COLUMBUS - Candidates for the highest position on the Ohio Supreme Court squared off Wednesday in their sole head-to-head, hour-long debate.
Chief Justice Eric Brown, a Democrat, and Justice Maureen O'Connor, a Republican, are locked in a battle for chief justice of the Ohio Supreme Court on Nov. 2.
Chief Justice Brown, appointed by Gov. Ted Strickland to replace the late Chief Justice Thomas Moyer in April, called for diversity on the court without specifically saying that means keeping the court's sole Democrat on the bench.
Justice O'Connor, a former lieutenant governor seeking a promotion, argued the position of chief justice requires a proven leader, at one point saying she's still learning from the late Chief Justice Moyer. She stopped short of questioning the current chief justice's leadership abilities, as she has in private interviews.
The only true clashes between the two candidates came when questions from the audience at Cleveland-Marshall College of Law, the alma mater for both, put Justice O'Connor in the position of defending controversial rulings upholding a speeding ticket based on a police officer's visual estimate of speed and upholding a state law capping pain, suffering, and other noneconomic damages in personal injury, product liability, and other civil lawsuits.
She noted she wrote the 5-1 majority opinion earlier this year that upheld the speeding ticket.
"Yes, radar is probably the preferred method, but there are many methods that the police employ in order to determine that the motorist is exceeding the speed limit," she said.
Chief Justice Brown had not participated in either case and did not say how he would have ruled, but he said he's heard more questions from the public about the speeding case than any other.
Asked by a trial lawyer how she would explain to a client that a judge would reduce a jury award, no matter how large, to meet caps for noneconomic damages upheld by the court, Justice O'Connor noted that the caps were set by lawmakers.
Chief Justice Brown noted that prior makeups of the Supreme Court had struck down caps on damages until "a new incarnation" decided otherwise.
"I fully understand that it is the job and the responsibility of the justices and judges of the Supreme Court to uphold the law and for the legislature to develop the policy…," he said. "But the court must also not hesitate to rein in the legislature when they enact laws that are clearly contrary to the principles of the Ohio Constitution and the United States Constitution."
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