Court candidates condemn last-minute negative ad

By ANDREW WELSH-HUGGINS, AP Statehouse Correspondent

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) - Less than a week before the election, two candidates for an open Ohio Supreme Court seat found some common ground -- a negative TV ad that both viewed as over the line.

With her husband by her side at a hastily called news conference Thursday, Ohio Supreme Court Justice Evelyn Lundberg Stratton blasted the ad, which attacks a 1998 vote by her.

In a 4-3 decision, the court ruled in favor of companies fighting lawsuits filed by mothers and their children. The women were trying to collect money for damages caused by a drug taken by millions of pregnant women for 23 years.

The ad, which began running Thursday in Cleveland, Columbus, Dayton and Toledo, features a series of shots of pregnant women and women with children and said Stratton "gave sanctuary to the big drug companies." It also calls Stratton's ruling "a miscarriage of justice."

"This ad is despicable," Stratton, a Republican, said Thursday afternoon with her husband, Jack Lundberg, standing by her side. "It uses the term 'miscarriage' as a political attack that should offend all women who have attempted to bear children."

Stratton said she did not believe her opponent, Judge Janet Burnside of Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court, had anything to do with the ad. Burnside demanded the ad be stopped immediately.

"We obviously condemn this ad and view it as negative," said Jeff Rusnak, a Burnside spokesman.

In the ruling, the court said people who claim they were hurt by the drug diethylstilbestrol cannot sue unless they know the specific manufacturer and distributor of the drug.

The drug is synthetic estrogen and was taken by nearly 5 million pregnant women from 1948 until it was banned by the Food and Drug Administration in 1971 after being linked to cancer. It was given to women to prevent miscarriages and premature births.

The 1998 opinion was written by fellow Republican justice Deborah Cook. Chief Justice Thomas Moyer, also a Republican, also ruled in favor of the companies.

Two Republican justices, Andy Douglas and Paul Pfeifer, dissented.

The group running the ad, Consumers for a Fair Court, is an offshoot of Citizens for an Independent Court, a registered political action committee running ads in favor of Burnside. That committee includes the Ohio AFL-CIO, the Ohio Academy of Trial Lawyers and teachers' and public employees' unions.

The new group "is essentially the same folks," said Dale Butland, a veteran Democratic political consultant acting as the group's spokesman.

However, because Consumers for a Fair Court is running so-called issue advocacy ads, it does not have to list its contributors. Its ads cannot use words such as "vote for" or "elect."

"All we have done is brought to light her own opinion and own decision," Butland said. "If her character is harmed by her own opinion, it's not assassination, it's suicide."

Butland said the union group was forced to run an issue ad because corporations are running their own ads in favor of Burnside.

Informed Citizens of Ohio, an issue advocacy group that also does not have to reveal its contributors, has purchased $410,510 in TV ads supporting Stratton, according to the New York-based Brennan Center for Justice.

The center released a report Thursday that found spending on TV ads for Ohio's two Supreme Court race topped $2.6 million to date.

Stratton leads the four candidates in spending on TV time, with $718,228 in ad buys, the study found. Stratton said her strategy is to run positive ads emphasizing her strengths.

Complaints have been filed in several Supreme Court TV ads.

Thursday, a three-judge appeals court panel found enough evidence to hold a hearing in a complaint filed against Judge Tim Black of Hamilton County Municipal Court.

Black is accused of using a 1999 Cincinnati Bar Association rating in a TV commercial without specifying what the rating was for. He is also accused of using the title "Judge" without clearly identifying which court.

Black, a Democrat, is challenging Republican Lt. Gov. Maureen O'Connor for an open Supreme Court seat.

(Copyright 2002 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)