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Democratic nominees for Ohio Supreme Court decline to sign clean campaign pledge

Judge Jennifer Brunner for Ohio Supreme Court

Judge Jennifer Brunner for Ohio Supreme Court

The two Democratic nominees for Ohio Supreme Court, Judges Jennifer Brunner (top right) and John P. O'Donnell (bottom right), have said they won't sign the Ohio State Bar Association's clean campaign pledge this year. The two Republican incumbents they're facing, Judith French (top left) and Sharon Kennedy (bottom left), have signed the pledge. (File photos)

By Jeremy Pelzer, cleveland.com

COLUMBUS, Ohio—The two Democrats running for Ohio Supreme Court this year have declined to sign the Ohio State Bar Association’s “clean campaign pledge," asserting that they want to point out that their Republican opponents will make conservative judicial rulings.

Republican incumbents Judith French and Sharon Kennedy have signed the pledge, which commits candidates to, among other things, disavow ads that attempt “to lead voters to believe that a candidate will decide issues or cases in a predetermined manner.”

In a letter to the state bar association, Brunner, a state appeals court judge and former Ohio secretary of state, stated that her opponent, French, has “widely stated” that she is a conservative.

“To voluntarily hinder myself from questioning or commenting on that as it applies to her approach to cases that come before her does no service to voters who, like me, question whether that affects her impartiality in deciding cases,” Brunner wrote.

She added that the Ohio Code of Judicial Conduct’s section stating judicial candidates shouldn’t engage in “political or campaign activity that is inconsistent with the independence, integrity, or impartiality of the judiciary” is “sufficient” by itself, and that she will “not cede to any private actor (i.e., the Ohio State Bar Association) what is my responsibility for fair judicial conduct during a judicial campaign.”

O’Donnell, a Cuyahoga County Common Pleas judge, offered the same reason for not signing the pledge, according to a statement sent by his campaign.

“Neither of us have a need nor a desire to campaign negatively against our opponents, and we won’t,” O’Donnell and Brunner said in a joint statement.

In the past decade, only one other Supreme Court candidate in a contested election – Democrat Bill O’Neill, who was elected in 2012 -- has declined to sign the pledge, according to the OSBA.

“While we do not have unanimous participation from the candidates running this year, each of them remains bound by the judicial canons to ‘act at all times in a manner that promotes public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary,’” stated Canton Attorney Paul Hervey, chair of the OSBA’s Judicial Election Campaign Advertising Monitoring Committee, in a release.

“We are hopeful that all will do so over the next 40 days and throughout their terms should Ohio voters entrust them to serve on our state’s highest court,” Hervey added.

Ohio Republican Party spokesman Evan Machan said in a statement the Democratic candidates' decision not to sign the clean campaign pledge is “disheartening” but “not surprising,” as Republicans knew Brunner and O’Donnell planned to run negative campaigns.

“Instead of pledging to uphold the integrity of their campaigns, they willfully are doing the exact opposite,” Machan stated. “The voters will see through their negative campaigning and re-elect Justice Kennedy and French in November.”


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