Governor DeWine’s son, appeals court judge run for Ohio Supreme Court, talk about integrity

News 5 is doing a series on Ohio Supreme Court races
Ohio Supreme Court associate justice candidates DeWine, Zayas talk integrity
Posted at 6:07 PM, Oct 10, 2022
and last updated 2022-10-10 19:41:25-04

COLUMBUS, Ohio — The makeup of the upcoming Ohio Supreme Court is arguably the most important composition the state's highest court has faced in decades.

The court has been Republican-controlled since 1986, but that could change this November. Three seats are open. These races are critical but often under-researched by voters.

The Ohio Debate Commission announced Monday that there will no longer be judicial debates. The commission said Chief Justice candidates Sharon Kennedy and Jennifer Brunner have stopped negotiating.

The upcoming Ohio Supreme Court (OSC) will get to decide laws around abortion, the environment and LGBTQ+ rights. Voters on each side have said this is the most important court makeup in decades.

RELATED: Why you should be paying attention to Ohio Supreme Court races

News 5 is running a series on the OSC candidates. This is the second edition, which focuses on one of the two justice positions.

RELATED: Ohio Supreme Court's Chief Justice candidates have vastly different backgrounds, ideologies, priorities


Justices are supposed to be elected as nonpartisan candidates, but for the first time, the candidates' party affiliations will be listed on the ballot. For clarity, News 5 is using alphabetical order when sharing the candidate's responses to the questions.

Republican Justice Pat DeWine joined the Supreme Court in 2017 and is now running as an incumbent for his current seat. He had been a judge on both the First District Court of Appeals and the Hamilton County Common Pleas Court. He is the eldest son of Gov. Mike DeWine. He also finds time to be an adjunct professor at the University of Cincinnati College of Law. Prior to joining the bench, he practiced corporate law for more than a decade.

Democratic Judge Marilyn Zayas has been on the First District Court of Appeals since 2016. She is frequently a visiting judge on all different courts, such as the OSC and numerous other appeals courts. She serves on the OSC Ethics, Professionalism and Diversity Committee and the Board of Character and Fitness. She has nearly 20 years of private law practice experience.

Judicial philosophy

DeWine is a strong believer in judicial restraint, which typically refers to keeping precedent and following textualism. Textualism is a theory of looking at the ordinary language of the legal text instead of trying to look for the intent of why the bill was proposed, according to Congress.

"I'm someone who believes the role of judges is to apply laws as written," DeWine said. "I don't think judges should legislate from the bench or impose their own personal views."

The philosophy Zayas has was born out of her difficult upbringing, making her want to give everyone a fair chance at justice, she said.

"I want everyone that comes to every court in all 88 counties not to believe, but to know that they have a fair chance to be heard," Zayas said. "And how you do that is by faithfully applying the law and the Constitution equally to everyone, independent of any outside of political influences."

Judicial philosophy — context

DeWine is recently under fire for telling a political action group in a campaign survey that abortion isn’t a constitutional right, which has Democrats and nonpartisan law experts alleging he violated the Ohio Code of Judicial Conduct. Giving a partisan opinion on a topic he will get to decide has led to lawyers calling it a campaign promise and prejudgement of a case.

The investigation into the comments made about abortion by the three GOP justices did not occur until after the OSC interviews were finished.

RELATED: 3 Ohio judicial candidates accused of breaking ethics code, told PAC abortion isn't Constitutional right

DeWine’s relationship with his father has also become a point of contention during the redistricting case. Despite the majority of the court evaluating if the elder DeWine would be held in contempt for not following the court’s instructions for constitutional maps, the justice did not recuse himself from the case. The justice has previously argued he is able to look at the cases fairly without bias.

Redistricting and what they would have changed or hoped was different

DeWine did not answer this question, but rather explained he can't talk about upcoming cases.

"That's a case that's still pending, so we're really not allowed to comment on that," he said. "We're not allowed to comment on cases that are pending in front of our court or in any other court."

Knowing that the case will be heard soon, Zayas acknowledged she can't speak on it, but added that respect for the Ohio Supreme Court needs to be in place and judicial ethics need to be followed.

"It's really important to honor the integrity of the court and to honor the decisions that have been made," she said.

A case or a project in their career that they are proud of

DeWine was part of the 4-3 minority opinion in a case revolving around cash bail and reform of the bail system. The majority upheld a ruling from a lower court that said a defendant's bail was set unconstitutionally high. Then came the debate on considering public safety when setting bail for alleged "violent criminals."

"I think partly because of that dissent and actually a lot of the fallout from the majority's decision, the Legislature in the state felt necessary to put a constitutional amendment, Issue 1, on the ballot," he said.

Read more about bail reform in Ohio by clicking or tapping here.

Zayas is proud of her work in making sure the court system becomes more equitable. A teen mother of three had tested positive for marijuana, which then led her being randomly drug tested. She passed every test, but when it was time for her to testify, she couldn't get a ride to the court. The judge continued her trial without her testimony. When she objected to this, and was in the court at a later date, they still didn't let her speak, Zayas said.

"We're talking about not only the right to parent but the right for children to be raised by their parent," she said. "These are issues that really come down to constitutional rights and individual rights."

Constitution as a living document

DeWine doesn't buy into the idea that the Constitution is a living document, he said.

"I think, essentially, when you say that, what you do is you allow any judge to impose their views as to what the Constitution should be," he said. "As for the Ohio Constitution, it's actually much easier to amend. So I think that's the process that people should go through who want to change the Constitution, not ask judges to rewrite the Constitution."

That is a loaded question because it has been politically created, Zayas responded. There's actually a cover letter that came with the Constitution but it doesn't get published much anymore, she said.

"The cover letter makes it very clear that the Constitution is a document of concession," she added. "If you read it, what it's basically saying is that it is in some ways an imperfect document, except for the ideals that are espoused within the Constitution."

Why should voters choose them

Ohio needs to be a place where the rule of law is protected and people feel safe, DeWine said. Making sure the law is stable and predictable helps the economy grow, he added. He also believes that judges ought to apply the law as written.

"My philosophy brings that fairness and equality under the law because we're treating everyone the same," he said. "If we have a stable and predictable legal environment, that makes it easier for people who want to invest in jobs in the state and do things to make Ohio a better place to live and raise a family."

If the state wants a candidate who is fair, focused and dedicated, they should choose Zayas, she said. She is running what she calls a one-term campaign, which means that reelection will not play any part in her behavior on the court. She will just fight for what is right and what the Constitution stands for, not outside political benefits or monetary gain.

"The only thing that I will calculate is serving the community in an especially important time where we are losing faith in our judiciary and where we have very important issues in our community that we need to get a hold of," she said. "One thing that I find very important is our constitutional rights and our individual rights," she said.

The winner of the 2020 presidential election

Although Justice Brunner and Kennedy had different answers, DeWine and Zayas both had a definite agreement that Joe Biden is the president and won the election.

Want to learn the latest on where the candidates stand? News 5 is here to help. We created a 2022 midterm elections guide,which is updated daily based on the changing candidacies.

Follow WEWS statehouse reporter Morgan Trau on Twitter and Facebook.