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Published: Wednesday, 4/14/2010

Strickland seeks balance in Supreme Court appointment

BY JIM PROVANCE
BLADE COLUMBUS BUREAU CHIEF

COLUMBUS - Gov. Ted Strickland said yesterday that he has found Ohio's judiciary to be "too white" and "too male," but he declined to indicate whether that thinking will play into his decision as to who will replace the late Chief Justice Thomas Moyer on the state Supreme Court.

"I have appointed approximately 45 judges so far and one third of those appointments have been African-American," he told attendees of an Ohio NAACP Conference. "I've done that because the judiciary, as well as other branches of government, should reflect the people.

"The judiciary, quite frankly, has been too male and too white," he said. "I've had the opportunity to not only appoint African-Americans to the bench, I have had the privilege of appointing more women to the bench, and in some cases they have been African-American women."

But when pressed afterward as to whether he would appoint an African-American or woman to replace the late Republican chief justice, the Democratic governor said simply, "It'll be a human being."

The court is currently all white and consists of four men and three women. In the last decade, the court had two brief stints in which women outnumbered the men.

Justice Moyer died on April 2 just shy of his 71st birthday. He was in his final year on the high court bench because he had surpassed the mandatory retirement age. The governor has the opportunity to add a Democrat to what is now an all-Republican court to complete the 8 1/2 months left in the chief justice term.

Voters were already slated to elect a chief justice on Nov. 2.

Current Justice Maureen O'Connor is seeking a promotion against Democratic Franklin County Probate Judge Eric Brown. All of the candidates for this seat and two other justice seats on the ballot are white.

The governor could appoint Judge Brown, whom he recruited to run. That would hand Judge Brown the advantage of running as an incumbent in his contest against Justice O'Connor, a strong candidate in prior elections.

The governor could also fill the post with someone who would fill the post temporarily and not run in the fall. While the seat remains vacant, it creates the possibility of a tie vote on what is now an even-numbered court. Justice Paul Pfeifer, the most senior member, is acting chief until Mr. Strickland makes his decision.

"I'm looking for someone who is qualified certainly and would bring some balance to the court," Mr. Strickland said.

Contact Jim Provance at:

jprovance@theblade.com

or 614-221-0496.



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