By Andrew Welsh-Huggins
The Associated Press
COLUMBUS - Both candidates for an Ohio Supreme Court seat condemned on Thursday a negative TV ad that attacks a 1998 vote by Justice Evelyn Lundberg Stratton.
Consumers for a Fair Court, a group of trial lawyers and others, began running the ad Thursday in Cleveland, Columbus, Dayton and Toledo.
In a 4-3 decision, the court ruled in favor of companies fighting lawsuits filed by mothers and their children. The women were trying to collect money for damages caused by a drug taken by millions of pregnant women for 23 years.
The court said people who claim they were hurt by the drug diethylstilbestrol cannot sue unless they know the specific manufacturer and distributor of the drug.
The drug is synthetic estrogen and was taken by nearly 5 million pregnant women from 1948 until it was banned by the Food and Drug Administration in 1971 after being linked to cancer. It was given to women to prevent miscarriages and premature births.
The ad features a series of shots of pregnant women and women with children and said Justice Stratton "gave sanctuary to the big drug companies." It also calls Justice Stratton's ruling "a miscarriage of justice."
"This ad is despicable," Justice Stratton, a Republican, said at a hastily called news conference Thursday afternoon. "It uses the term `miscarriage' as a political attack that should offend all women who have attempted to bear children."
Justice Stratton said she did not believe her opponent, Judge Janet Burnside of Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court, had anything to do with the ad. Judge Burnside demanded the ad be stopped immediately.
"We obviously condemn this ad and view it as negative," said Jeff Rusnak, a Burnside spokesman.
The group running the ad is an offshoot of Citizens for an Independent Court, a registered political action committee running ads in favor of Judge Burnside. That committee includes the Ohio AFL-CIO, the Ohio Academy of Trial Lawyers and teachers' and public employees' unions.
The new group "is essentially the same folks," said Dale Butland, a veteran Democratic political consultant acting as the group's spokesman.
However, because Consumers for a Fair Court is running so-called issue advocacy ads, it does not have to list its contributors. Its ads cannot use words such as "vote for" or "elect."
"All we have done is brought to light her own opinion and own decision," Mr. Butland said. "If her character is harmed by her own opinion, it's not assassination - it's suicide."
Informed Citizens of Ohio, an issue advocacy group that also does not have to reveal its contributors, has purchased $410,510 in TV ads supporting Justice Stratton, according to the New York-based Brennan Center for Justice.
Complaints have been filed in several Supreme Court TV ads. Thursday, a three-judge appeals court panel found enough evidence to hold a hearing in a complaint filed against Judge Tim Black of Hamilton County Municipal Court.
Judge Black is accused of using a 1999 Cincinnati Bar Association rating in a TV commercial without specifying what the rating was for. He is also accused of using the title "Judge" without clearly identifying which court.
Judge Black, a Democrat, is challenging Republican Lt. Gov. Maureen O'Connor for an open Supreme Court seat.
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