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Analysis: Ohio bar association calls out GOP for 'misleading' Ohio Supreme Court ad

The Thomas J. Moyer Ohio Judicial Center, in Columbus, which houses the Supreme Court of Ohio.
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The Thomas J. Moyer Ohio Judicial Center, in Columbus, which houses the Supreme Court of Ohio.

Here's something to keep in mind as you slog through the final days of this campaign season, unable to watch more than five minutes of TV without being bombarded with ominous-sounding attack ads:

Some of them are outright lies. Others are based on half-truths; and, where I was raised, a half-truth is at least half-lie, and lies are bad.

Case in point: a $2 million ad buy in Ohio by the Republican State Leadership Committee, a PAC that exists to elect down-ticket Republicans so that the GOP can keep a vise grip on state government, as it does in Ohio.

The group's attack ad on the Democratic candidates for Ohio Supreme Court was so outrageous that the Ohio State Bar Association — a non-partisan professional organization — has condemned the ad and asked the RSLC to take down.

Which, of course, they will not do.

After all, it does the job it was intended to do — smear the reputations of the opposition candidates with half-truths and lies.

The 30-second ad from the RSLC (not to be confused with the RNC, NRSC, NRCC or some other alphabet soup arm of the Republican Party) is running daily in Ohio media markets.

The three Democrats targeted are Justice Jennifer Brunner, running for chief justice; and two appeals court judges, Marilyn Zayas of Cincinnati and Terri Jamison of Columbus, who are running against incumbent Republicans Patrick DeWine and Patrick Fischer.

The 30-second ad focuses on a case from Hamilton County decided by the Ohio Supreme Court earlier this year, DuBose v. McGuffey, in which a four-member majority of the court ruled that a judge in the case had raised bail for a murder defendant so high that it was impossible for the defendant to get out of jail.

The Ohio GOP jumped on the ruling; and it led to the legislature placing Issue 1 on the November ballot.

And it gave the RSLC fodder to go on the attack.

“Outrageous bail rulings risk our safety,” the narrator of the ad says, “yet Jennifer Brunner and Democrat justices on the Ohio Supreme Court ruled in favor of lowering an alleged murderer’s bail.”

Zayas and Jamison, of course, were not Supreme Court justices when the decision was made, but the ad accuses both of them as being "soft on crime" in their appeals court rulings.

The RSLC could not be reached for comment.

But Canton lawyer Paul Hervey, who heads the bar association's committee that monitors judicial campaign ads, had plenty to say in his letter to the RSLC.

The ad, Hervey wrote, "serves to erode public trust in the judiciary."

"While we are all free to disagree with a law or find fault in a judge's legal reasoning, it is misleading and a disservice to voters to grossly oversimplify their opinions just to score political points," Hervey wrote.

Misleading. A disservice. Pretty much sums it up.

And this comes from an organization which has called out misleading and deceptive advertisements from both Democratic and Republican candidates for judgeships.


Zayas, who is running against Patrick DeWine, is furious about the accusation of being "soft on crime." DeWine, the son of the governor, is running his own campaign ad that mirrors the RSLC ad.

Zayas grew up in New York City, in what she says was a tough neighborhood. Her father worked in a print shop; her mother was a seamstress. Zayas came to Cincinnati in 1988 to go to law school. In 2016, she was elected to the Ohio First District Court of Appeals, and became the first Hispanic person elected to a judgeship in Hamilton County.

"They accuse me of not taking public safety into consideration in my decisions and nothing could be further from the truth," Zayas said. "I come from a neighborhood in New York where crime was rampant. I have an older brother who is a New York City police officer who contracted lung disease on 9/11. I take this very seriously."

"The stakes are very high in this race," Zayas said. "Not the special interests. Not our friends. But everybody."

It is quite true that the stakes are very high in this Ohio Supreme Court election. The balance of power between the Republicans and the Democrats is on the line.

The three Democrats on the seven-member court have had an ally this year in Republican Chief Justice Maureen O'Connor. But O'Connor will soon be gone. Ohio's judicial age limits law prevents her from running.

The Ohio Republican Party is desperate to take back control. O'Connor has blocked them on getting the legislative district maps to preserve their control over the Ohio General Assembly; and there will be far-reaching decisions to be made on abortion.

Their allies in the business community want a friendly Ohio Supreme Court, which is why they are bankrolling the campaign to attack the Democratic candidates.

A few months back, the Ohio State Bar Association asked all six Ohio Supreme Court to sign a "clean campaign" pledge.

Basically, all it required of candidates was to pledge that they would follow Canon 4 of the Ohio Judicial Code of Conduct:

A judge or judicial candidate shall not engage in political or campaign activity that is inconsistent with the independence, integrity, or impartiality of the judiciary.

The three Democratic candidates — Brunner, Zayas and Jamison — signed the pledge.

DeWine, Fischer and the Republican candidate for chief justice, Sharon Kennedy, would not sign it. They could not sign a pledge that committed them to following a rule that applies to every judge and candidate for judge in Ohio.

Clearly, the GOP candidates knew what was coming. And that it was not going to be pretty.
Copyright 2022 91.7 WVXU. To see more, visit 91.7 WVXU.

Howard Wilkinson joined the WVXU News Team after 30 years of covering local and state politics for The Cincinnati Enquirer. A native of Dayton, Ohio, Wilkinson has covered every Ohio governor’s race since 1974 as well as 12 presidential nominating conventions. His streak continued by covering both the 2012 Republican and Democratic conventions for 91.7 WVXU. Along with politics, Wilkinson also covered the 2001 Cincinnati race riots; the Lucasville Prison riot in 1993; the Air Canada plane crash at the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport in 1983; and the 1997 Ohio River flooding. The Cincinnati Reds are his passion. "I've been listening to WVXU and public radio for many years, and I couldn't be more pleased at the opportunity to be part of it,” he says.