11th District Judge sues Ohio Chief Justice, claims judicial fundraising rules violate free speech

The Northeast Ohio Media Group and the Columbus Dispatch report that Judge Colleen M. O'Toole of the 11th District in Ohio has filed suit against Ohio Supreme Court Justice Maureen O'Connor and others, claiming that Ohio's rules surrounding judicial campaign fundraising violate her First Amendment rights. According to the Dispatch, O'Toole filed the complaint on Sunday in federal district court in Columbus.

O'Toole plans to seek election to the Ohio Supreme Court in 2016, according to the Media Group. She asserts that other judges in the state who will be seeking election to the high court have an advantage, as they have significant preexisting campaign funds in the bank and will be permitted to use those before she can even begin accumulating money. The Ohio Code of Judicial Conduct does not limit the expenditure of existing campaign funds to any particular time period, but Rule 4.4(E) restricts the solicitation of funds to 120 days before the primary election. O'Toole argues that this violates her rights of free speech and association, as well as due process and equal protection guarantees. According to the complaint, O'Toole's campaign committee currently has $93.99 in the bank, while Chief Justice O'Connor's committee has $52,481.78 and 1st District Court of Appeals Judge Pat DeWine has $245,493.59.

O'Toole is also challenging portions of Rule 4.3 of the Ohio Code of Judicial Conduct that deal with the usage of the term "judge" in campaign materials. O'Toole had been disciplined by the Ohio Supreme Court in the past for referring to herself as  "judge" during a campaign when she was not actively serving on the bench. Her case resulted in some modifications to this rule regarding misleading statements by judicial candidates. O'Toole is now seeking to overturn other portions of this rule, with respect to using the term "judge" in her campaign materials and dealing with specific language and font requirements. She is also seeking to overturn the prohibition on judicial candidates personally soliciting campaign contributions and a provision that provides for vicarious liability for statements by campaign committees. O'Toole is asking the court to temporarily and permanently enjoin these portions of the rules.

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