Sunday, June 17, 2007

The Slapping Down of Ohio Supreme Court Justice Paul Pfeifer

One of the worst kept secrets in Columbus is that Justice Eve Lundberg-Stratton wants to be the first woman to be Ohio Supreme Court Chief Justice. She has been planning her election as Chief for a long time. She has important allies in the business community. She has very good public relations skills as shown by her efforts to establish mental health dockets for Ohio's trial courts. In short, she seems to be on track to accomplish her goal.

Democrats and their allies in labor and the plaintiffs' bar have been looking for a candidate who could beat Stratton. One rumor going around is that the Justice Paul Pfiefer will jump parties and run as a Democrat for Chief Justice in the 2008 election. Pfiefer is liberal for a Republican, has allies in labor and the trial lawyers' bar, and has run state-wide more times than Stratton.

Which brings us to this article that appeared in the Sunday, June 17th, 2007 edition of the Cleveland Plain Dealer. This article deals with the allegedly long time that the Ohio Supreme Court takes in rendering opinions. The article points out that the time the Supreme Court takes in releasing opinions is increasing.

What's interesting is that while most of the Justices are having problems releasing opinions, it is Justice Pfiefer that gets most of the attention for being a slowpoke in judicial decision writing. This is a quote from the article about Pfeifer's slowness: Justice Paul Pfeifer was the slowest, taking an average of 291 days to produce each of his 21 opinions in 2006 - nearly two months longer than the next-slowest justice, Lanzinger The article goes on to describe how Pfeifer doesn't have three law clerks like the other Justices. He uses two clerks and an administrative assistant. This assistant helps him write a weekly column for small city newspapers and the Supreme Court's website.

Justice Stratton, on the other hand, is the one Justice who is described as being relatively speedy in releasing opinions. This is a quote from the article about Stratton's promptness: Stratton, who is now among the most efficient justices at turning out opinions, said she puts a premium on speed. "I just believe that it is very important that the public gets a timely opinion," she said.

Do we see a difference in the way the two Justices are being treated by this article?

The article also doesn't analyze other factors that could be leading to an increase in the amount of time Justices are taking to issue opinions. One of those is whether the direct appeal of death penalty cases from Ohio's Common Pleas Court to the Ohio Supreme Court, bypassing the Ohio's Courts of Appeals, is adding to the time being taken by the Ohio Supreme Court in issuing decisions.

Nor is there any reason given for why other Ohio Supreme Court Justices are taking longer. The article gives a reason for Justice Pfeifer's tardiness, but what about the fact that Justice Lanzinger, who apparently has the usual three law clerks, is taking longer than the other five Ohio Supreme Court Justices who were there in both 2006 and 2007? What is the reason there?

We have no idea if Justice Pfeifer is going to switch parties and run for Chief Justice. What we do know, though, is that if he does, the Republicans have already set in motion the material for an attack ad to use against him. That material appears in the Cleveland Plain Dealer.

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