By Joshua Benton
Blade Columbus Bureau
COLUMBUS — Republican gubernatorial candidate Bob Taft has asked the Ohio Supreme Court to throw out a judge’s order that caused a controversial campaign ad to be pulled from Ohio’s television airwaves.
Mr. Taft’s attorneys filed the motion yesterday afternoon, calling the ruling Saturday by Judge John Connor of Franklin County Common Pleas Court an unconstitutional restraint of freedom of speech.
Mr. Taft’s opponent in the governor’s race, Democrat Lee Fisher, sought the temporary restraining order during the weekend, claiming the advertisement was fraudulent.
“Shame on Lee Fisher,” said Mr. Taft in a statement yesterday. “He is abusing the power of the court of common pleas with this lawsuit because he has determined he cannot win the battle of ideas in the court of public opinion.”
Answered the Fisher camp: “This is all just to divert attention from the simple fact that Bob Taft is lying in his television ads,” Fisher spokesperson Judy Barbao said.
The dispute centers around a line in which the ad quotes an article from the Oct. 6 Cleveland Plain Dealer. The ad narrator quotes the article as saying “Taft didn’t raise the taxes.” That ad was meant to refute an earlier Fisher ad claiming taxes had risen while Mr. Taft was a Hamilton County commissioner.
The Plain Dealer article actually said: “But Taft didn’t raise the taxes himself.” The Fisher campaign said that the editing out of “but” and “himself” constituted a fraudulent change in the meaning of the article.
They took the case to court, and Judge Connor agreed, banning the 30-second ad from the airwaves until a hearing, scheduled for 10 a.m. today, which will determine if the temporary order will become permanent.
“They’re creating their own reality by changing words,” Ms. Barbao said.
In their filing, Mr. Taft’s lawyers argue that the court order is a violation of free speech, and that the Franklin County court had no jurisdiction over the matter, since campaign-related disputes are supposed to be heard by the Ohio Elections Commission.
The Supreme Court has not determined if or when it would hear the case, a spokesman said.
Free speech experts tended to come down on Mr. Taft’s side of the issue.
“I know of no precedent for this sort of action,” said Professor Frank Askin of Rutgers University, who specializes in freedom of speech issues. “If it is defamatory, they can sue for damages, or they can answer with their own ads.”
“This is unprecedented in many ways,” said Scott Greenwood, the general counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio. “The solution for deceptive speech, which is what the Fisher campaign is alleging, is more speech, not less, and certainly not a restriction.”