Ohio State Bar gives recommendations for Ohio Supreme Court justices

Mitchell Felan

The Ohio State Bar Association (OSBA) released its ratings for the six Ohio Supreme Court justice candidates taking to the ballot in November.

The ratings are a tradition for the OSBA, who evaluates the candidates each election year for their strengths and weaknesses in “non-political criteria.”

This criteria includes non-partisan evaluation of legal knowledge/ability, professional competence, judicial temperament, integrity, diligence, personal responsibility and public/community service.

The association’s 25-member Commission on Judicial Candidates is responsible for evaluating candidates based on this criteria.

The group is chaired by former OSBA president Jonathan Hollingsworth, is composed of one representative each from Ohio’s 18 geographic districts and includes six at-large members who are appointed by the OSBA president and Board of Governors.

The complete list of candidates and their OSBA ratings are listed below:

Judge R. Patrick DeWine (Republican-Not Recommended)

Judge Patrick F. Fischer (Republican-Highly Recommended)

Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor (Republican-Highly Recommended)

Judge John P. O’Donnell (Democrat-Recommended)

Judge Colleen M. O’Toole (Republican-Not Recommended)

Judge Cynthia Westcott Rice (Republican-Highly Recommended)

While the OSBA ratings do not have any legal weight and are completely subjective to the members of the commission, they may influence voters in the election of state Supreme Court justices in November.

According to a press release by the OSBA, commission members use reference materials submitted by the candidates themselves in addition to talking with lawyers, judges and multiple judicial sources to make their decision.

Candidates who receive approval from 60% of that council (that’s 15 commission members or higher) receive a “recommended” rating and candidates who receive this rating are subject to a second vote for the rating of “highly recommended.”

If at least 70% of commission members give the justice a favorable rating in the second vote, that candidate is labeled as “highly recommended.”

And finally, a third vote is cast for the rating of “superior,” the highest ranking a candidate can receive. This requires 80% approval from the commission.

Superior ratings are rare, as the OSBA claims this rating means the candidate possesses the highest combination of criterion, and none were awarded this year.

On the lower end of the spectrum, candidates with percentages below 60% are labelled as “not recommended.”

A “not recommended” rating means that, in the eyes of the OSBA commission members, this justice is “not suited to perform the duties and responsibilities of chief justice or justice of the Supreme Court of Ohio.”

Some notable ratings include a “not recommended” rating for Ohio Court of Appeals judge Richard Patrick “Pat” DeWine. DeWine is the son of former senator and current Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine.

The only other “not recommended” rating was given to Colleen Mary O’Toole, also an Ohio Court of Appeals judge.

O’Toole’s judicial integrity came into question in 2012 when a personal friend of her electoral opponent, Mary Jane Trapp filed 12 grievances against O’Toole, saying she violated the Ohio Code of Judicial Conduct.

Two of these grievances were found to be legitimate.

The other notable rating is for the sole Democratic candidate for Ohio Supreme Court justice, John P. O’Donnell, who was given the rank of “highly recommended.”

O’Donnell will be the only name on the March 15 Democratic primary ballot, meaning he will face the Republican winner of that primary.

All the listed candidates are confirmed for the March primary ballot and will eventually duke it out for the November election.