Ohio justices elected to another term

Legal News Line Nov. 4, 2008, 8:50pm

Evelyn Lundberg Stratton

Maureen O'Connor

COLUMBUS, Ohio (Legal Newsline)--In the state that has become a national poster child for the problems of contested judicial elections, 2008 brought relative stability.

Incumbent Supreme Court Justices Evelyn Lundberg Stratton and Maureen O'Connor won re-election Tuesday night.

With just 13 percent of the votes counted, O'Connor, 57, posted a commanding lead over Democratic challenger Joseph Russo 65 percent to 35 percent, according to unofficial voting results.

Stratton, likewise, held a large lead over Juvenile Court Judge Peter Sikora 61 percent to 39 percent.

Each of the seven members of the Ohio Supreme Court - six justices and one chief justice - serve staggered six-year terms under state law. But unlike many states, Ohio justices are nominated by political parties in primary elections before running in the general campaign.

A 1999 Ohio Supreme Court decision to declare the state's tort reform law unconditional kicked off increasingly partisan elections for state justices, rapidly increasing the cost of judicial elections and the influence of political donors.

More than $4 million was spent in an unsuccessful campaign to unseat Justice Alice Robie Resnick.

A county court pleas judge, Russo ran on a platform of reform, vowing to limit the influence of campaign contributors upon the court.

Following a New York Times article in 2006 that found that justices failed to recuse themselves from cases where a direct conflict of interest arose, Russo lobbied to have a new law passed that would require judges remove themselves whenever a party involved in the case had contributed more than $10,000 to a judge.

The Supreme Court, which according the Times, voted in favor of contributors 70 percent of the time, shot down Russo's plan.

The Columbus Post-Dispatch endorsed both incumbents prior to the election, writing, "Their combined legal and public-service experience is an asset that should be preserved on the court.

With few exceptions, both justices have demonstrated the judicial restraint that should characterize members of the state's highest court."

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