Welcome to election season in Ohio. In addition to the upcoming presidential election, many state and county elected positions will be voted upon in the coming year.
Regardless of whether a candidate loves or loathes shaking hands and kissing babies, candidates always face rules. Campaign rules are always changing, and certain offices even require certain education or experience. For example, each candidate for county engineer must be both an engineer and a surveyor.
There is no question in my mind that the most difficult office for which to campaign in Ohio is judge. Ohio’s judges are elected. However, we expect that our judges will not be beholden to special interests or so active in politics that our own political affiliation could jeopardize how we are treated in our courts. This conflict creates a tough situation for judicial candidates.
Every person who runs to be a judge is required to personally attend a course explaining all of the rules that govern that person’s advertising to be judge.
In general, every judicial candidate, whether a judge yet or not, must never act in a way that is inconsistent with personal and professional “independence, integrity and impartiality.”
The specific requirements for judicial candidates are strict, straightforward and sometimes paralyzing. A judicial candidate cannot endorse or oppose any other candidate for any other office. Candidates for judgeships are also prohibited from holding office in a political party and cannot make speeches for other candidates for public office.
Judicial candidates cannot even talk about pending legal cases that the judge would never have to decide. Demonstratively, a candidate to be an Allen County Common Pleas Court judge could not even make an off-hand comment about how the candidate wishes the U.S. Supreme Court would decide a particular case.
Judicial candidates cannot ask for endorsements. If a candidate receives an unsolicited endorsement, the candidate cannot officially accept the endorsement or use it in the candidate’s campaign. This does not preclude any of us individually or collectively from endorsing judicial candidates. However, even running the idea of an endorsement past the candidate in advance would likely put that candidate in a very bad position.
Without the strict rules, it is easy to imagine some judicial candidates’ campaign slogans: “I will lock up the drug dealers and pushers with the harshest sentences ever to help clean up our community.” Obviously, if you were charged with a drug crime and assigned a judge who had made such a statement in a campaign, you would not trust the fairness of that judge’s decision, even if the decision is objectively, unquestionably appropriate.
The rules for judicial candidates, whether running for re-election or for the first time, are designed to eliminate anything that could cast doubt on the fairness of our judicial system.
Therefore, in the coming year, look for “boring” advertisements from judicial candidates. However, without the hoopla and typical politics, we will ideally be more likely to identify the candidates who are smart, analytical, down-to-earth, efficient and professional.
Lee R. Schroeder is an Ohio licensed attorney at Schroeder Law LLC in Putnam County. He limits his practice to business, real estate, estate planning and agriculture issues in northwest Ohio. He can be reached at Lee@LeeSchroeder.com or at 419-523-5523. This article is not intended to serve as legal advice, and specific advice should be sought from the licensed attorney of your choice based upon the specific facts and circumstances that you face.