More About Our Work
There are many challenges and opportunities when it comes to advocating for a fair court system in Ohio. Learn more about the work the Ohio Fair Courts Alliance is focusing on:
Challenge #1: Judicial Spending Clouds Impartiality
Ohio has had some of the most expensive Supreme Court elections in the country , however we don’t know which corporations or special interest groups are contributing to these races through political action committees (PACs) because Ohio does not have strong campaign finance disclosure rules. This makes it difficult to assess to what extent campaign contributions are impacting judicial decisions. To further compound the problem, Ohio law allows judges to hear the cases of their contributors. A 2006 review by the New York Times found that Ohio’s Supreme Court justices, on average, voted in favor of contributors 70% of the time. Stronger disqualification rules are needed to prevent judges from ruling in cases where they have conflicts of interests .
Opportunity #1: Passing Stronger Disclosure & Judicial Disqualification Rules
In 2019-2020, we are pursuing a legislative strategy to identify bill sponsors and build support for legislation that calls for stronger campaign finance laws that require corporate PACs to identify to their donors. We are also pursuing an administrative strategy of influencing the rule making process in the Ohio Supreme Court, which determines standards for judicial conduct. We will contact members of the legal community to build support for a rule that requires judges to be disqualified when they hear the cases of their campaign contributors.
Challenge #2: Voters Lack Knowledge of Judicial Candidates
State court judges hear 95% of all cases , making decisions affecting criminal justice, the environment, education, families, and more. Judges have power over an individual’s property, liberty, and even a person’s life. What’s troubling is that as an electorate, we know very little about the judges we elect and we undervalue the important roles judges serve. Voters often skip voting for judges. About half of the respondents of a 2014 survey admitted they seldom vote in judicial elections . A majority of Ohio voters (63%) say they don’t vote for judges because they don’t know enough about the candidates . Lacking information, voters who do vote on judges often to base their decisions on name recognition rather than qualifications or experience.
Opportunity #2: Launching the Ohio Fair Courts Speakers Bureau
We are creating a speaker’s bureau to narrow the gap in public education about our judiciary. We have three specific goals:
- Explain in everyday language how our court system works in Ohio,
- Provide a forum for members of the legal and non-legal community to exchange views about common concerns about our justice system, and
- Motivate citizens to take action to strengthen the independence of our courts.
We intend to recruit speakers with varying levels of familiarity with the courts and train them to lead presentations and discussions with groups. We plan to pair volunteers to give presentations, ideally teaming a legal volunteer with a non-legal volunteers. Ultimately, we are striving to spark more awareness of the importance judicial elections and to inspire activism to make our justice system more fair for all.