COLUMBUS - For the first time, all candidates in competitive races for the Ohio Supreme Court are on the same page, all signing a clean-campaign pledge.
Formerly known for nasty judicial campaigns, high-court contests have been relatively quiet in recent years.
"We are concerned that some recent [federal] court decisions will potentially open an influx of large sums of money back into Ohio Supreme Court races," said Dean Crago, dean of the Ohio Northern University law school and chairman of the Ohio State Bar Association's ad monitoring committee.
"We're concerned that this could put Ohio back into its former position of poster child for all that is wrong in judicial campaigns," he said.
The two candidates for chief justice on Nov. 2 - recently appointed Chief Justice Eric Brown, a Democrat, and Justice Maureen O'Connor, a Republican - signed the pledge. So did Republican Justice Judith Lanzinger of Toledo and her Democratic opponent, Warren-based appellate Judge Mary Jane Trapp.
They've agreed to personally take responsibility for their own ads and publicly disavow those produced by outside interests that attack the integrity of judges or erode public trust in the judicial system.
But signing on to a clean campaign pledge didn't prevent some campaigning during yesterday's press conference.
Justice O'Connor vowed that, despite a recent federal court ruling that struck down a Kentucky rule similar to one in Ohio barring judicial candidates from directly soliciting contributions, she will follow the rule.
"In my opinion, the principle behind the rule is irrefutable," she said. "If we want to see judicial campaigns conducted in a way that supports independence and impartiality, we cannot have judges dialing for dollars."
That was an apparent reference to her opponent. A disciplinary complaint filed by Ohio Republican Party Chairman Kevin DeWine accuses Chief Justice Brown of violating the canon by making calls to encourage attendance at a Columbus fund-raiser.
"I think her pledge is perfectly appropriate, that she's going to live by the rules that are in place in respect to fund-raising," Chief Justice Brown said yesterday. "That's something all four of us agreed to and certainly I'm going to do."
Justice Lanzinger noted that the court decision could be appealed. "I'll be glad to emphasize the length and breadth and depth of my judicial service," she said. "I'll explain my judicial philosophy and understanding of what the Supreme Court can do to administer justice without respect to persons just as our oath requires."
Judge Trapp was bar association president when Ohio became the national leader of negative judicial advertising in 2000. That was when a corporate-backed group unsuccessfully targeted then Justice Alice Robie Resnick, an Ottawa Hills Democrat, for defeat. Its ads suggested her rulings were influenced by campaign cash.
Judge Trapp yesterday recalled a conversation with her late mother, a usually loyal Republican who decided to back Justice Resnick.
"She said that she and a group of her lady Republican friends got together and they talked about that ad," she said. "They said that if they were going after her that viciously, she must be doing something right."
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