4 justices recuse selves. Judges cite influence of chamber's ads
Article published Tuesday, November 9, 2004

4 justices recuse selves from appeal
Judges cite influence of chamber's ads

COLUMBUS - Four Ohio Supreme Court justices, all victims or beneficiaries of corporate-bankrolled election ads, will not participate in decisions related to the Ohio Chamber of Commerce's attempt to prevent disclosure of its contributors.

Chief Justice Thomas Moyer and Justices Alice Robie Resnick, Terrence O'Donnell, and Evelyn Lundberg Stratton have recused themselves from an appeal filed by the chamber's non-profit Citizens for a Strong Ohio. The chamber does not want to reveal who funded attack ads in 2000 targeting Justice Resnick, an Ottawa Hills Democrat.

The Ohio Elections Commission has determined the chamber illegally used corporate money in an attempt to influence the outcome of an election when it financed ads suggesting Justice Resnick's rulings were swayed by campaign contributions from labor and trial lawyers.

The TV commercials depicted a gilded Lady Justice peeking from under her blindfold as cash weighed down one side of her scales of justice.

The 10th District Court of Appeals in Columbus upheld the commission's decision and refused to interfere with its fine of $25,000 for each day the chamber refuses to comply with subpoenas to reveal which corporations financed the ads.

In 2002 and 2004, the chamber again financed radio and TV ads promoting Chief Justice Moyer and Justices O'Donnell and Stratton, all Republicans. In both election cycles, the chamber voluntarily disclosed its contributors, predominantly corporations and insurance companies.

But it has continued to argue that donors to its $4 million campaign in 2000 had anonymously exercised their First Amendment right to free speech and that they didn't cross the line of expressly advocating the election or defeat of a candidate.

Freshman Justice Maureen O'Connor, also the focus of third-party ads in 2002, has not recused herself from the case.

"It's an appearance problem," said Clifford Arnebeck, attorney for Alliance for Democracy, whose complaints led to the elections commission rulings. He has argued that the court should refuse to hear the chamber's appeal.

"How can a person who has been the beneficiary of these funds look at this objectively, human nature being to think well of those who've been helpful to you?" he asked. "The problem for justices receiving this kind of aid is that it would be hard to be critical of it."

Rounding out the seven-member panel would be Justice Francis Sweeney, who would act as chief justice in the case, and Justice Paul Pfeifer, who was unopposed in this year's election.

Filling the four vacancies would be four appellate judges:6th District Judge Peter Handwork of Toledo, 5th District Judge William Hoffman of Canton, 7th District Judge Joseph Vukovich of Youngstown, and 11th District Judge Donald Ford of Warren.

The new panel consists of four Democrats and three Republicans. Should the case extend into 2005, Justice Sweeney's replacement on the court, appellate Judge Judith Lanzinger of Toledo, would have to decide whether to recuse herself. The Republican was also the beneficiary of Strong Ohio promotion this year.

Contact Jim Provance at:
jprovance@theblade.com or