Bar association decries Supreme Court ad as false; Republican group doubles down

A national Republican group is rejecting a call from the Ohio State Bar Association to stop running a TV ad that attacks Democratic candidates for the state supreme court.

The bar association called the ad misleading and oversimplified. In response the Republican State Leadership Committee repeated the accusations made in the ad.

“This request from the Ohio Bar Association is nothing more than a pathetic attempt to conceal the soft-on-crime records of Jennifer Brunner, Terri Jamison and Marilyn Zayas,” RSLC Deputy Communications Director Mason Di Palma said Wednesday. “We stand behind our ad and this request only makes us all the more confident that our efforts are working.”

Three of the seven Ohio Supreme Court seats are up for election this year, including the chief justiceship. All three available seats are now held by Republicans.

This year, for the first time, candidates’ party affiliation will appear beside their name on the ballot. The election results could shift the balance on the court as it’s expected to consider hot-button issues including abortion and legislative redistricting.

Two current justices, Democrat Jennifer Brunner and Republican Sharon Kennedy, are seeking the chief justiceship. Justice Pat DeWine is seeking a second term, opposed by First District Court of Appeals Judge Marilyn Zayas, a Democrat. Justice Pat Fischer is also seeking a second term; his Democratic challenger is Tenth District Court of Appeals Judge Terri Jamison

The bar association’s Judicial Election Campaign Advertising Monitoring Committee announced in September that Brunner, Jamison and Zayas had signed its “clean campaign agreement,” taking personal responsibility for ads released by their campaigns or authorized committees. DeWine, Fischer and Kennedy declined to sign, the bar association said.

The bar’s ad monitoring committee acted Oct. 27 on a written complaint it received about a TV ad sponsored by the Republican State Leadership Committee.

The bar association committee sent the Washington, D.C-based RSLC a public letter asking the group to drop or revise an ad called “Bail,” running on Ohio TV stations, which calls the Democratic candidates “reckless” and “soft on crime.” That doesn’t accurately reflect the opinions issued in “highly nuanced criminal cases,” the committee said.

“Ads like these perpetuate what we believe to be widespread misperceptions about the role of judges in our system of government. Judges are often called upon to make unpopular decisions to uphold the rule of law,” the letter says. “While we are all free to disagree with a law or find fault in a judge’s legal reasoning, it is misleading and a disservice to voters to grossly oversimplify their opinions just to score political points.”

Maggie Ostrowski, Ohio State Bar Association chief communications officer, said the bar’s committee has not gotten a direct response from the RSLC but has seen the group’s comments to media. Sending the letter is really all the committee can do, she said.

Ostrowski urged voters to be wary of any ads that paint judicial candidates with a broad brush, ignoring the specifics of complex cases.

The day after the bar association’s letter, Zayas issued a statement.

“A series of misleading, deceptive attack ads falsely accuse me of disregarding public safety in setting bail amounts,” she said. “I care deeply about public safety. These ads express a disagreement and dislike for a decision of the Ohio Supreme Court. As a judge, it is my duty to uphold the law. This is the very reason I’m running. There is no room in our judicial system for judges who bend and contort the law to further their political careers. My opponent should immediately condemn these dishonest ads and stop airing these lies.”

On Tuesday, the Ohio Democratic Party also weighed in, asking TV news stations around the state to stop running the ad. The request to stations says the ad “knowingly misstates” the judges’ rulings, but that it had no faith the RSLC would willingly withdraw it.

“However, stations like yours have FCC licensing requirements to adhere to, which are grounded by the public interest against misleading political advertisements. For these reasons, your station should refuse to continue to air this advertisement,” the Democratic Party’s request said.

Di Palma said no TV stations have stopped running the RSLC’s ad, nor have any contacted the group about the Democratic Party’s demand.

“ODP is welcome to air its own ads trying to convince voters that Brunner, Jamison, and Zayas are less dangerous than their records suggest. But stations are not required to remove truthful speech just because ODP knows it is damaging to the party’s electoral prospects,” Di Palma said.

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