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OHIO SUPREME COURT Lt. Gov. Maureen O'Connor vows philosophical shift



Published: Thu, September 26, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



The current Supreme Court is anti-business, the lieutenant governor contends.

By DAVID SKOLNICK

VINDICATOR POLITICS WRITER

YOUNGSTOWN -- If elected to the Ohio Supreme Court in November, Lt. Gov. Maureen O'Connor said her presence on the judicial body will completely change its philosophy.

"It will go from an activist court to one that believes in judicial restraint and not legislating from the bench," O'Connor said Thursday during a meeting with The Vindicator.

O'Connor, a Republican who has served as lieutenant governor since January 1999, is running against Democrat Tim Black, a Hamilton County Municipal Court judge since 1994 who failed to capture a Supreme Court seat during the 2000 election.

The two are seeking to replace Judge Andrew Douglas, who cannot seek re-election this year because of the court's age restriction of 70. Judge Douglas is part of the current 4-3 majority in the Supreme Court. O'Connor says if she beats Judge Black during the Nov. 5 election, and Judge Evelyn Lundberg Stratton is retained on Election Day, the philosophy of the court will swing in another direction.

Polls have O'Connor, a former Summit County prosecutor, ahead of Judge Black by 12 to 15 points, with a large undecided vote.

Critical of rulings

O'Connor criticized the current majority of the Supreme Court, saying their decisions, most notably their striking down tort reform twice, are anti-business.

"Those decisions give rise to the perception that we have an unstable legal system in Ohio," she said. "Those decisions aren't good for the business community. If we can't sustain employers in the state of Ohio, we will not have employees."

Without naming names, O'Connor said some of the current Supreme Court judges are "out of touch" with the state's citizenry.

"Don't expect me to be anti-business and punitive about it, which we've seen from the court in the past," said O'Connor, who has the support of several business organizations. "People don't feel they get a fair shot in the court. We have an image in Ohio of not being a place to do business, attract business or to grow business. When asked, people say we have a very unpredictable legal system in Ohio."

The state Supreme Court "is conflicted in who it serves," O'Connor said, and takes the inappropriate action of legislating from the bench at times.

"We need a fair, across-the-board, impartial court," she said. "You've got to be fair and level-headed and truly appreciate what your role is. We have an image problem in the state of Ohio, and the Supreme Court is a huge contributor to the problem."

School-funding issue

O'Connor declined to discuss her position on the long-standing disputed school-funding issue. She expects the court to make a decision on the case, but not until after Nov. 5, when the outcome of the election is decided.

"I'd love to hear it [as a judge,] but the likelihood of it is 50-50," she said. "I have a sneaking suspicion it will be settled by then."

As lieutenant governor, O'Connor said, she has never had a conversation with the governor or attorney general about the case. If the issue is not settled this year and she is elected, O'Connor said she has no plans to recuse herself from the case.

Although polls show her with a comfortable lead over O'Connor, she realizes anything can happen Election Day, particularly because about 25 percent of those who vote in Ohio don't cast ballots in Supreme Court races.

"Voters either feel they're not qualified to vote [for Supreme Court justices] or they don't know the candidates or aren't informed about the court," she said. "People are not engaged in Supreme Court races, and that's the fault of the Supreme Court for not being more visible and educating the voters on what they do and how they do it."

skolnick@vindy.com




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