The Akron Bar Association reduced the ratings of two judicial candidates in Tuesday’s election after finding that their television ads misled voters.
Todd McKenney and Beth Whitmore, who are running in separate races for seats in Summit County Common Pleas Court, misused their ratings in campaign advertising to falsely give the impression they were being endorsed by the Akron Bar, officials said in a news release Friday.
The TV ads for McKenney and Whitmore specifically stated that they were “recommended by the Akron Bar Association” when, in fact, both received a rating of “recommended” in the evaluation system used by the bar’s Commission on Judicial Candidates.
Hal DeSaussure Jr., the commission chairman, said a majority of the 25-member committee met Thursday night, looked at the ads and voted to lower the ratings of McKenney and Whitmore one notch from “recommended” to “acceptable.”
“There’s been a history on this before, and the bar association changed a rule in 2012 and put quotes around the way you’re supposed to use the rating so that it’s clear that it’s in the context of a rating, and not that we’re endorsing a given candidate, because we don’t,” DeSaussure said.
“In looking at the two ads and the use of the rating, we thought it was not appropriate, and the committee as a whole voted to move them down one,” he said.
The commission rates judicial candidates, from highest to lowest, as “highly recommended,” followed by “recommended,” “acceptable” or “not recommended.”
McKenney, a Republican who was appointed to a judgeship in April in Barberton Municipal Court, is running for a Common Pleas Court seat against Jon Oldham, a Democrat who is a magistrate in Summit County Probate Court.
Whitmore, a Republican who is a sitting judge in Akron’s 9th District Court of Appeals, is running for a Common Pleas judgeship against incumbent Democrat Mary Margaret Rowlands.
McKenney and Whitmore released a joint statement after the bar announced the lowered ratings.
The statement said they were “shocked and troubled” by how the rating was used in their TV ads. The ads were done by “third parties,” the statement said, and “were not provided to us for approval before their use.”
Their statement went on to say that they “supplied the proper information for the ads,” but were never given a chance to review or approve them.
“While we are being held accountable for these ads, we do not know what more we could have done in this case and we do not approve of their continued use,” the statement said.
Bar officials said both candidates agreed to withdraw the misleading reference from the ads.
The bar’s Judicial Campaign Conduct Committee felt reducing the ratings was appropriate, according to Friday’s news release, because the violations occurred so close to Election Day.
Merely withdrawing or correcting the misleading ads would not have been enough of a remedy, bar officials said.
Ed Meyer can be reached at 330-996-3784 or firstname.lastname@example.org.