Legal Ethics

Judge candidate gets law license suspension for attack ads; dissenters cite free-speech protection

  • Print.

Supreme Court of Ohio

Supreme Court of Ohio. Randall Vermillion /

An unsuccessful judicial candidate in Ohio will have his law license suspended because of two attack ads he ran in the 2014 race.

The Ohio Supreme Court on Wednesday suspended the law license of Ronnie Michael Tamburrino for one year, with the final six months of the suspension stayed on condition that he commits no further misconduct and attends a CLE course on judicial campaigns. The Record-Courier has a story, while the Legal Profession Blog has a summary of the 5-2 decision (PDF) from Court News Ohio.

Tamburrino was accused of running two TV commercials about his opponent that Tamburrino knew to be false, or that he ran with a reckless disregard of their falsity. Tamburrino was trying to unseat Judge Timothy Cannon of the 11th District Court of Appeals.

One ad had claimed Cannon “won’t disclose his taxpayer funded travel expenses” even though the judge had consistently disclosed his travel expenses to the Ohio Judicial Conference, and no one else had sought disclosure, according to the Ohio Supreme Court opinion.

Another ad criticized a concurring opinion by Cannon in a case that held police should have obtained a warrant before entering a home to search a party involving underage drinking. Cannon said he didn’t wish to impede a police officer’s duties, but there wasn’t enough evidence of exigent circumstances to justify the officer’s warrantless entry and search. Cannon said giving alcohol to minors is not among the most serious of crimes, and its commission does not constitute exigent circumstances.

Tamburrino’s ad showed a robed, faceless judge pouring Jack Daniels whiskey and serving it to children. The voiceover said: “Everyone knows that a judge would never serve alcohol to kids in a courtroom. But appellate judge Tim Cannon did something almost as bad. In the case State versus Andrews, Cannon ruled that cops couldn’t enter a house to arrest a parent who was hosting a teenage drinking party, because he felt teenage drinking wasn’t a serious crime. Cannon doesn’t think teenage drinking is serious. What else does he think isn’t serious? We can’t afford Tim Cannon’s bad judgment.”

Tamburrino’s campaign continued to run the ads despite a press release from Cannon’s campaign that said the claims were false.

The state supreme court majority concluded the ads were false and a suspension was warranted. “Tamburrino’s misconduct impugned the integrity of his opponent as a jurist and as a public servant,” the opinion said. “It endangered the independence of the judiciary and lessened the public’s understanding of public records and the protections of the Fourth Amendment.”

A dissenter, joined by another justice, said the ads “are unquestionably distasteful” but they are “reasonably susceptible to truthful interpretations” and are protected by the First Amendment.

Give us feedback, share a story tip or update, or report an error.