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Published: Wednesday, 3/3/2004

Cuyahoga County judge beats party, opponent in Democratic primary

BY JIM PROVANCE
BLADE STAFF WRITER

COLUMBUS - Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court Judge Nancy Fuerst fought her own party and won yesterday, handily defeating the Ohio Democratic Party machine's endorsed candidate for an open seat on the state Supreme Court.

In incomplete results, Judge Fuerst had received 58 percent to 5th District Court of Appeals Judge W. Scott Gwin's 42 percent.

Judge Fuerst, 52, of Cleveland Heights will square off on Nov. 2 against 6th District Court of Appeals Judge Judith A. Lanzinger, 57, of Toledo, who was uncontested in yesterday's Republican primary.

That means, regardless of which party wins, the replacement for retiring Democrat Justice Francis Sweeney will restore last year's short-lived, unprecedented female court majority.

“I'm thankful to the grassroots efforts that were put in over the last 15 to 16 months,” Judge Fuerst said. “I'm now looking forward to uniting the party and appealing not just to Democrats, but also Republicans and independents. When it comes to the court, we serve everyone.”

Judge Fuerst banked on, with the help of a $200,000 loan from economist husband Dr. John Burke, a flood of support from her Democrat-rich home county to offset Judge Gwin's state party and union endorsements.

She used the money to buy TV time in all the major media markets, a gamble that paid off as she led or was competitive in nearly every county outside Judge Gwin's Canton-area base. She garnered 70 percent of the vote in Lucas County.

“She had the resources to mount an effective major media campaign,” Judge Gwin said. “Looking at the partial results, I'm not sure that any amount of money I could have spent would have neutralized her strong name in northeastern Ohio.”

In all, four seats are on the ballot this year, the most in 24 years. The Fuerst-Gwin contest was the only primary match.

Justice Sweeney, one of two Democrats on the seven-member court, is barred from seeking a third six-year term because of his age. Chief Justice Thomas Moyer, a Columbus Republican, faces opposition from Democrat C. Ellen Connally, a retired Cleveland Municipal Court judge.

Justice Terrence O'Donnell, a Rocky River Republican appointed to a vacancy last year, wants to complete the two years remaining in his term. He faces 11th District Court of Appeals Judge William M. O'Neill, a Warren Democrat.

Democrats chose not to put up any opposition to Justice Paul Pfeifer. The Bucyrus Republican has often sided with the two Democrats in cases involving school funding, tort reform, labor, and insurance.



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