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Man Running for Judge Gets Law License Suspended Over Attack Ads

By William Vogeler, Esq. | Last updated on

If a picture is worth a thousand words, then a video must be worth ten thousand votes.

At least, that's what attorney Ronnie Michael Tamburrino must have been thinking when he decided to run some television commerials in his judicial campaign. But what was he thinking when one video made fun of his opponent pouring whiskey shots for children?

Not only did Tamburrino lose the election, now he has lost his license to practice law for the controversial ads. The Ohio Supreme Court suspended his license for one year, with six months stayed pending conditions of probation.

"Tamburrino's misconduct impugned the integrity of his opponent as a jurist and as a public servant," Justice Judith Ann Lanzinger wrote for the majority.

Just Kidding?

In one ad, Tamburrino showed a robed, faceless judge pouring Jack Daniels whiskey and serving it to children, while a voiceover said: "Everyone knows that a judge would never serve alcohol to kids in a courtroom. But appellate judge Tim Cannon did something almost as bad."

Cannon, scrutinizing police who entered a home to search a party involving underage drinking, said that giving alcohol to minors is not among the most serious of crimes. It was not serious enough to justify a warrantless search in that case, he said. Tamburrino also criticized the judge in another ad for "not disclosing his taxpayer funded travel expenses."

In upholding a disciplinary decision to suspend Tamburrino, the high court said he crossed the line by making knowingly false statements. Moreover, the majority said he didn't even acknowledge the line.

"The problem is not that Tamburrino denied the charges that he crossed the line into knowing falsehoods; it is that Tamburrino denied that he even came close to the line and attacked those who said otherwise," Lanzinger wrote.

Protecting Speech in Judicial Ads

In dissent, Justice Judith F. French wrote that political speech of judicial candidates still receive the highest First Amendment protections. While she found Tamburrino's statements "distasteful," she said the ads were reasonably susceptible to truthful interpretations.

"I give no credence to Tamburrino's statements about his opponent, and neither, apparently, did the voting public, who re-elected Judge Cannon in 2014. But we must protect speech even when -- and, perhaps, especially when--we dislike it," she said.

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