Panel to help governor screen prospective judges

The chief justice of the Ohio Supreme Court praised the change.
COLUMBUS (AP) -- Gov. Ted Strickland has created a panel to help him screen prospective judges, saying the change will make the process of selecting candidates more open.
Ohio's Constitution gives the governor authority to fill all vacancies on Ohio courts caused by retirement or resignation, but Strickland said he will use the panel's nonbinding recommendations to pick the best candidates.
"Ohioans deserve a transparent and inclusive government, and, under my administration, that will include the process of selecting judicial appointees," said Strickland, a Democrat.
Chief Justice Thomas Moyer, who has been pushing for changes to the way Ohio judges are selected, commended the arrangement.
"It's a great improvement over what we're doing now. It opens the prospect to any lawyer to a judgeship," Justice Moyer said. "In most instances, a county [political] party and sometimes a bar association makes a recommendation to the governor now. That's a much more closed system."
Between Dec. 19 and Jan. 3, outgoing Gov. Bob Taft, a Republican, filled 12 judgeships -- four more spots than he had filled in the previous 111/2 months. Five of those were in Democratic-leaning Cuyahoga and Hamilton counties, an Associated Press review found. All the appointees were Republicans.
In four cases, Taft promoted judges, from municipal court to common pleas court or to a court of appeals, creating even more vacancies. Other judges who were replaced had been elected to other offices, retired, resigned or died in office.
Makeup of panel
The Ohio Judicial Appointments Recommendation Panel formed by Strickland will be made up of five at-large members, who will be assisted in reviewing judicial candidates by six-member regional groups where labor, consumer, business and industry representatives will be given a say.
Its first five members will be former common pleas judge and Columbus City Attorney Janet Jackson; judicial reform advocate Meg Flack of the League of Women Voters; Cincinnati attorney Doloris Learmonth, a former member of the Ohio State Bar Association's board of governors; Akron attorney Joy Malek Oldfield, a member of the Ohio Academy of Trial Lawyers' board of governors; and Charles "Rocky" Saxbe, a Columbus attorney, former state representative and one-time Republican nominee for Ohio Attorney General.
Strickland appoints the members and their chair, and can take or leave their recommendations. But Justice Moyer said he believes the spirit of the proposal is to reduce the politics involved.
"Across the board, the diversity of political philosophy, of race and gender makeup, is impressive," he said.

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