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Published: Friday, 2/10/2006

Former Columbus lawmaker, Cleveland judge join court race

Espy Espy

COLUMBUS - Former state Sen. Ben Espy has thrown his hat into the Democratic race to replace retiring Justice Alice Robie Resnick on the Ohio Supreme Court.

The move by the 62-year-old former Senate minority leader sets up a primary election contest on May 2 with Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Judge Peter Sikora.

It also sets up the potential for a face-off in the November election between two former state Senate colleagues with very different ideas on such issues as school funding and tort reform that have ended up before the court before and could again.

Republicans have endorsed Lima-based appellate judge and former Sen. Bob Cupp for the sole remaining Democrat-held seat on the court.

"It should make it a pretty clear race for the voters," Ohio Republican Party spokesman John McClelland said.

Next Thursday is the deadline for filing nominating petitions for the May 2 primary.

Mr. Espy, a Columbus attorney, has not served as a judge. He would be the only African-American among candidates in either party for two seats up this year on the currently all-white court.

Sikora Sikora

"What is more important is the philosophy of the court," Mr. Espy said. "I believe the philosophy should be different than what the court has now."

Although the court's partisan makeup is 6-1, it has demonstrated a 5-2 leaning on a few issues with Justice Paul Pfeifer, a Bucyrus Republican, joining Justice Resnick of Ottawa Hills in the minority.

Judge Sikora, 54, formally announced his candidacy yesterday, saying he believes it is important for Democrats to hold on to that last seat.

"Our system of government works well because of checks and balances," he said. "But those checks and balances don't work if we've got one-party rule for so long. ... I think that applies even on the Supreme Court."

He said he would come to the court with his own life experiences embedded in him.

Those experiences include standing as a child in an unemployment line with his carpenter father, a man whom he remembers refusing to cross a picket line.

Partially paralyzed in a trampoline accident at 17, Judge Sikora made the decision to circulate photographs of himself in his wheelchair among his press materials.

"The reality is that my being in the wheelchair probably loses some votes for me," he said. "The reality is that it may gain some votes for me. To me, it's just part of who I am. I made the call that what you see is what you get."

This will be Mr. Espy's first statewide race.

Judge Sikora ran unsuccessfully 10 years ago against then-Justice Andrew Douglas, a Republican who had the support of labor and trial lawyers, normally Democratic constituencies.

The second seat on the ballot is the one held by Republican Justice Terrence O'Donnell. Montgomery County Common Pleas Judge A.J. Wagner and Warren-based appellate Judge William O'Neill will vie in the primary election for the Democratic nomination to challenge Justice O'Donnell.

-Jim Provance

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