LIMA — This week brought a novel experience to Ohio Supreme Court Justice Judith French. For the first time ever, she sent a fundraising email.
“I feel like I have a bit of a target on my back,” French said in an interview with The Lima News Thursday during a visit to the region. “And that feeling feels even stranger for what might be coming into Ohio from outside interests.”
The year is a big one for politics. While many will be focused on the presidential election in 2020, the year also sets off the redistricting process for Ohio’s Congressional maps, which can heavily influence elections for years afterward.
That’s exactly what Democrats have said happened with Ohio’s current electoral map, which was created in 2010. And it’s because of that upcoming political tug-of-war that French said has her opponents gunning for her seat on the Supreme Court bench.
“My alternative is to be independently wealthy, and I’m not independently wealthy. And so I have to raise money. It’s the only way to get my name out there. It costs a lot of money to do advertising in all media markets around Ohio,” French said.
That doesn’t mean that Ohio’s Supreme Court creates the state’s electoral and congressional maps. Ohio recently gave that power to a seven-person bipartisan commission, but a potential legal challenge to the final map could end up being tried before Ohio’s Supreme Court.
If Democrats are able to win both Supreme Court races this year, they would end up gaining a majority in the court. Republicans currently hold a 5-2 majority.
“The very clear message that I’m hearing from the other side is this (race) is all about redistricting. So I want to put that out there,” French said.
French is currently facing a challenge from former Ohio secretary of state Judge Jennifer Brunner. Fundraising numbers for both candidates are slated to be released by Jan. 31.
In 2019, a panel of federal judges ruled that Ohio’s current electoral map currently favors Ohio Republicans due to gerrymandering, but the U.S. Supreme Court overruled their decision specifying that the power to draw Congressional maps belongs to the states.
In related news, Justice French also spoke about the need for better access to legal aid during her visit to the region. After her interview at The Lima News, French said she had plans to stop into Lima’s branch office of Legal Aid of Western Ohio, Inc. — the organization tasked by the state to provide “high quality legal assistance in civil matters to help eligible low-income individuals and groups” in the region.
French said due to the opioid epidemic, there has been a real dearth of lawyers to help provide legal aid to those affected by the epidemic’s reverberations, and she is pushing for new lawyers to pick up the slack.
“Even if they can just take one case a year, we need those new lawyers to step up and help, whether it’s to take an appointed case, you know, an appointed case on the criminal side, or to maybe do a pro bono case on the civil side,” French said. “I’ve been trying to send that message.”
French also encouraged those in need of aid, legal or otherwise, to visit ohiolegalhelp.org, which can help those with legal challenges find resources to help.
Reach Josh Ellebrock at 567-242-0398.