COLUMBUS - Five of seven candidates for four Ohio Supreme Court seats up for election this year have signed pledges they'll keep their campaigns clean and condemn others who throw mud on their behalf.
This year marked a sharp turnaround in participation in the pledge, which was drafted by the Ohio State Bar Association. During the last Supreme Court elections two years ago, not a single candidate would affix his name to the document.
"We've had a whole other election cycle where they've seen behavior that was really not in the best interests of the voters of the state of Ohio," said Dean Crago, chairman of the bar's Judicial Election Campaign Advertising Monitoring Committee.
The two dissenters were Justice Paul Pfeifer, a Republican unopposed in his bid for another six-year term, and Warren-based appellate Judge William M. O'Neill, a Democrat challenging Republican Justice Terrence O'Donnell.
"I would be signing a pledge that I would not question the integrity of the judicial system in Ohio," said Judge O'Neill. "I fully intend to question the integrity of the judiciary. I love lawyers, I love judges, and I love our system, but I genuinely feel it is mortally wounded."
He has vowed to accept no more than $100 from individual contributors or $1,000 from political action committees to counter what he says is a judicial campaign system tainted by money.
Justice O'Donnell, appointed to his seat last year, did sign the pledge, having seen first-hand an anonymously funded, pro-business campaign that targeted his then-opponent, incumbent Justice Alice Robie Resnick, for defeat in 2000.
Mounting his first campaign for the high court, he did not condemn the outside ads during that campaign and ultimately lost handily to Justice Resnick, an Ottawa Hills Democrat. Some political observers credited the margin of his defeat to a negative backlash to the ads.
"Today we don't want campaigns to be hijacked by third-party or independent efforts, diverting a message and impugning the integrity or demeaning public confidence in the judiciary," said Justice O'Donnell.
Republican appellate Judge Judith Lanzinger of Toledo and her Democratic opponent, Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Judge Nancy Fuerst, have signed the pledge. They are vying for the seat to be vacated by retiring Democratic Justice Francis Sweeney.
Also signing were Chief Justice Thomas Moyer, a Republican, and his Democratic opponent, retired Cleveland Municipal Judge C. Ellen Connally.
In a letter to the bar, Ohio Democratic Party Chairman Dennis White said he advised his party's candidates to sign despite his own reservations.
"I am concerned that, although well-intentioned, this agreement is solely for the benefit of incumbents on the Supreme Court," he wrote. "It does not address the real issue of the judicial campaigns, money, nor does it include all the other judicial races going on in this state."
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