Supreme Court is the congeniality. There is a terrific spirit of group decision-making,” the new justice said.

Ms. O'Connor and Ms. Lundberg-Stratton said the same thing, expressing surprise at the collegiality in light of the intense acrimony that surrounded both their campaigns for the bench last year.

The justices promised locals would see a lot more of them during the next 18 months, as four seats on the high court are up for grabs in the November, 2004, election.



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