Ohio continues judgment, punishment of “false” political speech

Ohio is somewhat unique in all the nation in judging and punishing speech in the context of political campaigns it subjectively deems false.  As our blog’s readers know, our firm has been at the forefront — successfully so far — of litigation to get Ohio out of this business entirely as an infringement of core First Amendment liberties.

Notwithstanding clear pronouncements from the U.S. Supreme Court that government should not be in the business of judging and punishing political speech claimed to be false, last week, the Ohio Supreme Court piled on in this genre in its decision to punish Judge Colleen O’Toole from Ohio’s 11th District Court of Appeals for the audacity during her 2012 election campaign to call herself “Judge.”  (When Judge O’Toole ran for election that year, she was not on the bench as she had been defeated in a 2010 re-election campaign.)  You may read about that decision in the Cleveland Plain Dealer here and you may read the decision itself here.  Court News Ohio has the story here.

First, let’s start with the “truth” of the “statement” by Judge O’Toole in calling herself “Judge.”  As the Internet amply tells us here, here and here, it is entirely proper and appropriate to address a former Judge as “Judge” for the remainder of his or her life.  It is an honor they rightfully have earned.  Thus, there is no falsehood in others or the Judge himself using the title “Judge.”  Rather, it is entirely polite and proper (or at a minimum, even if not preferred, it is a commonly accepted title).

Still, the Ohio Supreme Court has elected to discipline Judge O’Toole for her self-identification as “Judge” during her 2012 campaign to return to the bench.

In the decision, the Court did narrow the rules applicable to Judges, declaring unconstitutional that portion of the rule that prohibited dissemination of information that is true, but “deceiving or misleading” to the average listener.

Judge O’Toole was formally reprimanded, fined $1,000 and ordered to pay $2,500 in attorneys fees and costs for her prosecution.