Thursday, October 05, 2000

Justice blasts interest groups

Resnick: Foe's name recognition being purchased

By Spencer Hunt
Enquirer Columbus Bureau

        Ohio Supreme Court Justice Alice Robie Resnick on Wednesday cast her re-election bid as a high-stakes battle to preserve democracy in Ohio.

        Judge Resnick, a Toledo Democrat seeking a third term, said corporate interest groups, which have vowed to spend millions to defeat her, want to take over the Supreme Court.

Terrence O'Donnell
Terrence O'Donnell
        If that happens, she predicted “the end of our democracy” in Ohio.

        “The fear that is out there is that big corporations are going to become a government unto themselves,” Justice Resnick said. “By having special interests control all three branches of state government, you will eliminate the checks and balances that are supposed to exist.”

        The justice's comments were made in a joint appearance before the Enquirer editorial board with her opponent, Cuyahoga County appellate court Judge Terrence O'Donnell.

        They came as the first television ad paid for by a business group, Citizens for a Strong Ohio aired. A 30-second spot that appeared in media markets across Ohio praised Judge O'Donnell's work on behalf of the mentally retarded and disabled residents in the Cleveland area.

        “Judge Terrence O'Donnell. Helping those in need. Fairness to all,” an announcer says over a photo of the judge. The commercial then encourages Ohioans to “Follow a good example, volunteer in your community.”

        Judge O'Donnell said he is a board member of Our Lady of the Wayside, a not-for-profit group that offers housing, transportation and recreation services to about 500 mentally retarded and physically disabled children and adults. He declined to comment about the ad's effect on his campaign, saying judicial ethics rules forbid any involvement with special-interest groups.

Alice Robie Resnick
Alice Robie Resnick
        Justice Resnick called the spot an attempt to boost her opponent's name recognition in a race many voters know little about.

        “As long as you can get Terrence O'Donnell's name out with $3 million, you can buy a seat on the Supreme Court,” she said. “They're going to buy him that name recognition.”

        Judge O'Donnell objected to Jus tice Resnick's comments about the campaign and the ad, saying that though business groups back his candidacy, that does not mean he is in league with them or that he owes them anything.

        “People who are supporting me only have a pledge that I will be fair,” he said. “I have made no pledges to any group for any case.

        “My campaign is about trying to restore trust and confidence in the Supreme Court's decisions,” Judge O'Donnell said.

        Chip McConville, vice president of Citizens for a Strong Ohio, said the ad does not support Judge O"Donnell as a candidate. Instead he said it holds Judge O'Donnell up as an example to encourage volunteerism.

        “It doesn't tell people to vote for Judge O'Donnell,” he said.

        Mr. McConville said his group, which is backed through the Ohio Chamber of Commerce, plans to air new and different ads. He would not confirm or deny an informal survey by the Ohio Democratic Party that indicates his group bought $3 million in ad time in Ohio television stations.

        Gary Abernathy, an Ohio Republican Party spokesman, said the Ohio Supreme Court is not an impartial body now.

        “I think the court, if anything is beholden to the trial lawyers,” he said.

        Republicans and business interests are angry with Justice Resnick for her part in several 4-3 decisions that cast out lawsuit caps and business-backed worker-compensation reforms. The justice also wrote two 4-3 decisions that ordered the state legislature to spend millions more on public schools.

        Democrats and their allied interests hope to put up their own commercials defending Justice Resnick within the next few weeks. A group called Citizens for an Independent Court, formed by the Ohio AFL-CIO, the Ohio Academy of Trial Lawyers, and the state's two largest teachers unions hope to spend more than $1 million on those ads.

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