With the beginning of a new year comes the start of a new job for many Ohioans, but only two men -- both Pat -- from Cincinnati can say their new positions place them as some of the most powerful in the state.
Tuesday marked the first day on the bench of the Ohio Supreme Court for Pat DeWine and Pat Fischer, both former judges on the Hamilton County Court of Appeals. DeWine fared strong in the state, winning 56 percent of the vote. Fischer’s election was far closer, winning by less than one percent.
The election of Ohio Supreme Court Justices is nonpartisan, meaning the parties of the candidates do not appear on the ballot.
DeWine and Fischer have more in common than first name and Cincinnati roots. Both are Republicans, which make up six of seven seats on the highest bench in the state. The only Democrat on the court, William M. O'Neill, faces mandatory retirement from the court when his term ends in 2019.
The new associate justices were elected to replace retiring Justice Judith Ann Lanzinger and Justice Paul Pfeifer, respectively. Both Lanzinger and Pfeifer faced mandatory retirement under Ohio law, which renders justices ineligible to run for reelection if over 69 years old. The two outgoing justices are both Republicans.
DeWine is the son of Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine, something Ohio Democrats said would present a clear conflict of interest for Pat DeWine if he were elected. Now serving as a justice on the bench, DeWine says he will deal with any conflict the same way he has in the past -- by recusing himself.
Both new justices say it is not their job to be legislators, but rather elected officials who protect and preserve existing law.
“I believe the role of the Ohio Supreme Court is to apply the law,” DeWine said. “It’s not to make the law; it’s simply to take whatever is in front of us and apply the plain language of the Constitution, of the statute or of a contract, and if we do that we create an environment in Ohio where people can make decisions with a degree of certainty.”
Fischer agrees and also hopes to leave a legacy of professionalism and strong ethics, values he says have been important to him throughout his career.
“I was president of the state bar and president of the Cincinnati bar and I came up in the bar association by chairing committees on professionalism and ethics,” Fischer said. “I plan to emphasize that from my position as a justice of the Ohio Supreme Court.”
The addition of DeWine and Fischer marks the first time in 45 years a justice on the Ohio Supreme Court is from Cincinnati. But the new panel has not only one, but two justices from Cincinnati, something Fischer says hasn’t happened since the 19th century.
For Fischer, joining the court is the icing on the cake of a lifelong career in the legal system.
“It was a great experience for someone who cares about the legal system as much as I do,” Fischer said. “It was the chance to really see one of the top levels of legal judicial process in the United States. I really enjoyed it”
Connor Perrett is a fellow in the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism Statehouse News Bureau. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter at @connorperrett