The Ohio Supreme Court on Wednesday narrowed the scope of a rule that limits what judicial candidates can say when they run for office after holding the rule was, in part, unconstitutional. But at the same time, the court let stand a reprimand and penalty against an Ohio 11th District Court of Appeals judge for making a false statement. The court found that a badge Judge Colleen M. O’Toole wore during her campaign in 2012 was false. O’Toole had appealed her penalty to the Supreme Court, arguing it was excessive. The rule prohibits a judicial candidate from conveying two forms of communication: false information about themselves or their opponents and true information that would deceive or mislead a reasonable person.
Justice Judith Ann Lanzinger, in her majority opinion, said that to be held constitutional, the regulation must serve a compelling state interest and must be narrowly tailored. The rule’s goals of promoting an independent, fair and impartial judiciary and to ensure public confidence in the system both are compelling state interests, she wrote. In that regard, the portion of the rule that limits false speech was constitutional.
But the portion of the rule that prohibited dissemination of information that if true, would be deceiving or misleading to a reasonable person is unconstitutional because “it chills the exercise of legitimate First Amendment rights,” Lanzinger wrote. “This portion of the rule does not leave room for innocent misstatements or for honest, truthful statements made in good faith but that could deceive some listeners.”
The case arose out of sanctions the state’s Board of Commissioners on Grievances & Discipline levied on O’Toole from the 2012 election.