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Resolution seeks justice's removal from office

O'Neill is running for governor

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Ohio Supreme Court Justice William M. O'Neill

Joshua A. Bickel/Dispatch Enlarge

COLUMBUS — Ohio Supreme Court Justice William O’Neill’s decision to simultaneously serve on the court and run for governor prompted the filing Thursday of a House resolution urging his removal from office.

Rep. Niraj Antani (R., Miamisburg) , the resolution’s sponsor, said the justice’s dual efforts violate the Code of Judicial Conduct, which requires judges to retire from the bench if they run for non-judicial office.

“By becoming a partisan candidate for a non-judicial office, Justice O’Neill has shaken the public’s trust, compromised the independence of the judiciary, and betrayed the voters who elected him as a non-partisan jurist,” reads the resolution. “In addition, with Justice O’Neill now having to recuse himself from all cases, it leaves justice unserved at Ohio’s highest level.”

The justice, the sole Democrat holding statewide elected office, announced his candidacy for his party’s gubernatorial nomination nearly two weeks ago. But he does not plan to step down from the bench until Feb. 7, the deadline for filing candidate petitions.

While requiring a candidate’s resignation, the judicial code does not say when someone becomes a candidate. Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor has already noted there is no mechanism in the code for removing a judge for violating the rule.

Justice O’Neill insists there has been no violation, saying he will become an official candidate on Feb. 7.

“My announcement included a meaningful plan to address the opioid epidemic sweeping the state of Ohio, something the Ohio legislature has failed to do,” he said. “I can understand why some members of the Ohio General Assembly do not want me to be governor.”

The justice last week recused himself from all new cases, but he plans to stay on the bench to consider the 99 other cases that had already reached his desk.

“To take any other course is a violation of my oath and unfair to the 2 million voters who elected me to office,” Justice O’Neill said.

If the resolution were adopted, Justice O’Neill would be summoned to appear before the House to make his case as to why he should not be removed.

It would take a two-thirds vote of the 99-member General Assembly to ultimately remove him from office. If they stick together, Republicans would have enough votes to do so without the help of Democrats.

In his resolution, Mr. Antani notes that Justice O’Neill refers to himself as a candidate for governor on his website and in social media.

“He has announced his positions on a variety of issues, such as legalization of recreational marijuana, raising the minimum wage, high speed rail, renewable energy, prisons, and higher education,” he wrote. “Taking these positions have now forced him to rescue himself from all cases.”

At 70, Justice O’Neill is barred from seeking a second term six-year term on the bench next year because of his age.

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

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