Former Ohio Secretary of State now running for supreme court
Democrat Jennifer Brunner makes the argument that she is uniquely qualified to sit on the Ohio Supreme Court next year when the high court is likely to decide a challenge over new legislative and congressional district maps.
Brunner, who currently sits on the 10th District Court of Appeals, served as Ohio Secretary of State, practiced as an elections law attorney and worked as an elections observer in other countries.
The Ohio Supreme Court has jurisdiction to settle challenges over the new political maps, which will be drawn in 2021 using the 2020 U.S. Census data. The court also is often asked to weigh in on voting rights cases.
“My work with elections in the United States, Ohio and overseas, as well as on judicial reforms, helps me understand how important it is for the rule of law to work for the people,” Brunner said.
Brunner is running against incumbent Ohio Supreme Court Justice Judith French, a Republican, for a seat on the high court. Currently, Republicans hold four of seven seats but that could shift, depending on the outcome of two races this November.
While political party control of the court is at stake, Brunner said, “to me, as a potential justice, no, it doesn’t matter.” There is no Democrat or Republican way to be fair but there is a different way to approach cases, she said. She argued that more balance brings less group think and more give and take in debates.
Brunner sidestepped a question about whether she’d step aside on cases in which a party before the court contributed more than $1,000 to her campaign.
She noted that judges are not supposed to make promises about their judicial conduct. She also said that judicial canons and the code of conduct direct judges to avoid the appearance of partiality.
Brunner said she’ll be an enthusiastic supporter of Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor’s criminal justice reforms that include changing how courts set bond and bail and take steps to improve data collection for all courts across Ohio. “I thought, ‘Oh, my goodness, I hope I win because I want to be a part of this,’” Brunner said.
Improved data collection will reveal big picture trends about how the courts operate, how justice is administered and whether a lack of uniformity exists from court to court, defendant to defendant, she said.
Brunner said the Ohio Supreme Court has a huge impact on everyday life for large swaths of Ohioans. For example, the court interprets foreclosure laws that determine how and when someone might lose their house; laws governing how and when someone who made a mistake can get their criminal records sealed; and laws dictating when and how police can conduct a search and seizure of citizens.
Brunner noted that she is a stickler on search and seizure cases. She wrote an opinion in the 10th District Court of Appeals in a 2-1 decision about a search warrant executed on a private school drama teacher who was exploiting female students. Brunner ruled that the search warrant was narrowly tailored for the man’s school computer and didn’t extend to his home and personal computer, which police searched.
The Ohio Supreme Court overturned Brunner on the issue but she says the case illustrates that she believes the law and constitutional rights should be applied equally and fairly to all.
Family: Married to attorney Rick Brunner; three adult children.
Political Party: Democrat
Political Experience: 10th District Court of Appeals judge, 2015-current; 2010 candidate for U.S. Senate; Ohio Secretary of State, 2007-2010; Franklin County Common Pleas Court Judge, 2000-2005. Attorney since 1983.
Education: Bachelor’s degree from Miami University; law degree from Capital University.