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ProgressOhio's Ethics Complaint Against Justice Sharon Kennedy

Posted May 25, 2017 by Attorney Dianna Anelli

Several news agencies report the filing of a formal ethics complaint against Ohio Supreme Court Justice Sharon Kennedy.

At issue is Justice Kennedy's March 17, 2017 appearance and speech at the Greater Toledo Right to Life fundraiser. Apparently, that organization uses part of its budget to lobby the Statehouse to legislate, restrict and, ultimately shut down abortion clinics. According to one news agency, Justice Kennedy's past campaign literature indicates she is opposed to abortion.

The problem is that days earlier, the Supreme Court of Ohio accepted the appeal involving the constitutionality of Ohio law requiring transfer agreements between private hospitals and abortion clinics. The organizations believe that Justice Kennedy's appearance and speech at a fundraising event for an organization that opposes abortion when the Supreme Court of Ohio will be ruling on a matter involving abortion issues creates an appearance of impropriety.

Many organizations, including ProgressOhio, Ohio National Organization for Women, the Physicians Action Network, and NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio are involved in the grievance. In all over 51 individuals support the investigation of a possible ethics breach. According to NARAL pro-Choice Ohio's executive Director, Kellie Copeland, the executive and legislative branches of the Ohio government have passed a series of laws that compromise women's health.

Indeed, Code of Judicial Conduct Rule 1.2 mandates that judges avoid impropriety and the appearance of impropriety. The problem is just what conduct establishes the appearance of impropriety. The rule is geared toward promoting public confidence in the independence of the judiciary.

Code of Judicial Conduct Rule 3.1 permits judges to participate in extrajudicial activities. They cannot do so, however, if a reasonable person would conclude that it undermines the judge's independence or impartiality.

Code of Judicial Conduct Rule 3.7 allows judges to participate in, among others, charitable organizations, including speaking at an organizations programs. But such participation cannot adversely reflect on the judge's independence, integrity or impartiality.

Should the disciplinary authority receiving the grievance actually prosecute the case, the Board of Professional Conduct will hear the matter. Ultimately, the Supreme Court of Ohio decides whether Justice Kennedy's conduct actually violates these or any other ethics rules.




[1] Capital Care Network of Toledo v. State of Ohio Dept. of Health, S.Ct. Case No. 2016-1348.



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