As the politics of the state and the city diverge further, Republicans are eroding the influence of the blue-county justices in Ohio’s capital.
The majority of the state’s significant litigation has generally been heard by the judges on the Franklin County panel, which includes Columbus. The Tenth District Court of Appeals has swung to almost all Democrats, and the makeup of that bench has varied over time—it is currently staffed by 15 Democrats and only two Republicans—so the state’s conservative politicians are looking at fresh choices.
Attorney General Dave Yost (R) has decided to file a number of politically-charged lawsuits in Delaware and Fairfield counties, which have Republican-controlled trial courts, rather than Franklin County. That includes a fight over regulating internet giant Google LLC as well as a challenge to gun legislation enacted by Democratic leaders in the nation’s capital.
“The dirty word used for that is called ‘forum shopping,’” said a former Franklin County Common Pleas judge Charles Schneider. Schneider worked for Yost after retiring from the bench. “But I personally believe if you can do that and can do it ethically and responsibly and legally, I think you’re doing your client a disservice by not doing it.”
Another legislative move that may further reduce the number of particular cases that Franklin County’s courts hear is in the works.
Among other things, a bill (SB21) that passed the Ohio Senate and a House committee would permit appeals of many state government decisions to be heard in the county where a business is situated or where a licensee resides rather than just in Franklin County, where the law currently mandates that they be filed.
And while a significant bill sponsor claims that the political make-up of the Franklin County bench wasn’t the primary motivator, others assert that politics cannot be entirely disregarded.
“The change in the political makeup of Franklin County, and therefore the Tenth District bench, has just given some energy to an effort that probably should have been addressed a long time ago,” said former Ohio Supreme Court justice Paul Pfeifer of the Ohio Judicial Conference.