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History of Reform Efforts: Ohio

Active Organizations

Columbus Bar Association
The Columbus Bar Association has a program through which it rates candidates for contested judicial races in Franklin County. The bar's judiciary committee screens candidates and reviews their credentials based on answers to written questions, responses to questions during the interview process, and the candidate's experience. From the information gathered during this process, the committee assigns candidates a rating of "highly recommended," "acceptable," or "not recommended." Judges are rated prior to an annual CBA preference poll of local attorneys to determine which candidates they prefer in contested judicial races in Franklin County. The results are released for the November election. Other local bar associations also evaluate candidates, including the Akron Bar Association, Cleveland Bar Association, Cincinnati Bar Association, Cuyahoga County Bar Association, and the Toledo Bar Association.

League of Women Voters of Ohio
Founded in 1920, the League of Women Voters of Ohio has made the elimination of judicial elections a key item on its agenda. The Ohio League was actively involved in a 1938 effort to adopt a merit plan for Ohio judges, and it co-authored the 1987 proposal that was rejected by voters. In past years, the League of Women Voters of Ohio Education Fund (LWVOEF) has worked on several projects designed to remove the appearance of political influence on the courts. The LWVOEF’s current focus is on education as a means of facilitating reform. Their judicial independence project is designed to increase citizen interest in judicial elections, outline the shortcomings of the current judicial campaign finance system, and educate the public, the media, and legislators on the merits of reform. In 2002, the LWVOEF conducted a statewide survey of citizens' opinions about the courts and judicial campaigns.

During the 2002 judicial elections, the Ohio League organized voluntary monitoring groups throughout the state. The purpose of these groups was to bring citizens together to follow the campaign actions of candidates for the supreme court and court of appeals. The League also sponsored public forums with judicial candidates known as "Judge the Judges," and provided information about judicial candidates through DNet Ohio.

In 2003, the Ohio League, along with Chief Justice Moyer, the Ohio State Bar Association, and others, convened a one-day forum on the judicial selection process in Ohio entitled Judicial Impartiality: The Next Steps. In 2004, conveners of the forum issued a progress report with specific recommendations for reform. Recommended reforms included increasing the legal experience and training requirements for judicial offices, lengthening judicial terms, and distributing a voter guide for judicial elections.

Ohio Citizen Action
Founded in 1975, Ohio Citizen Action is Ohio's largest non-profit, non-partisan consumer and environmental advocacy group. Ohio Citizen Action has 100,000 members and campaigns on a variety of issues ranging from toxins in our environment to money in politics. The Citizens Policy Center, the research affiliate of Ohio Citizen Action, "follows the money" to judicial candidates.

Ohio State Bar Association
Since the 1920s, the Ohio State Bar Association has been been a fixture in the movement to reform judicial selection in Ohio. It was the primary actor in a 1938 effort to adopt a merit plan for Ohio judges. Along with the League of Women Voters of Ohio, the state bar authored the 1987 merit selection proposal that ultimately failed with the voters.

In the spring of 2002, the OSBA established a statewide judicial election campaign advertising monitoring committee. Candidates for the Ohio Supreme Court were asked to sign an agreement that they would conduct their campaigns in accordance with Canon 7, the committee's guidelines, and "The Higher Ground Standards of Conduct for Judicial Candidates" promulgated by The Constitution Project; take personal responsibility for their campaign materials; and publicly disavow and condemn materials issued by unauthorized sources that violate the agreement. Candidates were also asked to allow the committee to eliminate false, misleading, unfair, unethical, or illegal statements or campaign materials issued on their behalf and to submit all campaign materials for review at least 48 hours in advance of distribution. None of the four supreme court candidates in the 2002 elections signed the pledge, although each vowed to conduct a clean campaign.

In 2003, the OSBA, along with Chief Justice Moyer, the League of Women Voters of Ohio, and others, convened a one-day forum on the judicial selection process in Ohio entitled Judicial Impartiality: The Next Steps. In 2004, conveners of the forum issued a progress report with specific recommendations for reform. Recommended reforms included increasing the legal experience and training requirements for judicial offices, lengthening judicial terms, and distributing a voter guide for judicial elections.