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Published: Tuesday, 11/6/2012

O'Neill leading GOP incumbent Cupp for Ohio Supreme Court seat


COLUMBUS--A Democrat appeared Tuesday night to be on his way to becoming the first from his party elected to the Ohio Supreme Court in a dozen years, but it wasn't the appointed Democrat already on the bench.

With 70 percent of the vote counted, former appellate judge William O'Neill from northeast Ohio was leading incumbent first-term Republican Justice Robert Cupp, of Lima, for one of three high court seats on the ballot.

But Justice Yvette McGee Brown, appointed to the court by former Gov. Ted Strickland at the beginning of 2011, was losing to Republican Butler County Domestic Relations Judge Sharon Kennedy. Justice Brown is the first African American woman to serve on the bench.

Republican Justice Terrence O'Donnell, in his 10th year on the bench, was cruising to re-election over Democratic state Sen. Mike Skindell, of Lakewood.

Although judicial candidates run in partisan primaries, they appear on the general election ballot without party labels.

This was Mr. O'Neill's third run for the Supreme Court bench, and each time he had to defeat the Ohio Democratic Party's endorsed candidate in a primary battle. He has sworn off campaign fund-raising, arguing that money and the judiciary don't mix.

An early sign that Justice Cupp may have been in trouble came when the Ohio Republican Party stepped in to finance a TV ad that accused Mr. O'Neill of sympathizing with rapists. It was based on an opinion he wrote when the 11th District Court of Appeals in Warren that he was sitting on appellate court he was sitting on at the time unanimously overturned the conviction of an accused rapist.

Both the Ohio State Bar Association and Justice Cupp denounced the ad, but the party refused to pull it from the air.

With 70 percent of the vote counted:

--Judge Kennedy was defeating Justice Brown 58 percent to 42 percent.

--Judge O'Neill was leading Justice Cupp 52 percent to 48 percent.

--Justice O'Donnell was rolling to re-election over Mr. Skindell 69 percent to 31 percent.

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