In the three races for the Ohio Supreme Court, we urge Athens County voters to lend support to the three Democrats running for election on the overwhelmingly Republican court.
In each contested race for the state's high court, we believe the qualified Democratic candidate offers the best chance to pull a conservative court over toward the middle where most Ohioans reside ideologically and politically.
We endorse Justice Yvette McGee Brown in her race against Sharon L. Kennedy; William M. O'Neill in his race against Justice Robert R. Cupp; and Mike J. Skindell in his race against Justice Terrence O'Donnell.
Currently, the party divide on the Ohio Supreme Court includes six Republicans and one Democrat, McGee Brown. This overwhelming GOP advantage has held true for many years on Ohio's highest court, and we believe that it's long past the time when the court more closely reflects the relative even party and ideological balance in this state.
While we're obviously in favor of a more balanced court, in each of the three races, we also happen to believe the Democrats have a qualified and impressive candidate:
• Yvette McGee Brown, who was appointed to fill a vacant position on the state Supreme Court by then Gov. Ted Strickland in January 2011, has been an impressive jurist who has won praise from her Republican co-justices She has excelled at every stopping point in her long career in public service, both in the judiciary and private sector.
Her opponent, Sharon L. Kennedy, a former police officer and current judge, is the only candidate in the Supreme Court races this fall who received a "not recommended" rating by the Ohio State Bar Association. She doesn't offer any compelling reason to vote for her over Justice McGee Brown.
• William O'Neill (an Ohio University grad) is a retired appeals judge from Geauga County who currently works as an emergency room nurse. He ran unsuccessfully for the state Supreme Court in 2006, and then as now, he emphasized the need to eliminate the corrupting role of campaign contributions in judicial elections.
He has proposed a plan to replace the current system – which undermines the integrity of the courts – with one that would provide public financing of judicial elections.
This is a particularly timely proposal in this race since his opponent, Justice Cupp, has been the recipient of hefty campaign contributions from executives whose corporations had cases before the court. O'Neill, meanwhile, doesn't accept campaign contributions.
While conventional wisdom holds that the GOP justices who receive corporate donations haven't shown favoritism to their contributors, that doesn't mean they won't in the future. It's really not a convincing conclusion anyway, since one can't easily parse a judge's motivations in something as complicated as a case before the high court.
While Cupp has gotten high marks for his work on the court, we believe O'Neill's spirit of judicial reform is badly needed on Ohio's top court.
• Perhaps the toughest sell for the high court is Michael Skindell, a Cleveland area trial lawyer who's currently serving in the state Senate.
His opponent, Justice O'Donnell, has served on the state Supreme Court since 2003. Like Cupp, O'Donnell has benefited from corporate donations in past judicial races. He even served as the lead-in to a 2006 story in the New York Times about how campaign cash was polluting judicial campaigns nationwide. The story focused on Ohio particularly, with justices routinely ruling in favor of their contributors in cases before the highest court. The Times reported that O'Donnell had voted for his contributors' side 91 percent of the time, the highest rate on the Ohio Supreme Court (with the average percentage 70 percent).
Skindell, with no judicial experience, has an uphill climb, and his challenge in defeating a long-time GOP opponent is made all the tougher by veteran Ohio Republican attack doberman Bob Bennett (state GOP party chair) calling him a left-wing extremist for supporting such "radical" positions as opposition to Senate Bill 5 (state Issue 2). Considering Ohio voters crushed Issue 2 at the polls two years ago, Bennett probably needs to update his definition of "extremist."
As Skindell stated in a campaign speech in September, "Bob Bennett likes a Supreme Court made up of Republicans. Not only does he like that, the Ohio Chamber of Commerce and the Ohio Manufacturing Association like a Supreme Court made up of all Republicans" like it as well.
We strongly support electing qualified justices to the Ohio Supreme Court who will provide desperately needed balance. Vote for Yvette McGee Brown, William O'Neill and Michael Skindell.