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Two 11th district judges running for Ohio Supreme Court

TRACEY BLAIR
Special to the Legal News

Published: February 11, 2016

For the first time ever, two sitting 11th District Court of Appeals judges are running for the Ohio Supreme Court at the same time.

“Our opponents are from the same court also. It’s the 11th District vs. the 1st District,” quipped 11th District Judge Cynthia Westcott Rice.

Warren-based Eleventh District Judge Colleen Mary O’Toole is battling Cincinnati-based 1st District Court of Appeals Judge Patrick F. Fischer March 15 in the Republican primary for Justice Paul Pfeifer’s seat. The winner of that race will face the Democratic challenger, Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court Judge John P. O’Donnell, in November.

Meanwhile, Rice, a Democrat, will square off Nov. 8 against 1st District Court of Appeals Judge R. Patrick DeWine, a Republican and son of Attorney General Mike DeWine, for Justice Judith Lanziger’s seat.

Pfeifer and Lanziger, both Republicans, are retiring from the Supreme Court due to mandatory age limitations.

O’Toole

In a recent telephone interview, O’Toole said she hopes both herself and Rice can be elected to the state’s highest court.

“If we both win, there will be three of us from the 11th District,” she said. “Justice (William M.) O’Neill is also from the 11th.”

O’Toole was first elected to the 11th District in 2004. She left at the end of her term in February 2011 to found On Demand Interpretation Services, LLC, a technical start up that provides certified interpretation in 170 languages. In 2012, she was again elected to the 11th District.

O’Toole began her career as an intern in the Cuyahoga County Public Defender’s Office in the major appellate and trial division. She then worked with the National Interstate Company in Cleveland as a litigation manager before opening her own law firm.

“I think I’m the most experienced for the Supreme Court,” she said. “I have the most diverse background. I’m well-versed in the Internet, data management and business. We need somebody who can look forward. It can’t take us years to decide a case anymore.”

O’Toole said she decided to run for the Supreme Court because she loves the justice system and is passionate about current issues.

“Every day I get up and try to make the world a better place,” she added. “The cases I find most interesting now have to do with the gun issue. My husband’s a marine and an NRA instructor, and I have a license to carry a concealed weapon. When I analyze my cases, I try to ensure the rights of our citizens while ensuring the safety of our police.”

Another goal is to have more government transparency.

“I’m a transparency fanatic,” O’Toole said. “Our government has to be transparent. Cases surrounding that would be very interesting. I don’t know how we can hide anything anymore.”

Fischer

An honors graduate of Harvard College and Harvard Law School, Fischer is a former president of the Ohio State Bar Association.

He was elected to the Hamilton County court in 2010, and re-elected in 2012. Fischer began his legal career with a clerkship in U.S. District Court before working for the Cincinnati law firm of Keating, Muething & Klekamp in the trial department. He became a partner four years later.

In his free time, he serves as both a Eucharistic minister and lector.

Despite his qualifications, Fischer said it was quite a feat to be elected judge against the popular incumbent, William Mallory.

“I was the first Republican to beat a Mallory in more than 30 years. That’s like beating a Corrigan or a Russo in Cuyahoga County,” he said. “I was told I could not win, and I did. People came to me after that and said, `You need to think about running statewide.’ I have great support from a lot of lawyers, and I think I would do a great job on the Supreme Court.”

If elected to the state bench, Fischer said his top priorities would be to make sure laws are enforced fairly and to make courts more efficient as he’s done in Hamilton County.

“Before I got to the 1st District, it was an average 45 days from oral argument to publication,” he added. “Since I took office, it’s been an average of 24 days, so courts can be more efficient. I treat each case as equally important.”

Fischer said he is proud of the fact that Thomas Moyer, the late Ohio chief justice, asked him to co-chair a task force which has made the Ohio judicial system more efficient and just. He currently serves on the Ohio Constitutional Modernization Commission, and is vice chair of its committee on the judicial branch.

Rice

Rice has been on the 11th District court since 2003. Her prior experience includes serving as an assistant U.S. attorney in Youngstown in the general crimes division.

Before that, she was responsible for overseeing all felony criminal prosecutors in the Trumbull County Prosecutor’s Office. In addition, Rice’s private practice included contracts, probate matters and family law.

“There is no other justice on the bench right now with as an extensive criminal background as I have,” she said. “Frequently, the Supreme Court will decide a case from the federal district. My background as a U.S. attorney gives me an edge on some of these issues. My broad background in criminal procedure could also be an asset to the court.”

Rice said she plans to drive all over the state visiting all 88 counties during her campaign.

Rice added that she enjoys the wide variety of cases she sees in her current position, but wants the freedom to become more connected with issues.

“Justices don’t just hear cases. They get involved in issues, in pet projects,” said Rice. “Right now I think the biggest problem we’re facing is the overwhelming problem of heroin across the state. I would like to get involved to address this current public crisis we have.”

As chief counsel for Trumbull County’s Drug Prosecution Unit, Rice was responsible for prosecuting all felony drug crimes in the county. She established and directed the Pharmaceutical Diversion Unit targeting violations of drug laws regulating ethical pharmaceuticals. In addition, she was appointed Mahoning County special prosecutor to prosecute the Mahoning County coroner on drug trafficking charges.

O’Donnell and DeWine did not return phone calls seeking comment.


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