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The counties included in the voters guide are: Montgomery, Warren, Miami, Greene, Clark, Champaign, Preble, and Butler.

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Ohio Supreme Court

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    Craig Baldwin

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    Michael Donnelly

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Biographical Information

What are the two biggest challenges facing the state Supreme Court and how would you deal with them?

What ethical practices are critical to keep the judiciary independent from political influence?

How has your training, professional experience prepared you to serve on the Supreme Court?

As a member of the judiciary, what can you do on and off the bench to ensure that all Ohioans have access to justice?

What is your opinion of Ohio’s current cash bail system and what reforms do you think are needed?

The court often is asked to decide questions about open meetings and public records. What is your general philosophy when it comes to government transparency?

Experience Judge, Ohio Fifth District Court of Appeals. 2013 to present. Judge, Licking County Common Pleas Court, Domestic Relations Division. 2005-20013. Director, Licking County Child Enforcement Agency. 2001-2005. Attorney/Partner, Jones, Norpell, List, Miller and Howarth. 1997-2001. Attorney, Swank and Wilson. 1992-1997.
Education Capital University Law School, Columbus, Ohio. Juris Doctor, May 1992. Ohio University, Athens, Ohio. Bachelor of Arts, Political Science. June 1986
The two biggest challenges facing the Ohio Supreme Court are similiar those that face the judiciary as a whole. The first is the public’s understanding of the court and its role in our society. The second challenge is the court’s ability to fulfill its constitutional duty. Courts should issue fair decisions. These decisions should be timely determined with the right pace and urgency. These cases should be decided based on the law and the facts of each case and the court should not legislate from the bench. Laws should be made by the legislature not the judiciary. The courts should work hard to promote civility and should foster an environment where every person interacting with the system should be treated with dignity and respect. People in their courthouses should be treated like citizens in their courthouse not in a bureaucratic manner. Judges should work hard through public outreach to educate the public on the role of the courts. Many people have only a vague understanding of our judicial system and its constitutional purpose. Judges should take the lead in educating citizens regarding the courts. The founding fathers set out the roles of each of the branches of government in the constitution. The executive administers and executes the laws, the legislature makes the law and courts merely interpret the law. There is a lot of pressure on the courts to use their decisions to make public policy. Courts must resist this push to act as super legislators or to legislate from the bench. Courts who do so delegitimize the constitution and do harm to our republic. Courts must act within their constitutional boundaries.
Judges must first remember and respect their constitutional duty. Judges should also know and respect their professional guidelines and requirements. Finally judges should remember and respect the judicial oath of office and its requirements.
I believe that the width and breadth of my professional and legal experience make me a strong candidate for Justice on the Supreme Court of Ohio. My time as a practicing attorney provided me with a solid background for a successful judicial career. I represented a wide variety of clients in both the civil and criminal areas, doing both trial and appellate work. The broad range of experience provided me with the legal and personal qualifications to succeed as a judge. I attended law school at night. During the day I worked for the Franklin County Municipal Court Clerk and the Ohio Public Defender’s Office. In 2004 I was elected to the Licking County Common Pleas Court, Domestic Relations Division, as Judge. I was reelected in 2010. I was appointed to the Ohio Court of Appeals, Fifth District on March 1, 2013. I have been elected twice to the Court of Appeals. I have been very active in professional activities including co-chair of the Ohio Supreme Court Rules of Superintendence Committee. I have been a Visiting Judge in 6 Common Pleas Courts, a visiting Court of Appeals Judge in 5 districts, as well as a Visiting Judge in the Supreme Court of Ohio.
I believe that Judges can have a major impact regarding access to justice issues. Primarily this influence is off the bench. Judges can use their influence to emphasize and highlight the issue itself and then use that same influence to foster and promote solutions from courts, bar associations, community organizations, churches and other relevant groups. There is much opportunity for judicial leadership in this area.
I believe the current cash bail system could be improved. Any improvement should focus on the safety of our communities, and making sure that defendants actually appear for court. Any reform should also consider the fairness of bond values and amounts. Any proposed reform should be careful not to weaken judicial involvement and judicial discretion in the bond decision. Bond decisions should not be formulaic or primarily administrative.
I believe that governmental transparency is essential to good government. I am reluctant to go beyond that statement as these issues may come before me on the Ohio Supreme Court if elected and occasionally come before me now on the Court of Appeals.
Experience I have served as a Common Pleas Court Judge since 2005 and I am the only candidate for Ohio Supreme Court this election who is currently serving as a trial court judge. Prior to being elected Judge, I served for five years as an Assistant Cuyahoga County Prosecutor and spent seven years in private practice as a civil litigator, primarily representing injured workers. From 2010-2017, I served as one of five judges on Cuyahoga County’s Mental Health and Developmental Disabilities Court, which oversees criminal cases that involve defendants who suffer from schizophrenia, schizophrenic disorder, or a developmental disability. I am a faculty member of the Ohio Judicial College. I have taught to both attorneys and judges at numerous CLE’s about professionalism and issues of civil and criminal justice reform. I currently serve as first vice president of the Ohio Common Pleas Judge’s Association. I am also a current member of both the Ohio State Board of Bar Examiners and the Ohio Jury Instruction Committee. I served for six years on the Ohio Supreme Court’s Commission on Professionalism; during my final year, I was the Commission's chair. And in 2013 I was appointed to the Ohio Supreme Court's Death Penalty Task Force.
Education I am a 1984 graduate of St. Ignatius High School in Cleveland. I graduated with a B.A. from John Carroll University (1988) and received my law degree from Cleveland Marshall College of Law (1991).
1) Making Ohio's Justice System more transparent and truthful. The public’s ability to discern whether our courts are functioning properly and are efficiently resolving disputes depends upon their ability to see and understand the work we are doing. I believe many people feel like the courts keep too many things hidden from them and, as a result, they can't tell if our justice system is operating as fairly as it should be.

2) Correcting the "Justice Gap" that exists in Ohio. Citizens with lower incomes face significant barriers to accessing our justice system. This isn’t a matter of opinion or debate; it is a matter of established fact. I believe this has led to a growing belief that justice isn't for everyone, but is only for those who can afford it. This situation threatens to undermine the public's faith in our justice system and can't be allowed to stand.

A specific example I would offer of how I've tried and will continue to work to make the justice system more transparent is my effort over the years to eliminate the common practice of Factually Baseless Pleas, where defendants are allowed plead to lesser offenses that are do not accurately reflect what the defendant was accused of doing. I oppose factually baseless pleas because they give an inaccurate account of criminal activity and often circumvent sex offense registration laws. Because of factually baseless pleas, employers, law enforcement, victim advocacy groups, future criminal courts, and the public can't have confidence that the data they about possible past criminal behavior is correct. I worked with the Cleveland Rape Crisis Center and the Ohio Alliance Against Sexual Violence to end factually baseless pleas, but the current Ohio Supreme Court without explanation.

I will advocate for this and similar reforms on the Ohio Supreme Court, and propose to do so primarily through the formation of civil justice and criminal justice task forces to gather stakeholders to work on these issues together.
Judges are not, and must not be, partisan politicians. Our only concern should be the fair and efficient administration of justice. If we are following the law and applying it fairly to the disputes that come before us, we should earn the respect of all political parties. Introducing partisanship into judicial campaigns obscures how much Republicans, Democrats, and Independents share when it comes to our court system.

My priorities as an Associate Justice reflect these shared values and include: • Committing to greater truth and transparency throughout our justice system. • Closing Ohio's "Justice Gap" and guaranteeing access to representation within Ohio’s justice system, regardless of wealth. • Cutting unnecessary costs and delays from the litigation process. • Ensuring common rules and standards for fairness and efficiency are used throughout Ohio's justice system. • Restoring rights of Ohioans wherever they have been denied. • Listening to Ohioans and earning their trust.

I believe we can and must do more to prepare judges about how to put ethical commitments into practice. In Ohio, judges are directly elected and have broad discretion within their courtrooms. While their decisions can be overturned by a higher court, judges are really only accountable to voters and, within certain boundaries, they are free to – and obligated to – exercise their best judgement. The Ohio Supreme Court has an obligation to educate new judges on the importance of transparency and ethics. It is not only important to be fair, the appearance of fairness must always be in the forefront of every judge’s mind in the decision-making process.
There are two specific things I would point to.

First, I am the only candidate for Ohio Supreme Court this election who is currently serving as a trial court judge. I believe this relevant because the vast majority of the cases the Ohio Supreme Court decided last year originated from the Common Pleas level. I have presided over thousands of cases involving virtually every type of criminal and civil claim that can be litigated in the General Division. Every day, I make decisions about how the law should be applied in matters that are similar to most of the cases the Ohio Supreme Court hears.

Serving as a trial court judge has allowed me to develop areas of expertise that other justices may not have. For example, plea bargains are a huge part of our criminal justice system, but pleas never make it up to the appellate level. Dealing with the ins and outs – and problems – with pleas is handled exclusively at the trial court level.

Second, being a trial court judge means that every day I get to see how the law affects people's lives and how they perceive the work we are doing. Interacting with defendants and plaintiffs and their families, and with jury members has been an endless and rewarding learning experience – it's made me a better jurist, and, I think, a better person.

It's also made me worried. What I've seen from people coming through my courtroom over the years is the gradual erosion of their faith in our judicial system. There seems to be a growing belief that justice isn't for everyone, but is mainly only for those who can afford it.

Society depends on us to maintain and build the public's faith in our justice system. It's the Ohio Supreme Court's job to lead the charge – to prove to people Ohio's justice system serves us well and that we are, at every level, working to make Ohio's courts fairer, more efficient, and more accountable.
Ohio has a justice gap and it's the Ohio Supreme Court's responsibility to lead the effort to close it. Justice HAS to be for all of us, not just those who can afford it.

Citizens with lower income face significant barriers to justice. There is no way around this fact. They can't afford their own attorneys, so they are assigned overworked and underpaid public defenders who are managing huge case loads. Private attorneys are incentivized so their clients are their only priority. Public attorneys are incentivized differently and are forced to balance multiple priorities that may put their clients at a disadvantage. In the question about bail below, I cover some of the other ways lack of wealth puts people at a disadvantage accessing justice Ohio.

Providing greater access to justice inevitably requires more money; money has become a major determinant of whether one can access justice in Ohio, but it's not the only one. People with mental illnesses, for example, have trouble accessing justice, too, when their illnesses are not properly factored into their cases. I'm proud to have served for years on Cuyahoga County's mental health court, which I think has been critical to providing people with mental illnesses access to justice. I would encourage similar approaches throughout the state.
Everyone should be treated equally under the law, but criminal justice policies penalize people for being poor.

Policies that keep non-violent people in jail, away from the families, jobs, and responsibilities, when they are supposed to be presumed innocent, ruin peoples' lives, harm our communities, and undermine our economy. We have to commit ourselves to finding a better way…

The focus of sentencing should be on the risk posed to the public. People who aren't wealthy enough to buy their way out of jail are more likely to plead guilty to a crime, be more severely sentenced, and run up additional fines and fees. All of this piles on to keep families in poverty.

This issue isn't just about bail. People are being kept in jail when they can't afford to bail, even if they aren't a flight or safety risk. But they are also kept in jail when overworked public attorneys, who are paid by the hour, don't or can't make getting them OUT of jail a priority. Our incentives for how these defendants are represented are wrong.

Justice lies in imposing penalties for wrongdoing, but also in giving people a meaningful way to fulfill their debt to society. Take losing one's driver's license. There has to be a path back. It can't simply be a choice between going bankrupt paying fines or driving illegally.

We are taking on the bail issue in Cuyahoga County, but it is a systemic problem in Ohio and needs to be addressed statewide.
Transparency in government and in the judicial system is absolutely critical to building public trust. The public’s ability to discern whether our courts are functioning properly and are efficiently resolving disputes depends being able to see and understand the work we are doing.

Judges should do as much as they can on the record in open court. Let me give you an example of why this is so important.

97% of all criminal cases in the justice system do not proceed to trial. They are resolved by negotiated plea agreements. As one United States Supreme Court Justice once put it, plea bargaining isn’t just a big part of the criminal justice system, it IS the criminal justice system.

In our state, many pleas are finalized in off-the-record discussions that usually take place in a judge’s chambers. Early in my first term as a judge I began to question why this occurs and I arrived at the conclusion that NO ONE in the process should ever say anything in these discussions that they would not be willing to repeat verbatim on the record. I also concluded that stakeholders such as the accused, the victims, and the general public should have the right to be present when these agreements are finalized. For these reasons, I chose early on to have all discussion in open court and on the record, so everyone can understand how cases are being resolved. I believe this transparency fosters confidence in the judicial process.

Some limits to transparency are at times appropriate. I don't believe that anyone's personal information should be completely open to public scrutiny and I have to regularly protect individuals from having their information released when it's not necessary for the cases in which they are involved.

As a rule, however, we must make Ohio's justice system and government in general more transparent and truthful.