Monday, October 28, 2002

Justice candidates decry influence, take the cash

By Dan Horn
The Cincinnati Enquirer

All four candidates for the Ohio Supreme Court have decried the influence of special interest groups on the campaign this year - which hasn't stopped any of them from accepting large sums of money from them.

  • TV ad title: Judicial Experience
  • Transcript: "As a judge, Maureen O'Connor presided over some of the most serious cases you can imagine. Rape. Robbery. Even murder.
"Maureen O'Connor has 10 years of judicial experience. As a judge, Maureen O'Connor spent nearly two years hearing felony cases.
"And as a probate court magistrate, Maureen O'Connor's rulings protected children. Maureen O'Connor has 10 years of judicial experience. O'Connor. Maureen O'Connor for Supreme Court."
  • Analysis: Maureen O'Connor hasn't been a judge for about seven years. She has been lieutenant governor for nearly four years, which the spot does not mention. She has 10 years of judicial experience, most of it as a part-time probate court magistrate presiding over the same "serious" cases as would be expected of any common pleas judge in a metro area. It shows the difference between her court experience and that of opponent Tim Black, who is a municipal judge.
  • TV ad title: Highly Rated
  •Transcript: "Supreme Court justices should be judges, not politicians. Politician Maureen O'Connor keeps running for office. O'Connor has not finished an elected term. O'Connor has run for seven offices in 15 years, once quitting three months after an election.
"Judge Tim Black is an experienced judge, not a politician. Judge Black, highly rated for integrity. Endorsed by police groups. Judge Black for Supreme Court."
  • Analysis: Tim Black's theme is that he's a judge; his opponent is a politician.
The facts are true, but maybe not as damning as they are portrayed.
"Highly rated" refers to ratings from Hamilton and Cuyahoga county bar associations. The state Bar gave the two equal ratings. Mr. Black has some police endorsements, but the major group, the state Fraternal Order of Police, is backing Ms. O'Connor.
- Jim Siegel, Gannett Columbus Bureau
The race between incumbent Justice Evelyn Lundberg Stratton and Democratic challenger Janet Burnside remains close in the polls and equally so in the money race.

According to reports filed last week, Ms. Stratton has raised more than $1.6 million, while Ms. Burnside has collected more than $1 million.

The other high court race - between Republican Maureen O'Connor and Democrat Tim Black - also has a close fund-raising margin, with Ms. O'Connor's more than $1.5 million in contributions outpacing Mr. Black's nearly $1.3 million.

A report from Ohio Citizen Action - issued before the latest finance reports were disclosed - found that the candidates collected a total of more than $4.7 million in campaign contributions between Jan. 1 and Sept. 30.

The group found the Democratic candidates received heavy donations from law firms with ties to the Ohio Academy of Trial Lawyers, which opposes tort reform and supports candidates they consider likely to back their views. The Supreme Court recently voted 4-3 in a decision that declared the state's tort reform law unconstitutional.

Ohio Citizen Action found that lawyers and lobbyists contributed about $760,000 to Mr. Black and $700,000 to Ms. Burnside, compared to $240,000 for Ms. Stratton and $140,000 for Ms. O'Connor.

The report also found that the Republican candidates got major contributions from physicians and insurance companies, groups that support tort reform and, in the case of insurance companies, have opposed other recent court decisions that required businesses to broaden insurance coverage for employees.

According to the report, physicians and insurance companies have donated about $377,000 to Ms. O'Connor and $417,000 to Ms. Stratton, compared to $8,000 for Mr. Black and $700 for Ms. Burnside.

All four candidates have vowed they would not be influenced by the special interest groups that donate to their campaigns.


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