JUDICIAL CAMPAIGN RULES CONTINUE TO CHANGE – Ohio Judicial races given leeway for partisan ads – “there’s a fine line between saying. ‘I commit.’ and wink-wink, nudge-nudge.”
New Rules adopted by the Ohio Supreme Court are consistent with a recent U.S. District court ruling sought by a Kentucky Judicial Candidate (Marc Carey) which allows Judicial Candidates to speak out on public issues. Ohio Judicial Races are partisan and candidates can run as the nominee of a political party.
Kentucky retains non-partisan races but has long allowed a Judicial candidate to identify his partisan registration “if asked” but forbid candidates from advertising their party affiliation.
Campaign gag loosened
By JIM PROVANCE – December 31, 2008 –The BLADE, Columbus
COLUMBUS – Ohio judges run in partisan primaries, ask for support at political conventions, and occasionally join hands with labor leaders at political events, but until now state judicial rules have forbidden them from advertising themselves as Republicans or Democrats.
Rules newly adopted by the Ohio Supreme Court to take effect on March 1 will lift that prohibition as well as slightly loosen the gag on what judges and judicial candidates can say on the campaign trail when it comes to legal matters.
The rewrite of the rules on how sitting judges and judicial candidates conduct themselves on the campaign trail is the first in about 13 years.
“In Ohio, we have judicial candidates running in partisan primaries but nonpartisan general elections,” said Rick Dove, the high court’s assistant administrative director, who served as staff liaison for a special
19-member rules commission appointed by Chief Justice Thomas Moyer.
Rules currently in effect allow judicial candidates to mention party affiliation in campaign literature and advertising up to the primary election in which they are identified by party on the ballot. But such references must be dropped after the primary is over.
Under Ohio law, judicial candidates appear without party affiliation on the general election ballot.
That will all change March 1 when Democratic judicial candidates may say they’re Democrats and Republicans may say they’re Republicans.
While unsuccessfully running for the high court in 2004, then-state appeals court Judge William O’Neill succeeded in getting a federal judge to prevent the state Supreme Court from enforcing its prohibition. The Cuyahoga County Republican Party had filed a complaint against the Democrat when he refused to remove references to his party from his campaign materials.
The decision was overturned this year by the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati, but the rules-review commission, as well as state high court, opted to lift the prohibition on such references anyhow.
“For years, right after the primary it was as if everyone in the political world knew who was the Democrat and who was the Republican, yet they weren’t permitted to say it,” said Catherine Turcer, of Ohio Citizen Action’s Money and Politics project.
“At some point, it’s just about being honest, saying this is who I am,” she said. “It’s a choice. Candidates can choose not to use labels if they don’t want to, but it does give voters some tools for better understanding.”
The new rules will still prohibit judicial candidates from making pledges, promises, or commitments about how they’d rule on cases, but they drop an additional ban against candidates making statements that “appear” to commit themselves.
That rule, which dates to 1995, was generally considered to be in compliance with a 2002 U.S. Supreme Court that declared unconstitutional Minnesota’s prohibition on candidates announcing positions on issues that could come before them.
But the commission recommended, and the Ohio Supreme Court agreed, to adopt a model rule proposed by the American Bar Association that eliminated a portion of the gag. Mr. Dove noted that the ABA felt the latter section of the prohibition was vague and susceptible to constitutional challenge.
“I’m a big fan of the First Amendment,” said Ms. Turcer. “On the one hand, it would be easier for people to get good information if candidates could speak more freely. But there’s a fine line between saying. ‘I commit.’ and wink-wink, nudge-nudge.”
Ohio is the fifth state to adapt model rules proposed by the ABA to its needs.