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Published: Wednesday, 8/1/2001

Job offer sparks interest in Justice Douglas' plans

BY JAMES DREW
BLADE COLUMBUS BUREAU CHIEF

COLUMBUS - Ohio Supreme Court Justice Andy Douglas is in line to become the general counsel of the national Fraternal Order of Police.

The critical question is “When?”

The national Fraternal Order of Police is holding its national conference Aug. 12-16 in Phoenix.

The 297,000-member group is expected to elect Steve Young, a lieutenant with the Marion police department and former Ohio FOP president, as national president.

Mr. Young said yesterday he would like to hire Justice Douglas as general counsel, but Justice Douglas can't take the job until he resigns from the court.

“I have no indication he could join me before the 16 months left of his term ends,” said Mr. Young, who is the FOP's national vice president.

Justice Douglas, 69, said he intends to complete his six-year term on the high court. It expires Dec. 31, 2002. His annual salary is $120,750.

“I anticipate finishing my term, barring something unforeseen,” said Justice Douglas, who is barred by the state Constitution from running for re-election next year because of his age.

Asked if “something unforeseen” would include becoming the national FOP's general counsel, Justice Douglas replied: “No.”

Speculation has centered on whether Justice Douglas would step down so his longtime friend and political ally, state Treasurer Joe Deters, could replace him. Governor Taft would make the appointment.

That could alter the balance of power on the state's highest court to the right.

“Is that in the works?” Justice Douglas asked. “Only if it was discussed with me, and it has not been. I've not talked to the governor about leaving.”

Mr. Deters was not available for comment.

“I see nothing on the horizon that indicates that Joe is doing anything other than running for attorney general,” said Bob Bennett, chairman of the Ohio Republican Party.

The future of Justice Douglas is under close scrutiny as state officials and citizens await the Supreme Court's ruling on the legislature's latest attempt to overhaul the school-funding system.

Twice since 1997, the high court has declared in 4-3 decisions that Ohio's school-funding formula is unconstitutional, in large part because it relies too much on local real estate taxes and causes inequities between property-rich and poor districts.

Justice Douglas is considered the architect of the four-vote majority, which includes Republican Paul Pfeifer and Democrats Alice Robie Resnick and Francis Sweeney.

The dissenters are Chief Justice Thomas Moyer and fellow Republicans Deborah Cook and Evelyn Stratton.

Recent leaks from unnamed court sources to the press have tried to fuel talk that Justice Douglas could switch sides, handing the state a victory in the decade-long case. Justice Douglas declined to comment.

The end of the school-funding case could clear the way for Justice Douglas to step down, but it's unclear whether the court will order the legislature back to the drawing board and set a new deadline - or bring the case to a close.

The court conferred about the case behind closed doors on July 17, but there was no word on when a decision will be released.

Justice Douglas is close to Mr. Deters, a former Hamilton County prosecutor. Both men share common ground in support of the death penalty.

If Governor Taft agreed to appoint Mr. Deters as Justice Douglas' successor, he would eliminate a contested primary for the GOP nomination next year for attorney general.

State Auditor Jim Petro and Mr. Deters are vying for that post, and GOP officials are trying to avoid a potential bloodletting.

Mr. Bennett said Justice Douglas told him two months ago over lunch that he will finish his term.

Justice Douglas said he has been friends with Mr. Young for several years.

A former union steward at Kroger, Justice Douglas was elected to 10 terms on Toledo city council in the 1960s and 1970s. On the bench he often sides with labor interests.

Justice Douglas was elected to the Supreme Court in 1984 and re-elected in 1990 and 1996.



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