Ohio Supreme Court--Year in Review

Dec 23, 2014

2014 brought several big cases to the Republican-dominated Ohio Supreme Court, which delivered opinions that surprised some observers.

The Ohio Supreme Court ended the year by deciding one of the highest-profile cases of the year – ruling 4-3 that traffic camera programs are constitutional, and specifically that Toledo can allow appeals to go through an administrative hearing process and not municipal court. But Republican Sen. Bill Seitz of Cincinnati, the sponsor of a bill to regulate traffic cameras, says the ruling is basically moot.

“It really has no bearing on Senate Bill 342, though, which sets up a statewide system of regulations and will require that they can only use these devices if they have a sworn law enforcement officer present to physically observe the violation,” Seitz said.

But perhaps the biggest and most controversial ruling of the year came in a case involving Gov. John Kasich’s public-private job creation agency JobsOhio. The court ruled 5-2 that Progress Ohio and two Democratic state lawmakers couldn’t challenge the law that created JobsOhio, because they had no personal stake in the outcome. Case Western Reserve University School of Law Professor Jonathan Adler said the court’s decision was the right one.

“If you have broad taxpayer standing or even broader public rights standing as has been argued by the plaintiffs here, you basically allow for every political dispute to become a judicial dispute," Adler said. "And that’s corrosive both to our political system and to the judicial process.”

But that decision still didn’t settle a key question – whether the law that created JobsOhio was constitutional. Later in the year, Justice Paul Pfeifer said the court should have ruled on that question a few years earlier, before the entity was fully funded.

“The Governor no longer wanted a test because it would wreck the program that was up and running and our court said 'well these people don’t have standing' and the bottom line is that an important constitutional issue that the Supreme Court should have found a way to answer never got answered and never will be answered," Pfeifer said.

The justices also ruled unanimously on another case important to Gov. Kasich, saying that threats against him are security records used to protect him and are exempt from the public records law. Joe Mismas is the editor of the progressive blog Plunderbund, which wanted more information about the governor’s schedule.

“If they can do this with these records, what other records can they do this with? Where is the limitation there?,” Mismas said.

And the court handed a big win to the payday lending industry by ruling that a two-week loan with a 235% interest rate isn’t illegal.

The court also ruled on some big criminal law questions, deciding that a person couldn’t be charged with attempted felony murder and that cash-only bail requirements aren’t constitutional.

The justices threw out the state’s child enticement law and said age must be a factor in juvenile life sentences. And the year also brought back a familiar name to the practice of law in Ohio: “May it please the court, my name is Marc Dann. I represent George and Bridget Kuchta.”

It was the first appearance for Dann since the court had suspended his law license for ethical violations that happened around the time of the sexual harassment case that cost him his job as Ohio Attorney General. Dann argued for a Medina County couple who battled Bank of America over the foreclosure of their home. He lost.