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Published: Thursday, 4/20/2006

2 Democrats decline to sign pledge for 'clean' campaign

BY JIM PROVANCE
BLADE COLUMBUS BUREAU

COLUMBUS - Perhaps an early sign of what's to come, two Democrats hoping to challenge Ohio Supreme Court Justice Terrence O'Donnell this fall have refused to sign a "clean campaign pledge" proffered by the Ohio State Bar Association.

"We do have issues out there with money laundered from Tom Noe, and [Justice O'Donnell] having $18,000 in his car that's never in my view been satisfactorily explained," Montgomery County Common Pleas Judge A.J. Wagner said.

"If someone raises an issue and tells the truth and the whole truth, I don't want to be in a position of being judged as having acted improperly," he said. "I would have no problem denouncing somebody who isn't telling the truth."

His May 2 primary election opponent, Warren appellate Judge William O'Neill, also refused to sign the pledge, which requires candidates to not only take personal responsibility for their own ads but to publicly disavow outside ads questioning the integrity of a candidate or eroding the public's confidence in the judiciary.

"The Ohio State Bar Association is not enforcing Canon 7. They've been silent," said Judge O'Neill, referring to the Ohio Code of Judicial Conduct.

Canon 7, among other things, prohibits judges from participating in inappropriate political activity.

"The bar association is trying to put a happy face on a sow pig," he said.

Justice O'Donnell, who is unopposed for the GOP nomination, signed the pledge.

"Justice O'Donnell intends to run a positive campaign for re-election to the Supreme Court of Ohio in a dignified and professional manner as he did in 2004, and he is very grateful to Ohio's voters for the 900,000 vote margin of victory he received statewide in that election," campaign manager Mike Gonidakis said.

Also signing were the three candidates for the seat to be vacated by retiring Justice Alice Robie Resnick.

They include Lima appellate Judge Robert Cupp, the sole Republican candidate, and former state Sen. Ben Espy and Cuyahoga County Juvenile Court Judge Peter Sikora, both Democrats.

"In years past, Ohio was the poster child and a national example for much of what was wrong with judicial elections," bar President Jane Taylor said. "However, the campaigns for the Supreme Court of Ohio in the last election were much calmer and more focused on candidate credentials."

Republicans dominate the court 7-1. Democrats hope that GOP scandals will stain Justice O'Donnell as well.

Justice O'Donnell and two other Republican justices recently placed campaign contributions received from former gubernatorial aide H. Douglas Talbott in escrow after it was revealed the money had been allegedly laundered by Mr. Noe, a former Maumee coin dealer.

The justice also made headlines last year when he told police that $18,000 in cash had been stolen from his state-issued car while it was parked in the Flats District of Cleveland.

Justice O'Donnell said he forgot to deposit the money to pay for remodeling to two houses in Port Clinton.

This marks the second time in two years in which Judge O'Neill has refused to sign the pledge. Judge Wagner said he tried to sign an "amended" version to allow truthful criticism, but the bar refused to accept it.

Contact Jim Provance at:

jprovance@theblade.com

or 614-221-0496.



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