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Supreme Court Chief Justice Condemns Ohio GOP For 'Unfounded Attack' On Judge

Chief Justice Maureen O'Connor delivered her State of the Judiciary at the Hilton at Easton on September 12, 2019.
Chief Justice Maureen O'Connor delivered her State of the Judiciary at the Hilton at Easton on September 12, 2019.

The Chief Justice of the Ohio Supreme Court is condemning a statement from the Ohio Republican Party accusing a Franklin County judge of colluding with Democrats on the issue of ballot drop boxes.

On Tuesday, the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas issued an opinion that Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose can and should expand the number of ballot drop boxes allowed in each county during the upcoming election. The ruling stemmed from a lawsuit by Ohio Democratic Party over LaRose's directive restricting election boards from adding more than one.

Shortly after the decision, the Ohio GOP put out a tweet saying that Democrats were "colluding with partisan judges."

"The role of a judge is to be impartial, yet the judge in question parroted his party's talking points in his ruling," the statement read. "The law was clear in stating the legality of having one ballot drop box per county. The judge's interpretation of this law due to his partisan affiliation is a blatant obstruction of his judicial responsibility."

Ohio Democratic Party chair David Pepper denies he had any special treatment from the court and went on to chastise the Ohio GOP for making such an accusation.

“The Republican Party reaction is just downright unhinged," Pepper says.

Pepper is asking the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas to find the Ohio Republican Party guilty of contempt in the case. He notes the comments are squarely against the Ohio Supreme Court's code of professional conduct for attorneys and those in the judiciary.

Pepper is not the only one upset by the comment. Ohio Supreme Court Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor, a Republican, also issued a condemnation of the party’s comments, calling it a "blatant and unfounded attack on the independence of the Ohio judiciary."

“No matter how the judge ruled, to accuse them of partisanship is just at the hearts of what I think are efforts to weaken the judiciary," O'Connor said.

O’Connor did not address the merits of the ruling itself, saying she hasn’t read the case and will remain independent minded if it is appealed into her court.

When asked whether Jane Timken, the chair of the Ohio Republican Party, approved the statement in question, spokesman Evan Machan issued a one line response: “You can attribute that statement to me.”

On Wednesday, Judge Richard Frye issued a stay of the preliminary injunction that blocked LaRose's directive, after the Secretary of State indicated he would appeal the ruling.