Uncertainty

WARREN – A judge hoping to hold onto his seat on the 11th District Court of Appeals is running against a Republican who is facing a suspension of his license to practice law.

Ron M. Tamburrino is the board chairman of Trumbull Township trustees in Ashtabula County and is hoping to wrest the bench from Judge Thomas R. Wright, a Democrat from Howland in his first term.

The 11th Appellate District includes Ashtabula, Geauga, Lake, Portage and Trumbull counties. The five-judge court is located in Warren.

Wright said a vote for his opponent is an uncertain one, because the board could vote to suspend Tamburrino’s license to practice law. If the sanctions are held up, Tamburrino would not be eligible for the judgeship, according to law.

Tamburrino was brought before the Ohio Supreme Court’s Board of Professional Conduct in 2014, the year he sought a seat on 11th District held by incumbent Thomas Cannon, who accused Tamburrino of making false statements about him in political advertising during the race.

The board originally recommended a six-month stayed suspension of his license to practice law but increased it to a yearlong suspension, with a six-month stay. Tamburrino objected to the recommendation and both sides made oral arguments to the Supreme Court at the end of August. A decision is pending.

In one of the television advertisements, the narrator declares Cannon “doesn’t think teenage drinking is serious” and the other states the judge would not disclose his taxpayer-funded travel expenses, when evidence showed Cannon was never asked to disclose the information.

The board found that both ads contained false statements and Tamburrino’s “repeated refusal to acknowledge the blatantly false content of his advertisements and his corresponding belief that the content of the false advertisements was appropriate.”

Tamburrino said his fate should not be decided by judges who were elected to their positions because they are too close to the process. And in a case in a different jurisdiction, the court ruled that Ohio’s political false statement laws are “content-based restrictions targeting core political speech” and unconstitutional, he said.

There are separate laws governing judicial races, but Tamburrino said it isn’t hard to assume the same law might be applied in judicial races.

Tamburrino argues his advertisements should have been protected by his First Amendment right to free speech. He said he is not satisfied with the length of time it is taking for his case to be resolved – it should have been handled in a year, he said. The action against him was politically motivated, he said.

Tamburrino said if elected, he would bring conservative principles to the court.

“My rulings would reflect the application of the Constitution as originally intended, uphold the rule of law, and I would not make decisions based on some desired outcome but on the validity of the arguments,” Tamburrino said.

Wright said his party affiliation is checked at the courtroom door.

“If a judge is doing his or her job right, it doesn’t matter if they are a Democrat or a Republican. I adhere to the facts of the case, as it relates to the Constitution and how it was originally intended to be interpreted,” Wright said.

The 11th District Court of Appeals is important in the region because the court hears cases from all over the district, setting standards, precedents and is closely followed by lawyers and other courts, both men said.

Wright said his reputation speaks for itself, and cited numerous bar association polls he said prove people in the field trust his judgment. “I have a good reputation as a lawyer and as a judge as someone who does it right.”

Tamburrino said the public does not know enough about the court, and said if he is elected, he would push to have more information available online.

Wright said any public record not available online is easily accessible by phone or a visit to the court.

Tamburrino has practiced law for 33 years, which included a 26-year stint in the legal department at the Sherwin-Williams Co.

After admission to the Ohio Bar in 1991, Wright served as a law clerk for Judge Donald Ford Sr., who held the seat before him, and then spent 17 years as a trial and appellate lawyer.

rfox@tribtoday.com