The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

May 10, 2013

Top Ohio judge wants nonpartisan judge primaries

Associated Press

COLUMBUS — Party labels would be stripped from Ohio’s judicial primaries as one of a series of election reforms that the state Supreme Court chief justice unveiled to fellow lawyers on Thursday.

Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor told the Ohio State Bar Association’s annual convention in Cleveland that she is recommending an eight-point plan including nonpartisan primaries, more cameras in courtrooms and more experienced judges in order to strengthen public engagement and trust in the judiciary.

“Now is the time to revisit this topic once and for all, not to do away with judicial elections, which voters made clear they want, but to strengthen them,” O’Connor said.

But O’Connor’s plan ignores the critical issue of campaign contributions in judicial elections, said Justice Bill O’Neill, the lone Democrat on the seven-member high court.

He called Ohio’s unique practice of naming the party of judicial candidates during primaries but not during general elections “odd at best,” but said that’s not the problem.

“If you look at the chief’s proposal, all she’s going to do is make the well-heeled contributors only have to write one check rather than two,” he said. “Any serious proposal will address the corrosive effect that money has on the existing system. There is no question that justice is for sale in Ohio today.”

O’Connor said she doesn’t claim to have all the answers but comes to her list after close review of past reform efforts, including the 2003 Next Steps conference and the 2009 Forum on Judicial Selection led by then-Chief Justice Thomas Moyer, who died in 2010.