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Supreme Challenge

Local municipal court judge vies for Democratic nomination in Ohio Supreme Court race

By Andria Y. Carter · February 28th, 2012 · News
Hamilton County Municipal Court Judge Fanon Rucker could be history in the making.

Rucker is seeking a seat on the Ohio State Supreme Court. If he wins the Democratic primary and the general election, he then joins his father in being the first father and son to sit on a Supreme Court bench at the same time in U.S. history. 

Rucker’s father, Justice Robert D. Rucker Jr., serves on the Indiana State Supreme Court. He was appointed to the bench in 1999 by then Gov. Frank O’Bannon.

On March 6 Rucker faces off against practicing emergency room nurse and former appellate court judge William O’Neill of Cleveland to be the Democratic candidate in November’s general election. The winner from this race will face incumbent Justice Robert Cupp, a Republican.

But Rucker faces a tough opponent in the primary race since O’Neill, 64, is known to Ohio voters for having run twice for the state Supreme Court — in 2004 and 2006 — and then Congress in 2008 and 2010. Although O’Neill has won in the primaries, he has lost in the general elections.

O’Neill’s losses might be attributed to his stance on not accepting campaign contributions. This tactic is why Ohio House Minority Leader Eric Kearney (D-North Avondale) recently described O’Neill as a “knucklehead” at a Rucker fundraiser. Kearney said that O’Neill’s campaign stance (his motto is “no money from nobody”) turns whatever office he seeks over to the Republicans each time.

In fact, Rucker has received the Cleveland Plain Dealer’s endorsement over the hometown alternative.

If Rucker wins in November, he will be the fourth African-American to serve on the Supreme Court bench.

Running for a statewide seat is a humbling experience, Rucker says, but one that he is enjoying.

Serving the public and giving back to the community aren’t just words to Rucker. He volunteers at his church, he mentors several young people, he serves as a 33rd-degree Mason. 

Rucker, 40, was born in Gary, Ind. He is a graduate of the University of Cincinnati College of Law, where he is now an adjunct professor.

Political pundits expect the Ohio Supreme Court race to be one of the more exciting statewide races, especially with two African-Americans running for seats on the bench. Justice Yvette Brown is seeking to keep her seat after being appointed and Rucker is hoping to join her, which would be the first time the bench would have two minority justices. 

Even though Rucker and Brown are running for separate seats, there is some confusion across the state that Rucker is running against Brown, which isn’t true. 

Brown was appointed to the bench by former Gov. Ted Strickland and is the only Democrat currently serving on the bench. Over the last decade, no Democrat has been elected to the Ohio Supreme Court bench. 

“I’m excited about this race,” Rucker says. “I believe that people of Ohio deserve a Supreme Court that is representative of all the people affected by its decisions.”

Rucker said he is enjoying the campaign process. 

“I am having discussions with hundreds of thousands of people, and putting some things on their minds that would not be interjected into their conversation. I appreciate the opportunity to do that, no matter what the outcome will be on March 6 or in November,” Rucker adds.

Rucker likes tough challenges: He ran unsuccessfully against Republican Joe Deters for Hamilton County prosecutor in 2004.

Running unopposed in 2011, Rucker was elected to a six-year term as a Hamilton County Municipal Court judge for District 1.

Although he didn’t plan on following in his father’s footsteps, that is what’s happened. Just like his father, Justice Rucker, he has worked as a prosecutor, in private practice, served as a municipal court judge and now hopes to serve as a Supreme Court judge. Rucker wasn’t just exposed to the law by his father. His mother, Jacqueline Pace Rucker, also is an attorney and currently serves as director of a faith-based social service agency in Harrisburg, Pa.

While serving in the Hamilton County Municipal Court, Rucker has written more 200 decisions on cases ranging from criminal to civil cases, which was part of a campaign promise. On average, Rucker handles between 40-60 cases a day.

“You won’t find a lot of municipal judges who take the time to write 14- or 15-page decisions on cases that are submitted,” Rucker says. “I think it’s what expected of a judge. If a lawyer takes the time to write a motion, then he or she and their client deserves to get that back from the court. All the parties can be clear on how I arrived to the decision.”  © 



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