Thursday, Dec 14, 2017
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Politics

Lawmaker doubles-down on attempt to remove justice

Says sexual harassment comments create judicial conflicts

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    Ohio Supreme Court Justice William O'Neill.

  • pa-supremes-preterm-JB-06-2

    Ohio Supreme Court Justice William M. O'Neill listens during oral arguments for Preterm-Cleveland, Inc. v. Ohio Gov. John R. Kasich on Tuesday, September 26.

    Joshua A. Bickel/Dispatch

COLUMBUS — The lawmaker who already introduced a resolution seeking Ohio Supreme Court Justice William O’Neill’s removal from the bench said Monday the justice’s recent Facebook posts have only added fuel to the fire.

Rep. Niraj Antani (R., Miamisburg) said the issue will not go away if the Democratic justice drops his candidacy for governor, as he has promised he will do if Richard Cordray enters the race.

Mr. Antani said the justice’s comments in defense of U.S. Sen. Al Franken — a Minnesota Democrat and one of the latest prominent figures facing accusations of past inappropriate behavior toward women —  have only created more future conflicts for the jurist. 

Justice O’Neill in a Facebook post Friday decried what he called “the national feeding frenzy about sexual indiscretions decades ago.” He then volunteered details of his own sexual past involving “50 very attractive females.”

Mr. Antani said Justice O’Neill “has taken a position on Al Franken, an issue for judge and jury.”

“He has conflicted himself on every sexual harassment, every rape case, every sexual assault case. He can no longer rule on any of those cases,” Mr. Antani said.

That would be in addition, he said, to the new cases coming before the court from which Justice O’Neill had already recused himself and any that might conflict with positions he’s taken as a candidate for governor.

Justice O’Neill said he was “unaware of any provision in the Ohio Constitution for removing a duly elected justice for exercising his free speech rights.”

“I would suggest he read the Ohio Constitution, or if he can’t, have someone read it to him,” Justice O’Neill said of Mr. Antani.

Mr. Antani introduced a resolution earlier this month seeking Justice O’Neill’s removal from the bench after he announced his candidacy for governor but said he would not immediately resign from the court. Justice O’Neill has taken the position that he does not have to resign until he officially becomes a candidate on Feb. 7 when he plans to file nominating petitions.

Mr. Antani’s resolution cited as grounds the court’s judicial canon requiring a judge to step down once he becomes a candidate for partisan non-judicial office. Mr. Antani said the Facebook posts can be used as further evidence of conflicts of interest.

“Let’s set aside the moral reasons for his removal as a disgusting human being who treats women poorly,” he said. “He is conflicted from critical questions that will be in front of the court. I am willing to pursue this with full vigor whether or not he runs.”

Justice O’Neill’s online comments brought swift rebukes from Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor, all four of his Democratic opponents, and others. The justice has since removed the posts and apologized if his comments offended anyone.

“The way it was executed was a mistake, but the message remains the same,” the justice said. “History will prove I am right about Senator Franken. I am embarrassed for Democrats who are calling for the resignation of a U.S. senator for a stolen kiss 11 years ago in a comedy skit and are refusing to give a moment’s thought to due process before demanding the resignation of an elected official.”

He has made similar due-process arguments in the case of Roy Moore, the Republican facing multiple accusations of his own while running in a special election for a U.S. Senate seat in Alabama.

“Even bad guys are entitled to a day in court,” Justice O’Neill said.

He said there is nothing preventing him from fairly considering future sexual harassment, rape, or assault cases on the court.

“They should have raised that issue six years ago,” he said. “As assistant attorney general I prosecuted sexual harassment cases in the 1980s. Does that demonstrate my prejudice?”

Mr. Antani’s resolution would require passage by a two-thirds vote. The justice would then be given an opportunity to defend himself. Another resolution by a similar vote would be required to remove him from office.

Regardless of how all this plays out, Justice O’Neill must leave the bench at the end of 2018 because his age bars him from seeking another term.

Justice O’Neill has already recused himself from participating in any new cases coming before the court, saying he will still sit on roughly 90 cases that already reached his desk.

He also will not participate in any new oral arguments before the court. As a result, Sixth District Court of Appeals Judge Mark L. Pietrykowski has been appointed to hear cases Tuesday in Justice O’Neill’s stead.

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

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