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Published: Sunday, 10/3/2004

Fuerst says she can overcome 'numbers game' to win seat

BY JIM PROVANCE
BLADE COLUMBUS BUREAU

COLUMBUS - Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court Judge Nancy Fuerst said her opponent can play the "numbers game," comparing their years spent on the bench.

But the second-term judge said she does not believe that is how voters will decide who will become the newest member of the Ohio Supreme Court on Nov. 2. "If you want just numbers, [Judge Judith Lanzinger] is your candidate," said Judge Fuerst, 53. "If you're looking for some diversity in voices on that court, I'm your candidate. Good government comes from many voices, different points of view."

Judge Lanzinger is in her 19th year as a judge on various courts, including her current tenure on the Toledo-based 6th District Court of Appeals. Judge Fuerst, 53, of Cleveland Heights, is in her eighth year on the Cuyahoga bench.

The two are vying for the seat to be vacated by retiring Justice Francis Sweeney, one of two Democrats on the court, the only two Democrats remaining in statewide office.

"Comparison is a fair process, and I say let them compare," said Judge Fuerst "I'm very proud of my record. I'm a very experienced judge. I have more than 9,600 cases under my belt while she may have done on her time on the [Lucas County Court of Common Pleas] court 700 or 800 cases a year. I dispose of 1,200 or 1,300 cases."

Judge Fuerst's background was in economics and she ran her own catering company before she went to Cleveland Marshall College of Law. She passed the bar in 1988 and was elected to the common pleas bench just eight years later in a county where the Fuersts are a minor political dynasty.

"My record is out there," said Judge Lanzinger. "I've got 175 published opinions. I've written over 1,500. Nancy Fuerst does not have a published opinion at all.

"I don't know how many she has written as a trial judge," she said. "It's unusual to write them as a trial judge, and I had over 50 published as a trial judge."

Judge Lanzinger has espoused the "judicial restraint" philosophy in line with the current 4-3, all Republican majority on the court.

Judge Fuerst, who characterizes herself as a "moderate Democrat," has been more outspoken on issues such as school funding. The court has ruled three times that Ohio's reliance on property taxes to fund education unconstitutionally places students in poorer districts at a competitive disadvantage with their wealthier counterparts. The last ruling occurred in 2002.

"The problem squarely sits in the lap of the legislature," said Judge Fuerst. "The court has divested itself of jurisdiction .●.●. maybe out of frustration that nothing has come back to it in a timely manner.

"Although people talk about the activism of the court, the court seems to be reluctant to engage as legislators," she said. "They don't want to put the scheme together. They just want to review a scheme. They haven't been given a scheme that would pass muster or they haven't been given a scheme at all."

She said she found Gov. Bob Taft and the General Assembly to have been dismissive of the 2002 ruling. She believes it is only a matter of time before a suit is filed on one side seeking to find the state in contempt or by the state seeking a constitutional finding.

She stressed, however, that she does not know how she would rule in either case.

Despite heavy support from labor, trial lawyers, teacher unions, and asbestos workers, she said she is merely seeking a level playing field for all inside the courtroom.

"I am not leaning toward being elected with any particular agenda," she said "I am not running for the legislature. I think I have something to offer with my breadth of experience, my personal and business life. I think I can bring something to the table for discussion."

Judge Fuerst had to fight her way onto the general election ballot. The Ohio Democratic Party endorsed her opponent, Canton-based appellate Judge C. Scott Gwyn, in the Democratic primary.

With a $200,000 loan from her economist husband, John Burke, and a $50,000 contribution from her brother-in-law, Judge Fuerst financed a statewide TV campaign before the primary. She came roaring out of her home base and won nearly every other county in the state outside Judge Gwyn's Canton base.

In addition to countering her own party's endorsement, she had to counter the "highly recommended" rating that the Ohio State Bar Association gave her primary opponent. The bar rated her simply "adequate."

The OSBA has also rated Judge Lanzinger "highly recommended."



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