Too often as Election Day approaches, the road to the courthouse detours through a gauntlet of political mudslinging. Here are some of the significant low points in the 2011-12 race to the bottom in judicial election advertising:

OHIO: The Ohio Republican Party, which backed an incumbent justice facing former appeals-court judge Bill O’Neill, seized on a 2000 decision O’Neill wrote reversing a rape conviction. Variations on the allegation ran in several ads, including “When Crime Occurs,” over six days ending Oct. 29, 2012.

“When crime occurs victims deserve justice. But as a judge, Bill O’Neill expressed sympathy for rapists.”

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Copyright 2012 Kantar Media/CMAG

MICHIGAN: A Washington, D.C.-based group, the Judicial Crisis Network, ran an ad featuring the mother of a Michigan soldier killed in Afghanistan that referred to Bridget McCormack’s involvement as volunteer co-counsel for a Guantanamo Bay detainee. The detainee was transferred for prosecution in Tajikistan, where he is serving a 17-year term. The ad aired 416 times over eight days through Election Day.

“My son is a hero and fought to protect us. Bridget McCormack volunteered to free a terrorist. How could you?”

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Copyright 2012 Kantar Media/CMAG

MICHIGAN: The Michigan Democratic Party ran an ad attacking the three Republican-backed Supreme Court candidates for their alleged ties with special interests. Focusing in on candidate Colleen O’Brien, a former insurance lawyer, the ad asserted that “she worked to deny benefits to a cancer patient.” The ad aired 553 times.

“O’Brien helped deny benefits to cancer patient.”

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Copyright 2012 Kantar Media/CMAG

KENTUCKY: In a rematch between Supreme Court Justice Will T. Scott and Janet Stumbo, whom he unseated in 2004, the Scott campaign evoked the infamous race-baiting Willie Horton ad from the 1988 presidential election. While flashing images of black murderers and pregnant white women, the ad referred to murder convictions that Stumbo voted to reverse while on the Supreme Court. The ad aired 71 times, ending one week before the election.

“Lee Parrish and Roger Wheeler were sentenced to death for ruthlessly murdering pregnant women. But former justice Janet Stumbo voted to reverse both convictions.”

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Copyright 2012 Kantar Media/CMAG

WISCONSIN: The Greater Wisconsin Committee targeted Justice David Prosser with what one columnist called “the mother of all attack ads.”1 It accused him of protecting a priest accused of molestation in 1979, when Prosser was a prosecutor. A victim in the case, among others, labeled the ad “offensive and inaccurate” and called for it to be removed.2 It aired 1,089 times over 13 days through the 2011 election.

“Tell David Prosser judges should protect our children, not sex offenders.”

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Copyright 2012 Kantar Media/CMAG


Hall of Shame Notes

  1. Patrick Marley, Supreme Court Tensions Boil Over, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Mar. 19, 2011, http://www.jsonline.com/….
  2. Patrick McIlheran, The Cure For Dirty Politics Is Truth About What Prosser Did, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Mar. 25, 2011, http://www.jsonline.com/….