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Republican Party Chair calls Ohio Bar Assoc. ratings biased
Chairman suggests Republican Ohio Supreme Court candidates bypass the screening process in the future
This story is part of a special series.

Jo Ingles

The Ohio State Bar Association has come out with its rankings for candidates for the Ohio Supreme Court. And the result of those rankings has the Ohio Republican Party Chair coming out with strong statements against the organization. Ohio Public Radio’s Jo Ingles reports.

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The Ohio State Bar Association has ranked the two members of the state’s highest court who are in contested re-elections….giving Democrat Yvette McGee Brown a highly recommended rating and Republican Terrence ODonnell a recommended rating.  But it’s the other ratings that have upset the head of the Ohio Republican party.  The Democrat running against ODonnell, Ohio lawmaker and attorney Mike Skindell, has been given a “recommended” rating.  But the Republican who’s running against Brown, Butler County Domestic Relations Judge Sharon Kennedy, has been given a “not recommended” rating.  It’s a move that Ohio Republican Party Chairman Bob Bennett says is unfair so he’s making this suggestion to future Supreme Court candidates in his party:

“I’m suggesting that they not subject themselves to any screening process before the Ohio Supreme Court screening committee in the future.”

Bennett says Kennedy’s “not recommended” rating is not deserved and adds she has good experience on the bench.  Bennett says he has no doubt that the bar association’s rating system is political.

“They have a dual criteria there that is obviously anti Republican.  I’ve talked to the candidates this year and I intend to talk to the chief and the rest of them and tell them that I don’t think it’s a good idea that they subject to it because there’s a bias within the committee,” Bennett says. “It’s obvious and I want to put a stop to it.”

“If you are Bob Bennett, you have to get your candidates to go into the witness protection program because you sure as heck don’t want the public to understand where these candidates stand on the issues…the core issues that are important to mainstream Ohioans.”

That’s Chris Redfern, the chairman of the Ohio Democratic Party.  He says his party has had candidates who’ve fared well in the past and others that haven’t fared so well.  Redfern says he’s never called on his party’s candidates to shun the state bar association’s process because someone received a poor rating.

“In the past he’s extolled the virtues of his candidates who have received the highly recommended label.,” Redfern says. “But something has happened over the course of the last 6 or 7 months with Bob Bennett’s Republican party.  It’s drifted so far to the right that not only does it not represent the interests of main street Ohioans, it clearly doesn’t represent the interests of the Ohio Republican Party either.”

Barbara Howard, the chair of the commission on judicial candidates for the Ohio State Bar Association, says the organization’s recommendations are not political and she’s upset with Bennett’s suggestion that future Republican court candidates avoid the process.

“I’m disappointed.  He said this is an endorsement,” Howard says. “It’s a non political rating process based on professional qualifications.  It is not an endorsement and it is not political.”

Howard says the bar association looks at several things when making its recommendations.

“It’s basically things like professionalism, demeanor, intelligence, legal knowledge, integrity, temperament…those kinds of things,” Howard says.

Ohio Republican Party Chair Bob Bennett is himself a member of the Ohio State Bar Association.  When asked whether he’d drop his membership, he responds this way:


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