Democrat in lead for Ohio high court seat

O’Neill tops Cupp,early results show


COLUMBUS — A Democrat appeared on the 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 now on the bench.

With more than 80 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.

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.

"I cannot tell you what a privilege it is to serve as an elected justice of the Ohio Supreme Court," Justice O'Donnell said to supporters at the Renaissance Downtown Columbus. He was joined on stage by his family. “I have now completed 10 years on the Ohio Supreme Court and I belong to Ohio,” Justice O'Donnell said. In 2003, he was appointed to a high court vacancy by then-Gov. Bob Taft. Voters have returned him since.

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 swore off campaign fund-raising and argued money and the judiciary don't mix.

Judicial candidates run in partisan primaries, but appear on the general election ballot without party labels.

An early sign of trouble for Justice Cupp came when the Ohio Republican Party financed a TV ad that accused Mr. O'Neill of sympathizing with rapists, based on an opinion he wrote as a member of the 11th District Court of Appeals in Warren. It unanimously overturned an accused rapist's conviction. The Ohio State Bar Association and Justice Cupp denounced the ad. The party refused to pull it.

“The message I hope is being sent is that justice is not for sale in Ohio,” Mr. O’'Neill said Tuesday night. “I ran against a very honorable man, who had his name dragged through the mud by his friends, and that's the tragedy of 2012.”

Contact Jim Provance at:jprovance@theblade.comor 614-221-0496.