Saturday, October 23, 2004

Supreme Court pits tried, true vs. fresh, new

Tort reform, school funding show candidates' polarity

By Jim Siegel
Enquirer Columbus Bureau

Thomas Moyer
AGE: 65
PARTY: Republican
EXPERIENCE: Chief Justice, Ohio Supreme Court (1986-present); judge 10th District Ohio Court of Appeals (1979-86); executive assistant to Gov. James Rhodes (1975-79); deputy assistant to governor (1969-71); private practice attorney (1966-69).

C. Ellen Connally
AGE: 59
PARTY: Democrat
RESIDES: Cleveland
EXPERIENCE: Judge, Cleveland Municipal Court (1980-2003); magistrate, Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court; law clerk, 8th District Ohio Court of Appeals.

Election 2004 page
COLUMBUS - Nearly 18 years after joining the Ohio Supreme Court and helping to clean up its image, Chief Justice Thomas Moyer wants to continue in the position he has held longer than all but one person in Ohio history.

"The intellectual challenge never diminishes," said Moyer, 65, a Republican from Bexley, adding that his wide variety of endorsements "would seem to indicate I'm perceived as a judge who is impartial and fair."

But his opponent, Democrat C. Ellen Connally, 59, a retired municipal judge from Cleveland who served 24 years on the bench, argues it's time for some new leadership on the state's highest court.

She said Moyer may have ridden in on a white horse in 1986, but that horse "has long been dead."

"The more investigation I've done into the situation at the Supreme Court, I realize the voters are entitled to something better than this," she said.

The race is one of three contested seats on the court this year. Republican Justice Paul Pfeifer is running unopposed. The races will shape the philosophy of the often sharply divided court.

Moyer was rated "highly recommended" by the Ohio State Bar Association. The organization gave Connally a rating of "adequate."

Contrasting views

The two offer contrasts on a variety of issues inside and outside the courtroom.

The health care industry says doctors across Ohio will continue to get hit with skyrocketing medical malpractice insurance costs unless the Supreme Court upholds Ohio's cap on malpractice jury awards - known as tort reform - as constitutional.

In 1999, the court struck down jury caps in a 4-3 decision, and Moyer was in the minority. But his concerns dealt with how the court bypassed normal procedures to hear the case, rather than the merits of jury caps.

"It does not, in any way, suggest how I might vote on the merits of a tort reform bill if it comes before the court again," he said.

Moyer knows groups who want tort reform are backing him, which he attributes to a desire to have a court that will decide if the law is constitutional without any preconceived notions. Plus, he is sympathetic to doctors' plight.

"There's no question doctors are leaving Ohio. They're not coming here to practice. Every place we go, it's the same story," he said.

Connally, meanwhile, notes there is no decrease in the number of licensed doctors in Ohio, and the number of malpractice lawsuits is not increasing. She said she agrees with the court's 1999 ruling on jury caps and is skeptical of how well jury caps will slow frivolous lawsuits.

School-funding oversight

Supreme Court candidates say they can't escape voter questions about school funding, even though the court in December 2002 ended its oversight of the case after finding the state's system unconstitutional a fourth time.

Moyer was in the minority for three of the four DeRolph decisions, arguing that the court should not be deciding the matter.

People's expectations were raised that the court would continue to keep oversight of school funding, Moyer said. But he thinks it was proper to let it go.

"It's great in a campaign to pound your chest and say the court should fix the school funding problem, but how do you do that? What it comes back to is, it's a legislative matter," he said.

Connally believes the court "dropped the ball" by not continuing to oversee school funding.


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