Election preview on Ohio Supreme Court races

By MARC KOVAC C-N Capital Bureau Published:

COLUMBUS -- Ohio's nonpartisan judicial races often fly under voters' radars, with candidates limited in what they can say and how they say it.

But at least one of three races for the state's high court is garnering increased attention, with a pointed television advertisement released in recent days by supporters and a challenger who is questioning campaign contributions to the incumbent by parties involved in cases before the court.

That race involves Justice Robert Cupp, seeking a second term on the Ohio Supreme Court, and Bill O'Neill, a former appeals court judge.

Voters also will decide between Justice Terrence O'Donnell, who is facing Democratic state Sen. Mike Skindell, and Justice Yvette McGee Brown, who is facing Sharon Kennedy.

The Cupp-O'Neill and O'Donnell-Skindell races are for full six-year terms on the court, while the McGee Brown-Kennedy race is for the remainder of a term that ends in 2014.

McGee Brown vs. Kennedy

McGee Brown was appointed to the Ohio Supreme Court by Gov. Ted Strickland during his final days in office. She was Strickland's running mate in his unsuccessful bid for reelection and took the seat formerly occupied by Justice Maureen O'Connor, who was elected chief justice.

McGee Brown formerly was president of the Center for Child and Family Advocacy at Nationwide Children's Hospital. She served from 1993-2002 as a common pleas judge in central Ohio.

McGee Brown is the lone Democrat on the Supreme Court but has sided with the majority most of the time. The handful of times she has dissented in a case, she was joined by Republican members.

McGee Brown was one of two Supreme Court candidates who received a "highly recommended" rating from the Ohio State Bar Association's Commission on Judicial Candidates.

Her challenger is Judge Sharon L. Kennedy, who is in her third term in the domestic relations division of Butler County Common Pleas Court. She also served as a special counsel for former Attorney General Betty Montgomery and as a part-time magistrate. And she served as a police officer in the city of Hamilton.

Kennedy has snagged endorsements from the Buckeye Firearms Association, Ohio Right to Life, the National Federation of Independent Businesses and other groups, though she was the lone candidate to receive a "not recommended" rating from the Ohio State Bar Association's Commission on Judicial Candidates.

O'Donnell-Skindell

O'Donnell has served on the Ohio Supreme Court since 2003. Prior, he served nearly a decade on the 8th District Court of Appeals and for more than a dozen years as a judge in Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court.

O'Donnell also was as a law clerk for Ohio Supreme Court Justice J.J.P. Corrigan in 1971 and for two other judges in the 8th District Court before becoming a judge himself.

He received a "recommended" rating from the Ohio State Bar Association's Commission on Judicial Candidates.

Skindell was a state representative for seven years before winning election to the Ohio Senate, representing a Cleveland-area district. He also served as a member of the Lakewood City Council from 1998-2002, did a stint as an assistant attorney general and served for a decade as a hearing officer in the Ohio Department of Health.

Skindell did not run in the Democratic primary for the Supreme Court race, however. Austintown attorney Bob Price secured the party nomination but dropped out, saying he didn't have the resources to run a successful campaign.

Skindell received a "recommended" rating from the Ohio State Bar Association's Commission on Judicial Candidates.

Cupp-O'Neill

Cupp is seeking a second term on the Ohio Supreme Court. He was elected in 2006 after serving as an appeals court judge in the 3rd District (northwestern Ohio).

He served in the state Senate for 16 years and was forced out due to term limits. He also did stints as the city prosecutor and assistant law director in Lima and as an Allen County commissioner.

Cupp was the only other court candidate this cycle to receive a "highly recommended" rating from the Ohio State Bar Association's Commission on Judicial Candidates.

O'Neill served 10 years on the 11th District Court of Appeals and was an assistant attorney general for a dozen years prior to that.

This is the retired U.S. Army lieutenant colonel's third run for the state's high court, in addition to an unsuccessful campaign for Congress. He currently works as a registered nurse in a hospital pediatric emergency department.

O'Neill received a "recommended" rating from the Ohio State Bar Association's Commission on Judicial Candidates.

Ad Issue

The race between Cupp and O'Neill has gained increased attention in recent days, due to a television ad released by the Ohio Republican Party that alleged O'Neill "expressed sympathy for rapists" when he was a judge.

Cupp did not review the ad in advance or offer his endorsement of it.

Rhetoric in the race was already somewhat heated, with O'Neill making pointed comments about Cupp's campaign accepting contributions from plaintiffs in a case before the Supreme Court and chastising the Republican-dominated court for failing to deal with the state's school funding issue.

The Republican Party ad drew increased criticism from Democrats, with Skindell saying, "There's no place for this shameful behavior on the part of the Ohio Republican Party and their Chairman Bob Bennett. Mr. Bennett, have you no sense of common decency? Pull down this ad and please deliver the apology to the people of Ohio they so rightly deserve."

Cupp quickly distanced himself from the ad and urged the Republican Party to pull it.

"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," Mark Weaver, spokesman for Cupp's campaign, said in a released statement.

And the Ohio State Bar Association's Campaign Advertising Committee sent a letter to Bennett seeking the same.

"The committee unanimously determined that statements in the ad, taken as a whole, violate committee standards in that they impugn the integrity of the judicial system, the integrity of a candidate for the Supreme Court of Ohio, and erode the public trust and confidence in the independence and impartiality of the judiciary by attempting to lead voters to believe that a candidate will decide issues or cases in a predetermined manner," wrote committee Chairwoman Maxine Thomas.

Want to leave your comments?

Sign in or Register to comment.