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Published: Friday, 12/10/2010

Gov. Strickland picks former running mate as high court justice

COLUMBUS — Yvette McGee Brown, who would have been lieutenant governor if Gov. Ted Strickland's re-election bid had been successful, will become the first African-American woman to serve on the Ohio Supreme Court.

The Democratic governor said Friday that, as one of his last acts before leaving office on Jan. 10, he will name the former Franklin County Juvenile Court judge to fill the vacancy that will be created on Jan. 1 when Republican Justice Maureen O'Connor is elevated to chief justice.

Justice O'Connor rolled to victory on Nov. 2 with 68 percent of the vote over Democratic Chief Justice Eric Brown, who was appointed to the post by Mr. Strickland last spring following the death of Chief Justice Thomas Moyer.

The two Browns are not related. There are four years left in the associate justice term Justice O'Connor will vacate.

Ms. Brown, 50, most recently served as president of Nationwide Children's Hospital's non-profit Center for Family Advocacy in Columbus before Mr. Strickland asked her to be his running mate. Before that she spent 10 years on the juvenile court bench, a post she said she gave up to avoid burnout after years of seeing “horrific'' things in her courtroom.

This will be her first appellate post, and she said she sees this as an opportunity to continue to work on issues that affect children.

On the campaign trail, Mr. Strickland said he had been impressed by Ms. Brown's story of working her way through law school after being raised in poverty by a single teenage mother and her grandmother.

“Throughout her life, from a humble upbringing to a distinguished career serving others, Yvette has embodied the highest levels of personal integrity and an exceptional intellectual capacity,'' Mr. Strickland said. “Her diversity of experience, work as a former judge, and advocacy for the welfare of Ohio families will add a unique perspective and balanced decision-making to Ohio's Supreme Court.

“I have no doubt that Yvette will provide a wise and compassionate voice for the most vulnerable to our highest court,” he said.

Ms. Brown is married to a retired public school special education teacher and is the mother of three.

“I think every justice brings their own personal philosophy and background,'' Ms. Brown said. “My life and experience is different from all of (the other justices), just like Justice (Evelyn Lundberg) Stratton's growing up in a missionary family has impacted her decisions.

“My perspective may sometimes be different, and I may approach cases with my unique perspective and life experience, but at the end of the day, it's about the law,'' she said. “I have complete fidelity to interpreting the law.''

Mr. Strickland has frequently said that he believes he has succeeded in increasing diversity on Ohio's courts through his appointments. In addition to being the first African-American woman to serve on the bench, Ms. Brown will be the only current African-American on the court. Her appointment also shifts the court to a rare 4-3 female majority.

“I love that,'' Ms. Brown said. “It's just such an opportunity to have a woman majority court. We're going to have the first woman chief justice in (Ohio Supreme) court history. That's something special. It isn't the first time there's been a woman majority, but it doesn't happen often, and we need to celebrate and affirm that.''

The appointment will not require Ohio Senate confirmation. After serving for two years as justice, Ms. Brown will have to run in 2012 for the right to complete what will then be the last two years of the term. She said Friday that she's prepared, if necessary, to run potentially two more campaigns in four years.

Chief Justice Eric Brown is currently the only Democrat on the bench. No Democrat has won election to the state's high court in a decade.

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