Monday, November 19, 2012


In recent years, the Ohio Supreme Court has been riddled with allegations that the appointment/election process has been rife with political considerations.

Nearly two weeks ago, Ohioans decided that a rather well-known judicial name should once again be a presence on the bench of Ohio's highest court - the Ohio Supreme Court.

The name O'Neill attained political/governance fame in Ohio under the name of C. William O'Neill.

O'Neill, a Republican, served as:
  • Speaker of the Ohio House,
  • attorney general,
  • governor,
  • associate justice of the Ohio Supreme Court, and lastly and, perhaps, most enduringly,
  • chief justice of the Ohio  Supreme Court.
He has been Ohio's only citizen to serve as a head of the executive, legislative and judicial branches of government.

Apparently, it was too much for some in Ohio that William M. O'Neill (a Democrat) of the Geauga County brought the name established by O'Neill of Marietta of Ohio back to prominence.

Out-of-the-blue, The Repository goes out and - apparently - finds former Stark County Court of Common Pleas (Domestic Relations) Judge John R. Milligan (a Republican) to do a "guest column" decrying the way Ohio elects/selects (governor appointment) judges for Ohio's "court of last resort."

Milligan of North Canton is now 84.  He served as a Stark County Domestic Relations Court judge from 1963 to 1980.  He was elected to the 5th District Court of Appeals (sitting in Canton, for the most part) in 1980 where he served until retiring in 1992.

An interesting aspect to Milligan's column is that he only focuses on the name William M. O'NEILL impliedly being a play by him and ostensibly the Ohio Democratic Party to capitalize on the name of C. William O'Neil.

But there is more to the story.

Undoubtedly, Milligan's omission of the "rest of the story" was inadvertent.

According to Geauga County O'Neill, (LINK) there is a grand plan underway on the part of the Ohio media to use the election of his well-known Ohio political/governance name to the high court as a basis upon which to once again try to reform the way Ohio selects judges.

William M. O'Neill asserts that while the name O'Neill certainly was helpful, he is qualified to be a Ohio Supreme Court justice pointing out that he has more than three times the court experience of his opponent (Cupp) in that he has participated in 3,000 case as a judge of Ohio's 11th District Court of Appeals.

The SCPR agrees that the O'Neill name may have been a factor to "out-of-touch" voters who perhaps couldn't tell you the name of their congressman, but with whom the famed name O'Neill rang a bell upon their voting on November 6th.  And, of course, the Republicans themselves added to the appeal of the specific name William M. O'Neill.

Far and away the main reason William M. O'Neill was elected had to do with some dirty politics played by the Ohio Republican Party (not Cupp).

The Report thinks that O'Neill describes the political play out very aptly.

First, the themes of the respective campaigns:
A full two million Ohioans voted for me over my opponent, Justice Robert Cupp. As you will recall, we had two distinct messages. His was “Cupp measures up”. Mine was “Money And Judges Don’t Mix”.  As you will recall, this was a very spirited campaign, with my message resonating statewide as newspapers everywhere reporting my criticism of Justice Cupp’s decision to accept campaign contributions from litigants who had matters before the Court. As I said then I believe it is fundamentally wrong for ANY JUDGE to accept contributions from ANYONE who has a matter in court.  And yes my name was attached to that message!
Secondly, how the Republican campaign in support of Cupp backfired:
As the respective messages started being heard, something truly bizarre happened.  In a very poorly executed attempt to somehow silence my “Money And Judges Don’t Mix” message, the Ohio Republican Party decided to run $750,000 worth of smutty television ads suggesting that as a Judge I was “lenient” with rapists.  ...
Yes indeed, name recognition did play a role in this race.  For the few skeptics remaining in the State of Ohio, I encourage you to do a Google Search of three words: “ Robert Cupp Rape.”  You will be horrified to see what three quarters of a million dollars worth of cheap shot television can do to the name of a genuinely good man.  They literally ruined the good name of their own candidate. Unanimous condemnation of Justice Robert Cupp’s campaign… that’s what they bought from every newspaper in the state.  Indeed it was a name game.  And in the final weeks of the campaign, my name did indeed get a lot of coverage. Because I was the one running a clean campaign in a year that will be remembered for wretched excess when it comes to television ads!
There are other instances of alleged political chicanery in the election/appointment process of who gets to sit on the Ohio Supreme Court.

On April 2, 2010, Ohio Supreme Court Chief Justice Thomas Moyer died unexpectedly.

On April 14th, Democratic Governor Ted Strickland picked Franklin County Probate Judge Eric Brown to replace Moyer.

Here is an excerpt from a Cleveland Plain Dealer piece on the appointment:
Strickland's move immediately exposed him to criticism that the appointment is political. He could have appointed someone else to hold the seat temporarily until voters fill the spot. But the governor said his selection of Brown was a given considering it was Strickland who talked Brown into running for chief justice.
The SCPR agrees with those critics.  The Report believes that Strickland acted in what he perceived to be in the Democratic Party's interest.  But his gambit did not work.  Republican and incumbent chief justice Maureen O'Connor was re-elected.

But such is typical of the consummate politicians that governors generally are:  Democrats and Republicans alike.

For Judge Milligan to suggest a solution that includes the governor is no solution at all when it comes to getting the most qualified on the benches of Ohio, to wit:
My preference would be a modest amendment that would apply only to the Supreme Court. A bipartisan commission would be established that would screen and recommend three candidates to the governor. The governor would then choose a Supreme Court justice who would run on a retention ballot in a general election in six years.
The bipartisan commission suggestion by Milligan is okay.

But compose the commission with two Republicans, two Democrats with the requirement that they (the four) unanimously select a political independent to constitute a fifth vote.

And this commission should be the appointing authority anytime a vacancy comes into being for any Ohio court.

Right now Stark County is set to get two appointments to the Stark County Court of Common Pleas.

Judges Charles Brown and Lee Sinclair (both Republicans) have announced their retirements.  Brown is already retired (October 31st) and Sinclair is stepping down at the end of the year.

It is somewhat interesting that each of their respective magistrates are in play to succeed Brown.

So if one of them gets the Brown seat at the hands of Republican governor John Kasich, does the other succeed Lee Sinclair?


And, of course, as written previously by the SCPR, Democrat Chryssa Hartnett, a well-qualified Stark County prosecutor can't get any consideration by Stark County Republicans.

Stark County Democrats can appoint a Republican to succeed a Democratic officeholder (Zumbar for Zeigler as Stark County treasurer), but the Stark Republicans did not have a sufficient enough grasp on the qualifications of candidates to at least submit the name Chryssa Harnett to Governor Kasich.

So why didn't Judge Milligan weigh-in with his fellow Stark County Republicans on the Brown succession to get the most qualified candidates before the governor?

The SCPR challenges Milligan (who yours truly knows well) to lobby Governor Kasich to consider Democrat Harnett as concrete evidence that he supports the best candidate become a judge no matter what the political persuasion of the candidate might be.

Talk is one thing, action is quite another!

No comments: