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Published: Thursday, 9/30/2010

For Ohio Supreme Court

Voters will elect three of the Ohio Supreme Court's seven justices, including its chief justice, to six-year terms in November. On a close call, The Blade recommends the election of Justice MAUREEN O'CONNOR as chief justice.

For the other open seat, we prefer Judge MARY JANE TRAPP. Incumbent Justice Paul Pfeifer is unopposed for the third seat.

Although Supreme Court candidates are elected in partisan primaries, they run without party labels in the general election. Ms. O'Connor is a Republican; her opponent, Chief Justice Eric Brown, is a Democrat.

Ms. O'Connor would be the first woman chief justice in the high court's history. She brings to the race a long and diverse career in public service.

A former judge, magistrate, and prosecutor in Summit County, Ms. O'Connor was elected lieutenant governor in 1998. She also served as director of the Ohio Department of Public Safety, and helped lead the effort to carry out new security measures after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks.

Ms. O'Connor was elected to the Supreme Court in 2002, and won re-election two years ago with 67 percent of the vote. That made her the highest vote-getter on the ballot in a largely Democratic year.

Ms. O'Connor insists that only the law, not political affiliation, should determine how a justice rules on individual cases. Although she is part of the court's 6-1 Republican majority, she often casts a swing vote: On 17 occasions, she has written an initial dissent, only to see it become the majority opinion when her argument swayed one or more colleagues.

Chief Justice Brown's title is a bit misleading. Gov. Ted Strickland named him to the court in April, after the sudden death of then-Chief Justice Thomas Moyer. Critics assailed the appointment as an inappropriate effort to give Mr. Brown an advantage in the general election.

Before he joined the high court, Mr. Brown was elected a probate court judge in Franklin County in 2008. Previously, he was a common pleas court judge in the county.

Mr. Brown also spent 10 years as an assistant state attorney general, working for attorneys general of both parties. He was the state's lead attorney for six years in its lawsuit against the tobacco industry.

Both candidates have solid qualifications, but her longer experience on the high court gives Maureen O'Connor the slight edge in the election for Chief Justice.

In the other race, Ms. Trapp, a judge on the state's 10th District Court of Appeals, will bring needed balance to the high court. More important, she offers an impressive legal mind.

The Judicial Candidates Rating Coalition, a nonpartisan group composed of three Cleveland-area bar associations and one statewide association, gave Ms. Trapp a perfect score of 4.0 and an “excellent” rating. Her opponent, Justice Judith Lanzinger got a 2.6 score and an “adequate to good” rating.

Ms. Trapp. a graduate of Case Western Reserve University's law school, has written many articles on legal topics and is a sought-after lecturer on legal issues. The Supreme Court has appointed her to several task forces and commissions.

Before she joined the appeals court, Ms. Trapp was a practicing attorney for 25 years. She has more experience in that role than any current Supreme Court justice. She is a former president of the Ohio State Bar Association.

The election of Ms. Trapp, a Democrat, also would maintain a degree of partisan balance on the bench. Such diversity is desirable. Four years ago, the then all-Republican Supreme Court invented an executive privilege for a Republican governor, Bob Taft, aimed at protecting him from political fallout from Coingate and associated scandals.

That ruling belied the court's claim of judicial independence. So did a 2006 New York Times report that Ohio justices voted in favor of campaign contributors 79 percent of the time.

Justice Lanzinger voted for the executive privilege. She also voted with the high court's majority this year for a bizarre ruling that a police officer's guess is all that's needed to convict a motorist of speeding.

Former Chief Justice Moyer, who led the Republican court, called for removing politics and influence from the Supreme Court, either by having justices initially appointed rather than elected or by having judicial campaigns publicly funded. Until one of those things happens, voters should make sure the high court represents a wide range of opinions.

For balance, diversity, and raising the bar, Mary Jane Trapp is the better choice for Supreme Court justice.



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