Although judicial elections tend to attract far less notice than top-of-the-ticket races, the scandalous “justice for sale” financing of Republican candidates to Ohio’s top court cries out for attention. The Democratic party is fielding two excellent candidates, Chief Justice Eric Brown and Appellate Judge Mary Jane Trapp, but GOP opponents Justice Maureen O’Connor and Justice Judith Lanzinger are once again riding a wave of campaign cash and independent expenditures by businesses and organizations whose interests are tied up in cases before the Ohio Supreme Court. The Justice at Stake campaign notes that Ohio Supreme Court races have cracked $1 million in TV spending, all of it benefiting Republicans.
Respected jurist Justice Paul Pfeiffer has said that he “never felt so much like a hooker down by the bus station” as he did in a judicial race in Ohio. A glaring example of this ugly perversion of justice takes place in the health care field. O’Connor and Lanzinger have raised more than $1.5 million so far and much of it is from insurance and healthcare interests. In her 2002 victory speech, Justice Maureen O’Connor proudly declared that doctors’ support of her campaign would “pay off” in restoring confidence in physicians and hospitals, and Justice O’Connor has shown that she can and will deliver on that promise.
For example, Justice O’Connor joined in ruling in the case Dobran v. Dayton Clinical Oncology Program, 2004-Ohio-1883, 102 Ohio St.3d 54 (2004), available as a .pdf file, that courts must not consider claims of infliction of emotional distress based on fear of metastasis of cancer when the fear is caused by doctor or hospital negligence. At issue was a man whose surgically removed lymph node spoiled before it could be tested for cancer. The patient did not contract cancer as a result of the Dayton Clinical Oncology Program’s “allegedly negligent actions,” Justice O’Connor wrote for the majority. “In the event that his cancer ever returns, it will not be because DCOP placed him in any immediate risk of physical harm.” With that ruling the health care profession sighed in relief as the courthouse door was slammed shut against a class of victims of negligent medical testing.
Not only has Justice O’Connort’s presence on the high court paid off for doctors for the past eight years, it has paid off for insurance companies as well. For example, in Westfield Insurance Co. v. Galatis, 2003-Ohio-5849, 100 Ohio St.3d 216 (2003), available as a .pdf file, Justice O’Connor joined a narrow 4-3 majority in overturning Ohio Supreme Court precedent to provide a huge windfall for insurers. Scrapping earlier court rulings in Scott-Pontzer v. Liberty Mutual Fire Insurance Co. and Ezawa v. Yasuda Fire & Marine Insurance Co., the divided court ruled that uninsured/underinsured motorist insurance policies held by companies do not cover employees except while they are on the job, and don’t cover family members of the employees at all. The Ohio Insurance Institute had estimated that lawsuits stemming from the earlier rulings could have cost companies as much as $1.5 billion.
As noted in the New York Times, O’Connor has ruled in favor of her campaign contributors 74% of the time, and her colleague on the Court, Justice Judith Lanzinger, voted in favor of her campaign contributors 75% of the time. The tandem of O’Connor and Lanzinger are not the team Ohioans can trust on their Supreme Court.
It is not difficult to trace the root of this problem, it is simply a matter of following the money. According to a report by Ohio Citizens Action titled Money in Politics, financial support to Justice Maureen O’Connor and Justice Judith Ann Lanzinger is dominated by insurance and health care money. The tandem received a total of $1,529.005.95 of contributions through September 30th, including nearly $158,000 from Cincinnati-based Financial and Insurance Companies and additional contributions from American Financial Group, Cincinnati Equitable Corp, Cincinnati Financial Corp, Cincinnati Insurance Company, Hukill Hazlett Harrington Agency, Ohio National Financial Services, Ohio National Life Insurance, Schiff, Keidler-Shell, Inc., Stay Focused Insurance, Union Central Life Insurance Co., and Western & Southern Life Insurance.
The Money in Politics report also highlights that employees of the Cincinnati Financial Corporation contributed a total of $41,150 to O’Connor and Lanzinger, ranging from $50 to $3,450. From their friends working at the Cincinnati Insurance Company, O’Connor and Lanzinger received a total of $41,525. The report also notes that members of the Lindner Family, associated with the Insurance giant American Financial Group, supported O’Connor with $17,500 and Lanzinger with $17,500.
Notably, several of the companies contributing to O’Connor and Lanzinger also happen to be significant contributors to Rep. John Boehner (R-OH), in line to become Speaker should the GOP regain control of the House of Representatives. Boehner received over $38,900 from the American Financial Group, and O’Connor and Lanzinger each received $17,500 from American Financial Group. Moreover, that donor is also pouring money into the shadowy organization American Crossroads, founded by Karl Rove to funnel money into attacks ads against Democratic candidates.
It’s time for this insurance policy for corporate campaign donors to be terminated. Ohioans have a chance this November 2nd to restore faith and justice at the Ohio Supreme Court by voting for Chief Justice Brown and Judge Mary Jane Trapp.
By Jeff Coryell