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Don’t overlook high court races; support Rice, Fischer

Monday, October 17, 2016

As hordes of Ohio residents

dutifully march to the polls now through Nov. 8, many are bound to get stumped once they reach the bottom of the ballot.

Though judicial races rank low in ballot placement, they rank high in importance in applying state law and in governing the operations of courts at all levels. Because

judicial candidates in general elections do not have political parties attached to their names and because they rarely engage in high-visibility attack-mode campaigns, many confused voters end up playing eeny-meeny miny moe or skipping the race altogether.

Clearly, judicial votes are too important to throw away or to leave to chance. That’s why The Vindicator Editorial Board has studied and interviewed the candidates in the two competitive Ohio Supreme Court justice races this fall extensively

In those races, Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court Judge John O’Donnell, a Democrat, faces Republican Judge Patrick Fischer of the 1st District Court of Appeals in Cincinnati. Also, Democrat Judge Cynthia Rice, who has sat 14 years on the 11th District Court of Appeals in Warren, is being challenged by Republican Judge Pat DeWine, also of the 1st District Court of Appeals.

After thoroughly examining and reviewing their credentials, The Vindicator endorses Judge Rice for the Jan. 2, 2017, term on the court and Judge Fischer for the Jan. 1, 2017, term.

The editorial board was impressed with the experience, temperament and goals for the high court of Judge Rice of Brookfield.

In addition to her depth of experience on the appellate bench where she serves as presiding judge, she’s also heard cases as a visiting judge with the Ohio Supreme Court and several other appellate courts.

In addition, she’s accumulated a wealth of criminal-law experience, having served as a Trumbull County assistant prosecutor and a U.S. attorney in its criminal division for more than a decade.

But Rice also stands for her ideas. Recognizing the need to battle the heroin epidemic on all levels – including through expansion and improvement of drug-treatment courts – she has set a goal of eliminating widespread heroin abuse within five years. Some may argue that goal is foolhardy, but it does vividly illustrate her depth of commitment to lessening the crisis.

Her record as an appeals court judge in making timely well-reasoned decisions upheld by higher courts also speaks well for her judicial demeanor and knowledge.

The Ohio State Bar Association recognized as much when awarding her its highest “highly recommended” rating in its candidate report released earlier this year.

Her opponent DeWine, son of Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine, was ranked by the same group as “not recommended.”

Though Judge DeWine does present some valuable ideas, such as working harder to reduce backlogs in the high court’s docket, his depth of experience pales in comparison to Rice’s. He has a few years of appellate court leadership under his belt compared with Rice’s 14 years.

His elevation to the high court also would raise ethical concerns. He told our editorial board that he would recuse himself from cases in which his dad personally appeared before the court for the state. But what about the untold number of cases in which the top legal officer in the state had some discernible interest?

From our perspective, even the appearance of impropriety or conflict of interest must be avoided.

FISCHER FOR JAN. 1 TERM

In the race for the Jan. 1 term on the court, Judge Fischer and Judge O’Donnell both bring credible backgrounds to the race.

Judge O’Donnell, best known for his decision last year in acquitting a Cleveland police officer on manslaughter charges, has gained substantial criminal- and civil-

law experience in his tenure since 2002 on the common pleas bench, one of the busiest such courts in the state.

He has distinguished himself as a hard-working jurist. Judge O’Donnell has written more than 100 opinions, a rarity for a trial court judge. At the high court, he would bring fresh perspectives from overseeing a front-line trial court.

Despite O’Donnell’s fine credentials, the edge in this race must go to Fischer based largely on his six years of direct experience on the appellate court. That might explain the bar association’s “highly recommended” rating for him versus its lower “recommended” rating for O’Donnell.

In his own words, Fischer also would bring a passionate sense of “intelligence, impartiality and integrity” to the high court. We’re also impressed with his plans to grease the wheels of justice by working to streamline and expedite court operations for speedier decisions and to scout out wasteful spending and practices.