SUPCO Year In Review

Dec 26, 2012

2012 was a year of big cases and big changes at the Ohio Supreme Court.

Ohio Public Radio's Karen Kasler has a look back.


Three justices were up for re-election this year – Republicans Robert Cupp and Terrence O’Donnell and Democrat Yvette McGee Brown. And then there was a surprise in mid-May, when the second longest serving justice on the bench, Evelyn Lundberg Stratton, announced her workload had led her to decide to retire.
“It never stops and it limits my ability to work on other causes. So I, after a lot of careful soul-searching, I thought about not running again, which sort of accelerated into, ‘do I really want to wait two years?’”

The justices can’t campaign like other candidates do, and they continue to hear cases and release decisions during election years. And there were some major cases.  One of the biggest was in May - the decision upholding the indoor smoking ban. The court ruled against a bar owner who had gotten help from a Tea Party activist who argued the voter-approved law amounted to an unconstitutional taking of property. John Hoctor is with the American Cancer Society of Ohio.
“It’s a common sense decision, and it supports not only the health but also the will of the Ohio voter.”

The court also ruled that the commercial activities tax could not be applied to fuel sales, which need to go to road maintenance. The justices decided that small gifts from a non-custodial parent don’t count as child support, and ruled public schools with property for sale can’t stop charter schools from buying it and using it for classes. And the court also ruled that state law doesn’t entitle minors the right to an attorney during police interrogations that happen before charges are filed. The high court also issued rulings involving political figures and issues. Democrat Marc Dann also became the first attorney general to be disciplined by the high court – the justices slapped him with a six-month suspension of his law license for ethics violations that came out after the sexual harassment scandal that cost him his job as AG. After the election, the court upheld the maps of state House and state Senate districts drawn by the Republican-dominated apportionment board. And the court refused to get involved when the governor’s public-private entity JobsOhio sued Commerce Director David Goodman for a very public and planned refusal to sign the order to transfer liquor profits to the job-creation agency. The suit had been designed to get the court to determine whether JobsOhio is constitutional. Brian Rothenberg is with Progress Ohio, which had filed a separate suit over the constitutionality question.
“Somebody has got to decide and rule on this constitutionality issue – otherwise $550 million of state taxpayer money is going to go to a private corporation that may be unconstitutional.”

One law that was debated in 2012 but never officially challenged was the state’s death penalty law. It was co-authored by Justice Paul Pfeifer when he was in the state Senate, but in the last year Pfeifer’s been speaking out on the law, saying it’s being unfairly applied throughout the state and therefore isn’t what he and lawmakers intended.
“It is a geographical lottery at this point as to where you commit the crime whether or not you’re going to be brought in front of a jury with the possibility of death.”

At the end of 2012, the court looks different, but its overall composition is the same. Terrence O’Donnell kept his seat. Republican Robert Cupp was ousted by Democrat William O’Neill, who won his third try for a seat on the bench after a fight that got both O’Neill and Cupp’s supporters blasted by the state bar association. Democrat Yvette McGee Brown was defeated by Republican Sharon Kennedy, who had received the very rare “not recommended” rating from the state bar. And Republican judge Judith French was appointed to replace Evelyn Stratton.