Sunday, February 20, 2000

Judicial race turns bitter

Accusations fly in Dems' primary

Enquirer Columbus Bureau

        COLUMBUS — A race between two Democrats for the Ohio Supreme Court has turned ugly, with one judge accusing party leaders of selling their support to his opponent.

        Hamilton County Municipal Court Judge Timothy S. Black faces Judge James A. Brogan of the 2nd District Court of Appeals in Dayton in the March 7 election. The two are competing for the right to challenge Republican Supreme Court Justice Deborah Cook this November.

        Judge Brogan says his 19 years on the appellate court should give him a leg up on Judge Black, who has spent six years at the municipal level. But he claims a political stumble and a promise of $500,000 led Ohio Democratic Party leaders to endorse Judge Black.

        “He showed them the money,” Judge Brogan said.

        Judge Black and his campaign manager, Jason Sims, said they gave party leaders names of people who could donate up to $500,000 for the 2000 campaign effort. State Party Chairman David Leland said he already has raised money from some of the names he was given.

        While an ability to raise funds is crucial in any race, Judge Black and Mr. Leland said the promised donors had little to do with the endorsement. Judge Brogan, they say, is running a smear campaign because he skipped an opportunity to win the party's nod for himself.

        “That's inaccurate, unfair and inappropriate,” Judge Black said of Judge Brogan's accusation.

        “There hasn't been any money forwarded to the party because of the endorsement,” Mr. Leland said. “That's a blatant lie.”

        All this finger-pointing might have been avoided if another judge had decided to run. Judge Anne L. Kilbane of the 8th District Court of Appeals in Cleveland apparently was the party's consensus choice.

        But the judge unexpectedly backed out, just hours before the party central committee was to endorse her on Dec. 11. Cuyahoga County political leaders were reportedly hold ing her to a campaign promise to complete her appellate court term.

        With Judge Kilbane gone, Mr. Leland said the party looked to other candidates who had interviewed for the endorsement on Dec. 4. Judge Black took part in the interviews; Judge Brogan did not.

        Judge Brogan said he didn't go because he thought Judge Kilbane already was the party's pick. What's more, he said he and Judge Kilbane are friends and that he honored a party request to withdraw his name so she could feel free to run.

        “I don't mean to demean him. He's a bright guy,” Judge Brogan said of Judge Black. “But do you really think they would pick a municipal court judge to run for the Supreme Court under any other circumstances?”

        Mr. Leland said Judge Black probably would have been the party's choice even if Judge Brogan had interviewed for it.

        “I think the screening committee felt Mr. Black had very impressive legal credentials,” Mr. Leland said. “He's published a lot of articles on domestic violence and family issues and he's had a lot of trial court experience.”

        Judge Black views his time on the municipal court as an asset. He says the Ohio Supreme Court would benefit from having a member who knows firsthand the impact a ruling would have on lower courts.

        “I know,” he said. “I've been in the trenches.”

        But Judge Brogan said Judge Black has no experience trying cases that question trial court judges' decisions. He insists Mr. Black's ability to raise money was the deciding factor.

        “When Anne Kilbane dropped out, they had to justify his campaign,” Judge Brogan said. “They didn't extend the opportunity for me to be heard.”

        Where money is concerned, Judge Black and Mr. Leland make no apologies.

        “Judge Brogan believes, I think, that one should get anointed to these positions. But in Ohio you have to run and get elected,” Mr. Leland said. “It's a large state. It takes money to run for office.”

        “I think they recognized that I had the ability to raise the money needed to run,” Judge Black said. “But that was not the determining factor.”

        The Black campaign and party leaders said the money did not buy the endorsement.

        “We identified folks we felt could give up to $500,000 to the party to use for its wishes,” said Mr. Sims. “That just shows Judge Black's commitment to the party.”

        State Sen. Mark Mallory, D-Cincinnati, was a member of the screening committee that interviewed Judge Black. He said money did not figure prominently in the discussions.

        “Tim Black is the kind of guy that, if he has resources to give to the party, he does that,” Mr. Mallory said. “I don't know what to say, other than he's a good Democrat.”

        As the race winds down to March 7, Judge Brogan said he has already conceded the funding battle to Judge Black.

        The Ohio State Bar Association recently gave Judge Brogan a boost, giving him its highest recommendation for all Supreme Court candidates. Judge Black, however, was the Cincinnati Bar Association's top-ranked municipal judge in 1999.

        Without as much funds or the party's support, Judge Brogan said he faces an uphill battle to win the primary.

        “It matters to not get the endorsement,” he said.


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