In the past few weeks we did two different surveys during webinars we hosted and asked a simple question: Were the participants on these webinars familiar with Ohio Supreme Court Justices French and Kennedy? Alarmingly, only about half of the 150 agents who participated in the webinars had ever even heard of them. We need to work to change this, especially since recent polling is showing these candidates are trailing their rivals.
Why should you care about the Ohio Supreme Court?
It was not that long ago that a plethora of activist rulings from the Ohio Supreme Court plagued our judicial system, state economy and insurance marketplace. The most infamous case from that era was Scott Pontzer v. Liberty Mutual. As ridiculous as it sounds, this decision expanded coverage from an employer’s business auto and commercial umbrella policies to an employee who was killed while driving his wife’s private automobile outside the scope of his employment.
Because of this case and other outrageous decisions handed down by the Court involving UM/UIM that expanded coverage beyond its intent, insurance companies understandably took action.
For example, they suspended the writing of any new commercial auto and umbrella policies in Ohio, raised UM/UIM premiums between 50-100 percent and excluded this coverage at renewal.
This created a real crisis of affordability and availability of UM/UIM for Ohioans in the early 2000s. This took several years to correct through legislative action and an immense effort by the insurance and business community to get new justices elected who would act like judges, not policymakers.
If you are a young agent and didn’t experience this craziness, pay attention.
This really happened… and it’s why OIA has been extremely involved in Ohio Supreme Court races for many years.
Ohio Supreme Court Races Really Do Matter
Fortunately, a lot has changed in the Ohio civil justice system over the past 21 years. The Scott-Pontzer decision was overturned in 2003, along with a plethora of other activist rulings that plagued our judicial system, state economy and insurance marketplace. We bring this up as a reminder to the agent community that the Ohio Supreme Court elections are important to your policyholders, profession and businesses.
In a crowded election year, it is easy for important issues to get lost, and what matters most to your business future could be buried in mayhem of messaging. And, since Supreme Court races in Ohio are non-partisan, nearly 25% of voters simply opt out of this race if they don’t recognize a name.
Those who do actually vote in the race may choose to do so based on name alone – not based on actual knowledge of the candidates. Case in point is former Justice Bob Cupp’s election loss to Justice Bill O’Neill in 2012. Justice O’Neill did not raise or spend a single campaign dollar, but still managed to beat Cupp by four percentage points. In the same year, Cupp’s Republican colleagues with Irish last names, Terrence O’Donnell and Sharon Kennedy, won by 38 and 14 percent.
OIA Recommends Justices Sharon Kennedy and Judi French
OIA has spent time evaluating the backgrounds and judicial philosophies of Justices Sharon Kennedy and Judi French and these are the candidates running for seats on the Court that OIA most trusts to stick to interpretation of the law rather than legislating from the bench. Both Kennedy and French have been recommended by the Ohio State Bar Association and in fact, Justice French was the only candidate to receive a highly recommended rating.
To protect Ohio’s insurance legal system, OIA hosted a virtual event with Justices Judi French and Sharon Kennedy in their re-election bids for the Ohio Supreme Court on Aug. 31. If you missed this event, you can watch it here.
Justices French and Kennedy have served 6-year terms and are now running to retain their seats on the Court and these races could not be more important to the philosophical makeup of the Court. OIA will be doing all that we can to inform members about these races and help spread the word about French and Kennedy prior to the election in November.
This is crucial because the candidates’ ability to get their message out via events has been stifled due to COVID-19 and the importance of these races will easily be overshadowed due to it being a presidential election year.