COLUMBUS — A judicial panel has dismissed a grievance that accused Ohio Supreme Court Justice Sharon Kennedy of a conflict of interest for speaking at an anti-abortion rights group’s fund-raiser while a Toledo clinic’s appeal to keep its doors open was pending before the court.
Ninth District Court of Appeals Judge Donna J. Carr, chief judge of the Ohio Courts of Appeals Judges Association, notified the author of the complaint, retired Columbus attorney Bret Adams, of the decision.
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“I am writing to inform you that the three-judge panel completed their review and has determined that good cause does not exist for further investigation of the grievance. Accordingly, the grievance has been dismissed,” reads the two-paragraph letter dated June 14 that was obtained by The Blade.
Justice Kennedy, a Republican former Butler County domestic relations judge and police officer, has drawn fire for a March speech she gave at the Greater Toledo Right to Life’s annual breakfast legislative briefing fund-raiser. The event occurred soon after the court had agreed to hear the appeal of the Capital Care Network abortion clinic.
The Ohio Department of Health ordered the clinic to close three years ago for lack of a valid agreement with a local hospital to transfer a patient in case of a medical emergency. Such an agreement is mandated under state law.
Capital Care struggled to find a hospital willing to enter into such an agreement, but it ultimately reached a deal with the University of Michigan Health System some 50 miles away. The department determined that the Ann Arbor hospital didn’t qualify as “local,” and lawmakers later amended the law to formally define “local” as being within 30 miles.
“The system is flawed,” Mr. Adams said today. “The alternative is to do what other states do, let lay people and people independent from the Supreme Court be involved in the disciplinary process.
“This is truly the fox guarding the hen house,” he said. “What common pleas judge is going to stand up and say a Supreme Court justice is committing an ethical violation?”
Judge Carr’s letter noted that the issue remains “private and confidential,” but Mr. Adams, as a retired attorney, said he is not bound by that.
A second complaint, filed by the liberal advocacy group ProgressOhio on similar grounds, was filed with the Supreme Court’s Office of Disciplinary Counsel, which investigates claims of professional misconduct by lawyers and judges.
The complaints alleged that Justice Kennedy’s conflict violates the Ohio Code of Judicial Conduct, which cautions against “the appearance of impropriety” and requires judges to act in way that “promotes public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary.”
Justice Kennedy, elected to fill a vacancy on the bench in 2012 and then to her own full six-year term in 2014, lists endorsements on her campaign website from several pro-life organizations.
Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor wrote in an opinion piece that Justice Kennedy had talked about the founding of the country, the constitution, and the separation of powers in her speech.
“She did not discuss or refer to any cases pending before the Supreme Court of Ohio, nor did she mention abortion and the host group’s positions,” she wrote.
Contact Jim Provance at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 614-221-0496.
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