French seeks another six-year term on Ohio Supreme Court

Ohio Supreme Court Justice Judith French
Ohio Supreme Court Justice Judith French

Republican incumbent Judith French said she has cast thousands of votes as an Ohio Supreme Court justice — all with the philosophy of deciding cases based on the law, not her personal views.

French drew a stark contrast with her opponent, 10th District Court of Appeals Court Judge Jennifer Brunner, a Democrat who previously served as Ohio Secretary of State.

French, who sat on the 10th District bench for eight years, said she managed to write decisions within a 90-day guideline in all but five times but Brunner has missed that deadline 363 times over the past four-plus years.

“Efficiency in the court system is critically important,” said French, a Republican who has been on the high court since then Gov. John Kasich appointed her in December 2012. French said she casts about 2,000 votes per year, including on 1,300 requests for the high court to consider cases.

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Brunner said French is over simplifying the data and the process it takes for multi-judge panels to reach decisions. “There is a legitimacy to taking the time to get it right,” she said.

Like Brunner, French said she expects the new system for re-drawing legislative and congressional district maps will end up with a challenge before the Ohio Supreme Court. But French said a 2018 state constitutional amendment provides clear details on restrictions for the General Assembly and what the maps need to consider — guide posts that she would use when deciding a challenge case.

When it comes to decisions on Home Rule powers for municipalities to self-govern, French said she has been on both sides of the question of when municipalities have the right to self-govern. The constitution grants self-governance to cities but it also gives the General Assembly powers to enact statewide laws.

French said she supports the continued use of the “Canton test,” established in a 2002 decision, to decide when state laws can trump local powers.

Like her opponent, French said she supports Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor’s efforts to build a statewide criminal sentencing database so Ohio can improve transparency and examine whether if disparities exist from court to court and county to county.

“I agree with the chief. We can’t begin to address disparity within the judicial system until we know what we have,” French said.

When it comes to open records and public meetings, French said she believes the high court has demonstrated its respect for open government. “Coming out of state government, I know what the law is,” said French, who served in the Taft administration, Ohio EPA and attorney general’s office.

French also highlighted her work off the bench to improve access to the judicial system for those who cannot afford a lawyer. She works with the Ohio Access to Justice Foundation to push for changes.

French declined to pledge that she would step aside on cases that involve campaign donors who have contributed more than $1,000 to her campaign in the previous 12 months. French said “No, I think our rules and our limitations already take that into account.”

French said the partisan control of the court doesn’t matter as much as the judicial philosophies of those who sit on the bench.

French describes her philosophy as a judge as a judicial conservative who examines the text of a statute or contract — not whether she personally likes or dislikes it.

“This is not about party. This is all about what kind of judge you are and how do you see your role on the bench.”

Ohio Supreme Court Justice Judith French
Ohio Supreme Court Justice Judith French

Judith French

Hometown: Columbus

Family: Married to Edwin Skeens; two children.

Political Party: Republican

Political Experience: Ohio Supreme Court justice 2013-current; 10th District Court of Appeals judge, 2005-2014; legal counsel to Gov. Bob Taft, 2002-2004; assistant state attorney general 1997-2002. Attorney since 1988.

Education: Bachelor’s, Master’s and law degrees from Ohio State University.

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