Tuesday, Mar 20, 2018
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O'Neill to resign from Supreme Court to run for governor

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    Ohio Supreme Court Justice William M. O'Neill

    Joshua A. Bickel/Dispatch

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    Ohio Supreme Court Justice William O'Neill.

COLUMBUS — Ohio Supreme Court Justice William O’Neill on Friday submitted his letter of resignation to Gov. John Kasich effective Jan. 26 with the intention of staying in the 2018 hunt for the Democratic nomination for governor.

The justice backed away from his repeated promise to walk away from the race if former federal consumer watchdog Richard Cordray decided to run. Mr. Cordray announced his candidacy on Tuesday.

Justice O’Neill has failed to convince Mr. Cordray to embrace his proposal to fully legalize marijuana in Ohio and use the proceeds from that and more to reopen state hospitals to treat drug addiction and mental illness.

“Ohio is in a war with the pharmaceutical industry and organized crime and people are dying,” he said. “Ohio is in a struggle with a broken educational system and the children are suffering. And older citizens are truly frightened that all their years of work are going to end in a sea of poverty. It is time to end the wave of hopelessness in Ohio.”

He said he will name a running mate and will file his candidate petitions on Jan. 26.

Republican lawmakers have doubled-down on their promise to remove him from the bench if he stays in the race, but the House and Senate have just one session day each scheduled before they plan to recess for the holidays.

The Code of Judicial Conduct prohibits a sitting judge from running for partisan non-judicial office, but it does not define the point at which someone becomes a candidate.

“For over a month, O’Neill has left Ohio in a constitutional crisis,” said Rep. Niraj Antani (R., Miamisburg), author of a House resolution seeking the justice’s removal. “Unfortunately, for him to resign on Jan. 26 is unacceptable. ...

“Justice O’Neill should immediately resign from the court, or my concurrent resolution to remove him from the court should immediately be voted on by the House,” he said.

It would take a two-thirds vote in both chambers to remove a justice from the bench.

Mr. Kasich accepted Justice O’Neill’s resignation and will name his replacement for the nearly one year he would have left in his term. That nearly guarantees a return to an all-Republican bench on the state’s highest court.

The sole Democrat on the bench has taken the position that he will not become an official candidate until he files his petitions. The deadline for that is Feb. 7.

Justice O’Neill recused himself from all new cases but said he would continue to consider the 99 cases that had already reached his desk.

Emails obtained from the court show that Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor believed Justice O’Neill should have resigned when he announced his candidacy.

“To be clear, I told Bill I do not agree with his interpretation of his duties under (judicial canon) 4.5,” the chief justice wrote on Nov. 2 to her fellow justices. “I think he should have resigned on 10/​29/​17. I suspect that we are in agreement on that point. Be that as it may, under no circumstances will Bill be able to say that the Supreme Court agrees, approves, or condones his course of action to remain on the Court.”

She suggested the court should revisit some of its Rules of Judicial Conduct to make the intent clearer.

In addition to the justice and Mr. Cordray, the Democratic field of candidates includes former state Rep. Connie Pillich of Cincinnati, state Sen. Joe Schiavoni of Boardman, former Akron-area congressman Betty Sutton, and Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley.

“My vision is focused on the kitchen table issues that Ohioans and their families care about,” Mr. Cordray tweeted. “Bill O’Neill is a loose cannon who callously disrespects women, embarassing our party and our state. There’s no place for that in this race.”

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

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