Panel: Mark Hanni violated judicial campaign rules

Staff report


Mark Hanni, Judge Mary DeGenaro’s judicial opponent, violated judicial campaign rules in four instances that apply to all Ohio judges and judicial candidates, a panel of his peers has found.

After having a probable cause hearing Saturday, a review panel of the Mahoning County Bar Association’s Campaign Ethics Committee, acting for the Ohio Supreme Court’s Board of Commissioners on Grievances and Discipline, ordered that Hanni cease and desist from any further, similar conduct.

“We’re pleased with what the committee found,” said Robert S. Fulton, Judge DeGenaro’s co-counsel, who commented on behalf of the campaign. “It results in better election procedures.”

Even though both candidates in the 7th District race had consented to the MCBA’s hearing of the matter for the state’s high court, once the hearing panel found probable cause to proceed to a full hearing, Hanni withdrew his consent. Hanni did not appear at the hearing.

Hanni faced allegations that he had stepped outside the permissible boundaries of statements about his political and religious affiliations, among others. He was accused of making statements that amounted to publicly endorsing other candidates, making speeches on behalf of a political party and stating he would decide cases from a religious perspective. Judicial rules prohibit statements of this nature as harming public trust in the judiciary.

“It’s too bad they don’t want to let me speak about my Catholic beliefs and about Democrats,” Hanni said. “It was a desperate attempt by a desperate candidate.”

The panel found that Hanni made statements that could be “viewed as a pledge or promise” inconsistent with the impartiality required of a judge. The panel stated in its decision that statements Hanni made “created the impression that all cases and controversies will not be viewed with a blank slate.”

The panel concluded in its 22-page decision:

“The totality of Respondent’s [Hanni’s] comments ... reflect an overwhelming, overriding, political influence. It cannot be said that Respondent’s comments insure that he is ‘free and appear [sic] to be free from political influence and political pressure.’ ... Lady Justice is blindfolded to insure that when cases come before the court the case is viewed impartially without bias or personal view. ... Judicial campaigns and elections are not relegated to the tactics and political rhetoric as other political campaigns.”

The panel found Hanni to have violated his agreement to abide by the county bar association’s “Positive Campaign Expectations” by failing to appear for the hearing and ordered Hanni to cease and desist from:

Making further comments and publicly endorsing other candidates,

Making speeches on behalf of a political party or

“Otherwise stating he will decide cases from any specific perspective.”

Judge DeGenaro has held the seat on the Seventh District Court of Appeals since 2001. She is running for a third six-year term. Former Ohio Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner, now an attorney in private practice in Columbus, and Fulton represented Judge DeGenaro.

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