COLUMBUS — Decrying what he calls “the national feeding frenzy about sexual indiscretions decades ago,” a sitting Ohio Supreme Court justice and Democratic candidate for governor on Friday volunteered details from his own past.
The post brought swift rebukes from the Ohio Supreme Court’s chief justice and fellow Democratic gubernatorial candidates.
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 Enlarge
The controversy also cost the justice his campaign spokesman.
“Now that the dogs of war are calling for the head of Sen. Al Franken, I believe it is time to speak up on behalf of all heterosexual males,” Justice William O’Neill wrote on Facebook. “As a candidate for Governor let me save my opponents some research time.
“In the last fifty years I was sexually intimate with approximately 50 very attractive females,” he wrote. “It ranged from a gorgeous blonde who was my first true love and we made passionate love in the hayloft of her parents’ barn and ended with a drop-dead gorgeous red head from Cleveland.
“Now can we get back to discussing legalizing marijuana and opening the state hospital network to combat the opioid crisis?” he asked.
The justice had edited his original Facebook message to remove identifying information about the “blonde” and “red head.”
The sole Democrat holding statewide elected office, the justice is serving his first and only term on the Supreme Court. He recently announced his candidacy for governor and raised eyebrows with his decision to stay on the bench until Feb. 7, when he plans to file his petitions to officially become a candidate.
He is expected to drop out of the race if Richard Cordray runs. Ohio’s former attorney general recently resigned as the nation’s top consumer watchdog.
“I condemn in no uncertain terms Justice O’Neill’s Facebook post,” Ohio Supreme Court Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor said. “No words can convey my shock. This gross disrespect for women shakes the public’s confidence in the integrity of the judiciary.”
The post even took his campaign spokeman, Chris Clevenger, by surprise. He then resigned from the campaign.
“I am in West Virginia with my fiancée visiting family,” he said. “I was out of the pocket for the first time in a long time, and I learned about this when I got a call from a reporter. I thought he’d been hacked. I couldn’t believe he’d post something like that.”
He called the comments “incredibly inappropriate” and said he could envision himself working for one of Justice O’Neill’s Democratic opponents if asked.
Fellow Democratic gubernatorial candidate Betty Sutton said she was “appalled” by the comments.
“As a Democrat, I’m horrified a statewide candidate would belittle victims of sexual harassment and assault this way, and as a woman, I’m outraged he would equate sexual assault with indiscretion,” the former Akron area congressman said.
“It’s wrong to trivialize this,” she said. “He should resign immediately.”
By that, she meant resign from both the court and the gubernatorial race, a campaign spokesman said.
“There’s nothing funny about sexual assault,” said fellow candidate Connie Pillich, a former Cincinnati state representative. “Justice O’Neill should resign from the bench and immediately cease his campaign for governor.”
Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley, also a candidate, agreed.
“Sexual harassment, degrading, and devaluing women is not a joke,” she tweeted. “Justice O’Neill should resign.”
The only other Democratic man in the race so far, state Sen. Joe Schiavoni (D., Youngstown) tweeted that the justice was not speaking for him.
“This is a ridiculous comment by someone who is supposed to be a professional representing Ohioans on our highest court,” he said. “It is definitely not reflective of the way I feel as a heterosexual man. Bill O’Neill is not speaking ‘on behalf of all heterosexual males’.”
Contacted later, Justice O’Neill said his Facebook post was not tongue-in-cheek, but rather reflected what he considers the media’s focus on past indiscretions of politicians and candidates, triggered most recently by the Franken accusation.
He said he fully believes somebody is now investigating his background.
“We have a situation where a United States senator has members of his own party demanding his resignation for an indiscreet act,” he said. “He apologized. I find it outrageous when any Democrat would ask Al Franken to step down.”
He said he hasn’t formed an opinion of accusations made against Roy Moore, a Republican seeking a U.S. Senate seat in an Alabama special election.
“He’s never been found guilty of anything, and we have the media determining the outcome of a Senate campaign,” he said.
Justice O’Neill is a widower who raised his and his late wife’s three children, an adopted child, and two of a relative’s children. He said he was fully faithful to his wife.
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