Monday, October 25, 2004

Ohio Supreme Court opponents disagree on revealing views


Incumbent won't speculate

By Jim Siegel
Enquirer Columbus bureau

COLUMBUS - One is careful not to reveal how he may rule on an issue. The other sued and won the right to speak more freely.

Republican Supreme Court Justice Terrence O'Donnell and his challenger, Democrat Judge William O'Neill, couldn't be further apart when each gauges how much he should talk about his positions.

ELECTION 2004
ELECTION 2004
Edwards preaches to faithful
Blackwell revels in the hot seat
Levy vote puts in question Drake's long-term prognosis
Lawmakers get in position for leadership
Politics often mixes bedfellows
Diversity can be the right ticket
Dems out to clinch the Jewish vote
Record high of 9 women hold governor's offices
Senate campaign heats up
Jefferson Co. Republicans won't use poll challengers
Butler County tax levies face a host of unknowns
Quality counts for levy leader
Northwest levy would target pay
N.Ky. a stronghold for Bush, poll says
Bush, Kerry hammer home themes
Ohio Supreme Court opponents disagree on revealing views
Math professor challenging county treasurer
Franklin voters consider merger

Election 2004 section

O'Donnell, 58, believes that to remain impartial - in his mind and in the eyes of the public - he must not discuss his views on rulings by lower courts or on potential issues. He believes his opponent has gone too far in expressing opinions.

"Judges need to be open-minded and willing to look at both sides," he said. "It's not productive for me to go to a group and try to pander a position, and sort of wink at the rules and somehow prejudge anything that may come before us."

O'Neill, meanwhile, filed a federal lawsuit challenging the court's rules that significantly limited a court candidate's statements and behavior. U.S. District Judge Ann Aldrich agreed the rules violate the First Amendment.

"It is time for judges to speak up during campaigns so the voters will have information with which they can make a decision," O'Neill said.

The 11th District Ohio Court of Appeals judge from South Russell has sharply criticized the court's most recent school funding decision. The court ruled four times that the state's system of funding schools is unconstitutional. In the last ruling, in December 2002, the court ended its oversight of the case.

"It is not logical for the Supreme Court of Ohio to say the way we fund education in Ohio is unconstitutional, and then walk away from the litigation without finishing the job," O'Neill said. "I believe they abandoned their role as the third branch of government when they did that." O'Neill, 56, believes the Legislature is in contempt for failing to follow the court's rulings.

O'Donnell said that as a former teacher, "I care very deeply about education." But he declined to comment on the school funding decision.

Perhaps the biggest issue in this Supreme Court race involves tort reform - the state's attempt to cap jury awards in civil lawsuits, particularly malpractice cases. The court struck down those caps in 1999, although Gov. Bob Taft signed a law placing new caps on malpractice cases in early 2003.

The health-care industry says doctors across Ohio will continue to get hit with skyrocketing medical malpractice insurance costs unless the Supreme Court upholds those caps.

O'Donnell, who is backed by health-care groups, declined to comment on the issue. But O'Neill ripped into the Legislature for directly defying the 1999 decision.

"The current law has a very good balancing system in place," he said, noting there's no evidence of runaway jury awards in Ohio. "When you talk about tort reform, what you're really talking about is the out-of-control General Assembly."

Reading from a handful of newspaper editorials, O'Donnell noted that some believe his opponent is already deciding cases and would be better suited to run as a state legislator than for the court.

O'Donnell points to his experience - 18 years as a common pleas judge, eight years on the court of appeals, and 17 months on the Supreme Court, where he was appointed to fill the remaining term of Justice Deborah Cook, who went to the federal bench.

"My opponent has never charged a jury. He's never been a trial judge. He's never sentenced a convicted felon or presided over a death penalty case. These are important considerations," O'Donnell said.

The race is one of three contested seats on the court this year. Republican Justice Paul Pfeifer is running unopposed.

The Ohio State Bar Association gave O'Donnell a rating of "highly recommended." O'Neill was given a rating of "adequate."

E-mail jsiegel@enquirer.com




ELECTION 2004
Blackwell revels in the hot seat
Edwards preaches to faithful
Levy vote puts in question Drake's long-term prognosis
Lawmakers get in position for leadership
Dems out to clinch the Jewish vote
Record high of 9 women hold governor's offices
Senate campaign heats up
Jefferson Co. Republicans won't use poll challengers
Butler County tax levies face a host of unknowns
N.Ky. a stronghold for Bush, poll says
Bush, Kerry hammer home themes
Ohio Supreme Court opponents disagree on revealing views
Math professor challenging county treasurer
Franklin voters consider merger
Election 2004 section

TOP LOCAL HEADLINES
Gun victim has Mount Adams apprehensive
Study confirms drop in number of birds
Low-income kids told to wait for flu shot
Pope to bless exhibit directors during audience
Volunteers gather missed crops to feed hungry
Local news briefs

EDUCATION
Quality counts for levy leader
Northwest levy would target pay
Hip-hop back at XU for first time since '99

NEIGHBORS
Middletown woman fills days with service
Friends, strangers gather to give hope to Madeira family
Volunteers resume search for missing man
Volunteers encouraged to pack care packages

GOOD THINGS HAPPENING
Award honors volunteers' efforts

LIVES REMEMBERED
Stanley Osgood Jr., youth sports booster