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North Dakota judge candidate was part of ballot dispute in Ohio over middle name

North Dakota judge candidate was part of ballot dispute in Ohio over middle name

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A Burleigh County prosecutor seeking a South Central District judgeship was involved in a 2004 Ohio election ballot dispute during which he was accused of deception but not disciplined.

Scott R. Miller's attempt to use a middle name he started going by a few months before filing his nominating petition was "an affront to the bar and the electorate," an Ohio Supreme Court justice said.

Miller, assistant Burleigh County state’s attorney since April 2019, ran unsuccessfully for office in Ohio several times in the late 1990s and early 2000s. After losing a Cleveland Municipal Court judge race in 2003, he began "holding himself out as Scott Russo Miller in an attempt to effect a common law name change," according to court documents. He filed a nominating petition for Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas in 2004 stating that his name was Scott Russo Miller, formerly Scott Ronald Miller. He listed only Scott Russo Miller in a blank asking how his name should appear on the ballot.

Russo at that time was the last name of the Cuyahoga county auditor and five county judges. 

After a protest was filed, the county election board held a hearing and voted 3-0 to strike Miller's middle name of Russo from the ballot. Miller during the hearing said the name change was a way to reflect his Italian heritage but acknowledged that Russo was neither his mother's nor his grandmother's maiden name. He also said he liked the name, the Supreme Court document shows.  

The board ordered that his name appear on the ballot as Scott Miller. An appeals court sided with the election board after Miller sought to force the use of the name Scott Russo Miller.

The Supreme Court of Ohio upheld the appeals court ruling, saying the election board “could reasonably infer that Miller intended to deceive Cuyahoga County voters” by using the middle name Russo and that the board acted properly in not allowing its use.

One justice added in a concurring opinion that Miller failed to show the election board’s action was the result of fraud or corruption, or that the board abused its discretion or disregarded the law. The true issue in the case was Miller’s “outrageous behavior,” Justice Paul E. Pfeifer said.

“Miller’s attempted name change was an affront to the bar and to the electorate,” Pfeifer wrote.

No disciplinary action arose from the Ohio high court’s ruling.

“Somebody would have had to file a complaint,” said Allan Asbury, senior counsel for the Ohio Board of Professional Conduct.

Miller told the Tribune that the Ohio case is irrelevant in the current judicial race, which will be decided in the November general election.

“I do not use the name, and have not for a long time,” he said.

He was listed on the June primary ballot as Scott R. Miller. Documents for court cases he is prosecuting list him as Scott Ronald Miller.

His opponent in November, Bonnie Storbakken, declined comment to the Tribune.

Neither candidate has been publicly disciplined in North Dakota, according to information from Supreme Court Clerk Petra Mandigo Hulm, who also serves as secretary/treasurer of the State Board of Law Examiners and secretary of the Disciplinary Board.

Lawyers applying for admission to the State Bar go through a character and fitness investigation and are asked to disclose anything in their past -- even traffic tickets.

“If an attorney applying for admission received any discipline they would have to disclose it, but it would not necessarily keep them from being admitted,” Mandigo Hulm said.

Miller and Storbakken are vying for the judicial seat vacated by retiring judge Thomas Schneider.

Reach Travis Svihovec at 701-250-8260 or Travis.Svihovec@bismarcktribune.com

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