Ohio's seven-member Supreme Court had been an exclusively Republican club until Gov. Ted Strickland appointed Chief Justice Eric Brown last April. Now the Chief Justice is joined by Appellate Judge Mary Jane Trapp as excellent Democratic candidates running this year, opposed by two GOP Justices with expiring terms, Maureen O'Connor and Judith Lanzinger.
What difference has a GOP-dominated court made for Ohioans? In short, it has been a long string of favorable decisions for the corporations and business organizations who have poured cash into the campaigns of GOP candidates, and a trail of tears for Ohio working people and consumers. With no balance on the high court, nobody is looking out for the little guy.
One striking example is highlighted in this TV ad that informs Ohioans of the little known story of an elderly Ohio woman named Maxine Spiller and Sky Bank. In the 6-1 decision Spiller v. Sky Bank, 122 Ohio St.3d 279, 2009-Ohio-268 (2009), available as a .pdf file here, GOP Justices O'Connor and Lanzinger joined the majority in reversing the Court of Appeals and essentially taking away Ms. Spiller's money and giving it to the bank.
While moving a dresser that had belonged to her life-long and recently deceased friend Roberta Staybrook, Ms. Spiller discovered four certificates of deposit and $2,500 in cash taped under one of the drawers. The bank could produce no record of the certificates, which were by their own terms automatically renewing year after year. Three of the four certificates in the envelope were issued to Stayrook individually or to Stayrook "or" Spiller, and these were not at issue in the Ohio Supreme Court because Ms. Spiller could not establish that her deceased friend had not previously cashed them. However, the fourth certificate was issued to Spiller alone, and Ms. Spiller testified that she had never cashed it. The Court of Appeals ruled that Ms. Spiller had met her burden of proof and was entitled to her money, which with interest amounted to nearly $30,000.
Ignoring Ms. Spiller's testimony, the Ohio Supreme Court ruled that the bank's failure to retain records of the certificate of deposit was excused, and the bank was in fact immune from suit, based on a statute (Ohio Revised Code §1109.60) which provides that banks are not required to maintain account records beyond six years after the accounts are closed. The high court discarded the holding of the Court of Appeals, supported by prior precedent, that the statute does not authorize a bank to destroy the records of an active automatically renewable certificate of deposit.
The certificates at issue in the above-mentioned case were automatically renewing. Each year, with no effort of the consumer, the investments were renewed. The bank retained the capital and was able to invest the capital. Yet when the consumer tried to redeem the investment, the bank escaped liability for payment based on its own inability to produce a record of the consumer's investment. Is this the type of protection we want to provide Ohio consumers in such uncertain economic times?
So much for saving for retirement or a rainy day in the future. With this ruling, consumers cannot even take comfort in low-risk, low-reward investments such as certificates of deposit if the consumer fails to bring a claim within six years after the bank destroys records of the account. It's no wonder that Justice Paul Pfeifer expressed incredulity over this result in his pithy dissent: "Not everybody sits and counts his or her money every day. Mrs. Spiller has the certificate of deposit. The bank has nothing. The bank wins? I dissent."
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