Justice Maureen O'Connor at City Club; Painesville Diversity at Your Vine or Mine; CAMEO Candidates Night
On Wednesday, August 12th, we attended a luncheon at the City Club where the featured speaker was Chief Justice of the Ohio Supreme Court Maureen O'Connor and her topic was "Raising Voters' Awareness about Judicial Candidates" and the gathering was relatively smaller than what we are generally used to at the City Club which was good because the setting was more intimate and there time for more interaction. The first person that we talked to after we arrived was Mr. Gurewitez, a retiree from New York who we often see at the City Club. Mr. Gurewitez said that he was really interested in hearing what the chief justice had to say because it had been his experience that in New York the most bitterly contested, expensive elections are those for Surrogate Court justices who deal with matters that directly touch everyone like settling estates, handling bankruptcies, and assigning guardianships.
As we were standing outside the dining area, we talked to Ms. Anne Owings Ford and Ms. Rebecca Ruppert McMahon who are, respectively, the President and the Executive Director of the Cleveland Metropolitan Bar Association. Both of them knew Ms. Margaret W. Wong and told us to give her their best.
Standing right beside them was Mr. James W. Satola, Circuit Vice President for the Sixth Circuit of the Federal Bar Association, who told us that one of his early jobs was working as a busboy for Pearl of the Orient. Of course, he knew both Ms. Margaret W. Wong and Ms. Rose Wong and he and Ms. Owings Ford and Ms. McMahon talked for a moment about what a good restaurant that Pearl of the Orient is.
To be sure there were other people there who knew Ms. Margaret W. Wong like Ms. Constance Mehrling who waved to us as we walked in to have lunch. At lunch we sat with Mr. Harlan D. Karp, an immigration attorney who got his start working for Ms. Wong and credits her with teaching him a lot of what he knows about immigration. Sitting at the same table was Mr. Keith Ashmus, (FW) Frantz Ward Attorneys at Law, who is another old friend of Ms. Wong's. While we ate Mr. Ashmus and Mr. Karp discussed the potential impact of the recent opinion of the Ohio Board of Professional Conduct that said that judges cannot refuse to perform LGBT marriage ceremonies or refuse to perform all marriage ceremonies so they will not have to perform those involving the LGBT.
Soon it was time for Chief Justice O'Connor's presentation in which she said that she was very troubled by the low percentage of people who vote in judicial elections in Ohio. In fact, it is estimated that 40% of people who vote for federal, state, and local offices do not vote for justices citing "ballot fatigue" and not knowing enough about the judicial candidates to feel comfortable about voting for any of them. What's more many people do not understand the different duties of judicial offices like common pleas court justices vs. appellate court justices vs. supreme court justices. Not surprisingly, many of those polled understandably agree with Mr. Gurewitez that judges are too heavily influenced by such factors as politics and contributions.
Chief Justice O'Connor then talked about her three point plan "to elevate judicial elections."
First, she proposed that all judicial elections be held in odd-numbered years and the contests placed at the top of the ballot. This way the judicial races would be the main focus and would not have to compete with others for attention. Under the current system she said it was like the partisan candidates were "shouting" at election time while the judges were "whispering." It would probably also be less costly to run a media campaign in the odd years when no presidential or gubernatorial contests are taking place because the advertising costs would not be as high.
Second, she talked about a voter education website about judicial candidates that will be launched in September, 2015 called "Judicial Votes Count" which is a collaboration between Chief O'Connor, herself, the Ohio State Bar Association, the Ray C. Bliss Institute of Applied Politics at the University of Akron, the League of Women Voters of Ohio, the Ohio Newspaper Association and the Ohio Association of Broadcasters. She passed out cards that said that this website will present information on "every judicial candidate in the state. In addition, the site will explain the state's court system-how it works, what judges do at different court levels, and how judges opinions affect individuals and communities."
Lastly, Chief Justice O'Connor noted that in Ohio all that an attorney only needs is six years of experience before assuming a judgeship at any level. She proposed longer practice requirements such as eight years for a common pleas judgeship, 10 years for appellate and twelve years to sit on the Ohio Supreme Court. She said that she didn't believe that there would be any opposition to this proposal and that the bar associations may even lobby the state legislature on its behalf.
Chief Justice O'Connor acknowledged that enactment of these reforms would be a "shift in culture" for many people but went on to say that just this would be tough is no reason not to try it especially if the possible rewards would be more voter participation and the end of the "name game" of people voting for judges because their names are familiar.
Chief Justice O'Connor believes that when running for election it is all right for a judge to talk about his/her record as a judge and about what his/her record was before assuming the bench. A judicial candidate cannot, however, say things like how he/she intends to throw the book at every child molester because it would be a violation of impartiality. Along these lines, a judicial candidate should be able to talk about his/her personal beliefs but make it clear that once on the bench he/she will set those beliefs aside and follow the laws. Moreover, the judicial candidate should discuss the contributions that he/she has made to the community. After all, as Chief Justice O'Connor said, "we need to remember that we are public servants."
Early Wednesday evening we drove over to Painesville to go to the monthly happy hour/get together of the Downtown Painesville Organization which properly presents Painesville as a diverse community which is "the civic heart of Lake County and a gathering place for people of all ages and all walks of life." Each month this gathering is held at a local business so on this occasion it was held "Your Vine or Mine" which is a popular "boutique micro-winery" offering a wide selection of wines suitable for all occasions.
About 20 people attended including Ms. Mary Jo Miller of the Bella Donna Salon, who is an old friend of Ms. Margaret W. Wong, and Ms. Debra Remington, Director of Alumni and Community Relations at Lake Erie College, who introduced us to her friends and told them that Margaret W. Wong and Associates was a big help to the international students enrolled there. She went on to say that this year they have thirty-six international students but in other years they have had as many as fifty-four.
We talked for a while to two Painesville City Council members Ms. Lori DiNallo and Mr. Michael DeLeone and to Ms. Mary Frances Burns who will be retiring soon as Director of the Painesville Library but still plans to stay active. We sat next to Ms. Louise Fishleigh who works at the Painesville YMCA and told us how she and other staffers try to help the members who are struggling with the English language by making use of bilingual signs.
A much-discussed topic was the upcoming "Dancing with the Stars" taking place this Friday night at La Malfa in Mentor. Lake County Commissioner Kevin D. Malecek will serve as emcee and Mr. David Polakowski, Executive Director of the Downtown Painesville Organization, was looking forward to going because his partner, Mr. John T. Shepard, Superintendent of the Painesville Local Schools, is going to be one of the contestants.
Our last event for the day was Candidate's Night for CAMEO which took place at the Holiday Inn in Independence. Over forty candidates for local offices throughout Cuyahoga County were given three minutes each to present their case to CAMEO as to why they should receive the CAMEO endorsement. Next, at the September 2015 meeting, the CAMEO membership will vote on who endorse with the help of the CAMEO board which will announce their recommendations at that time.
Mr. Joe Charif, Vice President of CAMEO, talked about the importance of being able to hear what the candidates had to say and talk to them one-on-one. Mr. Charif mentioned that one of the duties of CAMEO is to introduce immigrants from the Middle East, many of whom come from places governed by dictators, to our process of democracy.
We, ourselves, mainly focused on what was being said about immigration and diversity.
We liked it when two candidates for Mayor of Brooklyn spoke about the importance of St. Elias Church to the city and one of them noted that there is more economic development in diverse communities. Mayor Georgine Welo of South Euclid talked about the struggles and the rewards of helping about 50 Bhutanese refugees get acclimated into her community. Likewise, Judge Pat Carroll of the Lakewood Municipal Court mentioned that he had observed that many immigrants are genuinely afraid of incurring citations for minor infractions because they believed that this could lead to unwanted situations with immigration officials.
One of the more poignant appeals was made by a candidate whose parents had immigrated to the United States after World War II. He recalled that his parents worked hard and sacrificed while making him work extra hard also. As a result of this, he is a very successful man now. He wanted to hold public office because his parents had always encouraged him to give back to his community and his country. He was ready to do this now because he wanted the rewards of his parents sacrifices to be passed to his own children who represent the next generation.