Justice joins calls to yank spot, but party stands firm

  • Supreme-Court-Ad-Dispute-O-Neill

    Democratic Ohio Supreme Court candidate William O'Neill.


  • Republican Ohio Supreme Court Justice Robert Cupp.
    Republican Ohio Supreme Court Justice Robert Cupp.
    Democratic Ohio Supreme Court candidate William O'Neill.
    Democratic Ohio Supreme Court candidate William O'Neill.

    COLUMBUS — The Ohio State Bar Association called Friday on the state Republican Party to pull a television ad that accuses the Democratic challenger of an incumbent Ohio Supreme Court justice of being sympathetic to rapists.

    The party said it will continue to have the ad broadcast, despite the fact that the candidate it is intended to help, Justice Robert Cupp, joined the call to pull the commercial targeting Democratic former appellate judge William O’Neill.

    “We will not be taking the ad down,” party spokesman Matt Henderson said. “Judges speak through their opinions, and it’s appropriate, proper, and fair to bring those opinions to light during a campaign because we think it's important for voters to have all the facts in front of them before casting their vote on Election Day.”

    The Republican Party felt it necessary to go after Mr. O’Neill in a way it has not done with Democratic candidates for two other seats on the high court.

    “They know I’m winning,’’ Mr. O’Neill said. “Everyone knows I’m winning. The question is by how much. They will do anything to hold onto this seat. They made a terrible mistake this week. On the Internet, Justice Cupp is receiving an avalanche of bad publicity. I would suggest that with friends like this, he doesn’t need enemies.’’

    The bar said the ad, particularly its statement that “Bill O’Neill expressed sympathy for rapists,” is misleading, taking one of its court decisions out of context. The bar has rated Mr. O’Neill “recommended’’ in this race, one step below the rating of “highly recommended’’ given to Justice Cupp in his bid for a second six-year term.

    In its letter to Mr. Bennett, the ad review committee said Judge O’Neill was performing his duties as a judge, expressing a commitment to preserving justice for all parties in the opinion cited by the ad.

    “It also bears noting that this rape conviction was ultimately overturned unanimously by a three-judge panel,’’ it reads. “In the committee’s estimation, use of the above-mentioned language in the ad is misleading, impugns the candidate’s integrity, and erodes the public’s trust and confidence in the judiciary.’’

    In a statement, Cupp spokesman Mark Weaver said, “Justice Cupp and his campaign disavowed and criticized the state party’s independent ad the moment we found out about it, and we call on the state party to remove it from all forms of public distribution.”

    Ironically, Mr. O’Neill is benefiting from a process in which he refused to participate. He is the only one of six high-court candidates this year not to sign the bar’s pledge to run a clean campaign.

    Supreme Court races in the past have resulted in some of the most expensive and negative races of their kind in the nation, involving ads financed by groups not affiliated with the candidates’ campaigns. State law forbids such outside campaigns from coordinating their efforts with the candidates’ campaigns.

    With Republicans now dominating Ohio’s highest court 6-1, justice campaigns this year had been relatively quiet, with most attention and money focused on the presidential and U.S. Senate races.

    Without outside help himself, Mr. O’Neill can do little to respond to the ad on Ohio’s airwaves because he has sworn off campaign contributions as part his message that money and the judiciary don’t mix. He has criticized Justice Cupp for taking campaign contributions from parties and lawyers with cases before the court.

    Contact Jim Provance at: jprovance@theblade.com or 614-221-0496.