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Published: Friday, 8/13/2004

Judicial candidate sues to ax top-court rules


COLUMBUS - A candidate for a seat on the Ohio Supreme Court yesterday filed a federal suit challenging the constitutionality of court rules he says try to "muzzle judicial candidates" in violation of their right to free speech.

The move by Warren-based appellate Judge William O'Neill is designed to prevent the Supreme Court's Office of Disciplinary Counsel from taking action against him, based on a grievance filed by the Cuyahoga County Republican Party.

Disciplinary Counsel Jonathan Coughlin said the case, should a decision be made to pursue an investigation, is in its earliest stages. A hearing has been set for Monday morning in federal court on Judge O'Neill's suit.

Judge O'Neill, a Democrat, is running for the seat being defended by appointed Republican Justice Terrence O'Donnell of Rocky River.

The Ohio State Bar Association's Judicial Election Campaign Advertising Monitoring Committee last week determined the judge had impugned the integrity of the judiciary. The judge said in campaign materials, in reference to the influence of campaign contributions, that "we must stop selling seats on the Ohio Supreme Court like you sell a seat on the New York Stock Exchange."

A Columbus city prosecutor recently opted not to prosecute allegations made against Justice O'Donnell that he has misused his state car privileges. The complaints had been filed by self-proclaimed judicial watchdog David Palmer.

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