When Chief Justice Thomas Moyer of the Ohio Supreme Court spoke recently at a meeting of the Ohio State Bar Association, his call for legislation that would require disclosure of contributions to so-called "issue advocacy" campaigns made headlines. Why? Because the effects of the 2000 election in which Supreme Court Justice Alice Robie Resnick, a Democrat, was the target of a multi-million ad campaign waged by the state and national chambers of commerce are still being felt.
But the chief justice's speech is also deserving of close attention because of the overall theme: It's time to evaluate Ohio's judicial system with an eye to implementing changes that would make it more efficient and restore the public's faith in the courts.
Moyer called for public financing of Supreme Court races and the establishment of a legislatively created commission to review how other states select Supreme Court and appellate judges and propose revisions in Ohio. He also recommended that the length of term of office for all judges be increased from six to at least eight years and that candidates for judicial office should have a minimum of 10 years of legal practice for trial court and more than 10 years for appellate and Supreme Court seats. Currently, a minimum of six years' experience is required.
The chief justice also believes that Ohio should adopt the American Bar Association's Standards on Judicial Qualifications, requiring judicial candidates to submit their qualifications to a broad-based committee to assess legal knowledge, experience and character.
Anyone familiar with the state's judicial system will know that what the chief justice has proposed is sweeping and important, which is why the Ohio General Assembly should move quickly to pass legislation that would establish the review commission.
There are some changes Moyer is seeking that will be easier to adopt than others. For instance, requiring at least 10 years' experience in the practice of law before being eligible to run for judge should receive widespread support. On the other hand, full public funding for Supreme Court races is certain to generate the kind of debate that swept the state several years ago when voters were asked to approve a constitutional amendment that would have replaced the election of Supreme Court justices with a merit selection process.
We support merit selection by the governor, based on the recommendation of an independent commission, because it allows for in-depth evaluation of a candidate's professional background and personal attributes. Even though the voters of Ohio rejected the constitutional amendment, we believe the time has come to revisit the issue.