Thursday, August 12, 2010

Judicial Campaign Rule Changes In Ohio

From the web page of the Ohio Supreme Court:

Justices Take Action in Response to Federal Court Decision

The Supreme Court of Ohio has amended portions of two rules governing disclosure of political party affiliation and solicitations of campaign contributions by judicial candidates. The Supreme Court took the action in response to a decision by the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals last month that struck down similar rules in Kentucky. The amendments become effective Thursday.

The amendments to the Ohio Code of Judicial Conduct remove a ban on judicial candidates identifying themselves in advertising as a member of or affiliated with a political party after the primary election. Justices concurred 5-0 in adopting the amendments to Rule 4.2 with Chief Justice Eric Brown and Justice Judith Ann Lanzinger not participating.

In the Comment portion of the revised Rule 4.2, the Justices adopted language urging judicial candidates to minimize references to their party affiliation in campaign materials. “Although these affiliations and others may be communicated to the electorate, a judicial candidate should consider the effect that partisanship has on the principles of judicial independence, integrity, and impartiality.” The vote to adopt the comment was 4-1 with Justice Paul E. Pfeifer voting no and Chief Justice Brown and Justice Lanzinger not participating.

The amended solicitation rule continues to bar judicial candidates from personally soliciting or receiving campaign contributions, but establishes two new exceptions to the personal solicitation ban. Justices concurred 4-1 in adopting the amendments to Rule 4.4 with Justice Paul E. Pfeifer voting no and Chief Justice Brown and Justice Lanzinger not participating. Those exceptions are:

  • “A judicial candidate may make a general request for campaign contributions when speaking to an audience of twenty or more individuals;”
  • “A judicial candidate may sign letters soliciting campaign contributions if the letters are for distribution by the judicial candidate’s campaign committee and the letters direct contributions to be sent to the campaign committee and not to the judicial candidate.”

The Comment portion of revised Rule 4.4 contains an explanation of the continued need for a prohibition on the personal solicitation or receipt of campaign contributions. “These limitations protect four vital interests: (1) avoiding the appearance of coercion or quid pro quo, especially when a judicial candidate engages in a one-on-one solicitation of a lawyer or party who appears before the court; (2) preserving both the appearance and reality of an impartial, independent, and noncorrupt judiciary; (3) ensuring the public’s right to due process and fairness; and (4) furthering the public trust and confidence in the impartiality of the judicial decision-maker. Rule 4.4(A) recognizes that some forms of solicitation are less coercive and less intrusive than others and permits a candidate to engage in solicitations that are less personal and directed at a wider audience.”

The vote to adopt the comment was 4-1 with Justice Paul E. Pfeifer voting no and Chief Justice Brown and Justice Lanzinger not participating.

Information about the rule amendments will be included in court documents filed Thursday in response to a lawsuit in Ohio federal court that challenges the Code of Judicial Conduct provisions.

(Mike Frisch)

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