Judges compete in GOP primary for Ohio Supreme Court seat

By ANDREW WELSH-HUGGINS - AP Legal Affairs Writer

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Two Republican judges, one well-funded, the other a challenger of court campaign finance rules, face each other in an Ohio Supreme Court primary ahead of the fall election.

The winner of that race will compete for an open court seat against Democratic Judge John P. O’Donnell, a Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court judge and a former private attorney and insurance adjustor.

In the Republican primary, GOP candidate Pat Fischer is a judge on the 1st Ohio District Court of Appeals in Cincinnati and a former private attorney.

His opponent is Republican Judge Colleen O’Toole of the 11th Ohio District Court of Appeals in Warren. She is a former public defender and private attorney.

The Ohio State Bar Association, in its annual ratings, listed Fischer as highly recommended and O’Toole as not recommended. O’Donnell is rated as recommended.

The bar association doesn’t comment on individual ratings. Candidates who receive favorable evaluations from less than 60 percent of a 25-member evaluation panel are rated “Not Recommended” and are considered unable “to perform the duties and responsibilities of chief justice or justice.”

A “Highly Recommended” rating requires favorable evaluations of at least 70 percent of panel members, meaning a candidate who “would be capable of outstanding performance as the chief justice or justice.”

The most recent campaign finance reports show O’Toole with $1,395 cash on hand and Fischer with $86,174 cash on hand.

Fischer has signed contracts for $54,470 in TV ads, with the first ad scheduled to run last month, according to an analysis of Federal Communications Commission records by Justice at Stake and the Brennan Center for Justice. No other Ohio Supreme Court candidate has booked TV time to date, the groups said.

In the 2013-14 election cycle, Ohio was one of a handful of states where election spending topped $1 million per Supreme Court seat, according to Susan Liss, executive director of Justice at Stake, a nonpartisan nonprofit group that tracks judicial election spending.

Last year, O’Toole unsuccessfully sued for the ability to raise campaign funds earlier than state judicial rules allow.

O’Toole argued the rules prohibiting fundraising until 120 days before a primary election were a free speech violation.

She also said groups such as political action committees don’t face similar restrictions, and judicial candidates with leftover funds from previous campaigns can spend money outside the 120-day window as long they don’t expressly solicit funds. A federal judge and the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals both rejected her arguments.

In the fall, two candidates are running for a second open seat on the high court.

Democratic Judge Cynthia Rice sits on the 11th Ohio District Court of Appeals in Warren and is a former county and federal prosecutor.

Her opponent, GOP Judge Pat DeWine, sits on the 1st Ohio District Court of Appeals in Cincinnati and is a former Hamilton County trial judge, Cincinnati city councilman and Hamilton County commissioner. He is the son of Attorney General Mike DeWine.

The bar association rates Rice as highly recommended and DeWine as not recommended.

The two seats are open with justices Paul Pfeifer and Judith Lanzinger retiring because of mandatory age limits.

Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor, a Republican, is running unopposed in the fall. She’s rated highly recommended.


Andrew Welsh-Huggins can be reached on Twitter at https://twitter.com/awhcolumbus. His work can be found at http://bigstory.ap.org/content/andrew-welsh-huggins


AP Legal Affairs Writer

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