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Published: Wednesday, 10/16/2002

Ad claims business steers GOP candidates


COLUMBUS - A group financed by plaintiff lawyers, teachers' unions, and labor fired the first shot yesterday in the anticipated media war of special interests over control of the Ohio Supreme Court.

A 30-second television ad, against images of two men in suits laughing inside a limousine, charges that incumbent Justice Evelyn Stratton and Lt. Gov. Maureen O'Connor, both Republican candidates for two seats on the high court, are in the pockets of large corporations and insurance companies.

Their Democratic opponents, Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Judge Janet Burnside and Hamilton County Municipal Judge Tim Black, respectively, are painted as pro-family and pro-worker against friendly images of a family and a welder at work.

“It is the [Justice Alice Robie] Resnick campaign tactics all over again,” Justice Stratton said following a joint appearance with her opponent before the Franklin County Consortium, a group of 50 religious, civic, and cultural organizations.

“It's very ironic that the trial lawyers, who denounced the [business-backed, anti-] Resnick campaign so thoroughly two years ago, have now engaged in the same tactics ...,” she said. “I think it's absolutely demeaning to suggest that I am against working families.”

Judge Burnside, in turn, said she will lead by example by airing only positive ads. But she defended her own spot that began airing last week that states “big corporations and special interests want to control the Ohio Supreme Court.”

“That is a fair statement of what's out there,” Judge Burnside said. “Ever since I started campaigning, I have talked about the voices out there this time calling for judges who will be pro this or that ... I'm against that.”

Justice Stratton is typically among the minority in the current 4-3 philosophical divide seen in cases involving school funding, workers' compensation, and attempts to rein in jury awards in medical malpractice, product liability, and other litigation.

The ad cites a study by the Ohio Chamber of Commerce that Justice Stratton has taken the pro-business position in insurance cases 94 percent of the time.

“It's negative campaigning as we expected from the supporters of the opposition,” said Ms. O'Connor, who attended but did not participate in last night's forum.

The business-backed Citizens for a Strong Ohio is already on the radio with ads praising Justice Stratton. Informed Citizens of Ohio - a business-backed “issue advocacy” effort that, unlike the Independent Court political action committee, does not have to reveal its contributors - is expected to hit the air soon with ads focusing on economic issues.

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