Wednesday, December 28, 2022
Party Affiliation Does Not Warrant Disqualification
An elected judge's political affiliation did not warrant disqualification from a case involving a litigant with whom he is affiliated, per a decision of Ohio Supreme Court Chief Justice O'Connor
Mr. Morris has sued the Ohio Democratic Party (“ODP”) and some of its individual officers. He claims that Judge Miller has a conflict of interest because he is a member of the Franklin County Democratic Party—which Mr. Morris describes as an affiliate of the ODP—and because the judge’s campaign committee has contributed to the county party. In addition, Mr. Morris alleges that Judge Miller has demonstrated bias by ignoring some of Mr. Morris’s motions and by ruling in favor of the defendants on other matters.
Judge Miller submitted a response to the affidavit and denies any bias against Mr. Morris or in favor of the defendants. The judge acknowledges that he is a member of the ODP and the Franklin County Democratic Party and that his campaign committee has made yearly contributions to the county party.
Judge Miller affirms that his political relationship with the ODP will not influence his decision-making. The judge’s current term expires in February 2027, and it does not appear that he is actively campaigning for reelection. Although Judge Miller personally donates a small amount each month to the ODP, there is no evidence that he holds any office in the ODP or that he is currently receiving any tangible benefit from the organization. Further, Mr. Morris claims that he seeks only injunctive relief against the ODP—that is, he seeks to get his temporary job back; he does not seek damages. We elect judges in Ohio, and just as we must ordinarily assume that an attorney’s support of a judge will not cause the judge to favor that attorney when he or she appears before the judge, see In re Disqualification of Osowik, 117 Ohio St.3d 1237, 2006-Ohio-7224, 884 N.E.2d 1089, ¶ 6, we must assume that a judge’s endorsement by or support of a certain political party will not affect the judge’s decision-making if that political party later appears before the judge. Based on this record, there is no evidence to call that general assumption into doubt.