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Published: Saturday, 10/29/2005

O Neill launches bid for high court

BY JIM PROVANCE
BLADE COLUMBUS BUREAU

COLUMBUS A Democrat appeals judge yesterday launched his campaign for Ohio Supreme Court by calling on Republican justices with campaign ties to Gov. Bob Taft and consultant Brian Hicks to remove themselves from an upcoming public records case.

Judge William O Neill, in his second term on the Warren-based 11th District Court of Appeals, wants a 2006 rematch against Justice Terrence O Donnell, who defeated him last year with 60 percent of the vote.

But first, Judge O Neill faces a primary contest. Montgomery County Common Pleas Court Judge A.J. Wagner has announced his candidacy.

Judge O Neill, 58, called on Justices O Donnell of Rocky River, Ohio, and Judith Lanzinger of Toledo both of whom used Mr. Hicks consulting firm and received contributions from Mr. Taft to recuse themselves from Nov. 9 arguments in a suit brought by state Sen. Marc Dann, a suburban Youngstown Democrat.

Mr. Dann is trying to force the release of documents he hopes will shed light on ongoing investigations at the Bureau of Workers Compensation. Mr. Taft, for whom Mr. Hicks served as chief of staff, has cited executive privilege to shield some material.

Court spokesman Chris Davey said no official party to the case had submitted a motion for recusal.

Justices Lanzinger and O Donnell examined the circumstances of this case, looked at their obligations under the Code of Judicial Conduct, and determined that it is appropriate for them to participate, said Mr. Davey.

The senator says he does not want to risk alienating a justice by requesting recusal.

Both folks know their hearts, he said. The public is paying attention at this unique intersection of money and politics. The public will judge what everyone does here. I m not going to risk this important precedent that they might rule the governor is entitled to executive privilege that exceeds Nixon at Watergate.

Judge O Neill, who said he plans to fund his campaign out of his own pocket, stopped short of saying he would personally file complaints against the justices.

If you pay a political consultant a quarter of a million dollars, you cannot sit as a justice on a case where that same person s political activities are being scrutinized , he said. Their failure to act to date is wrong. Should they fail to act before Nov. 9, it is my intention to take further action.

Chief Justice Thomas Moyer and Justices O Donnell, Lanzinger, Evelyn Lundberg Stratton, and Maureen O Connor received a total of $27,000 in campaign cash from Mr. Taft since 2002.

Mr. Taft was convicted in August of four misdemeanor ethics violations for failing to report gifts and golf outings, including an outing with Maumee coin-dealer Tom Noe.

Mr. Hicks was convicted of an ethics violation for vacationing at Mr. Noe s Florida Keys home at below-market prices.

Mr. Noe was indicted by a federal grand jury Thursday for allegedly laundering $45,400 in 2004 campaign contributions through friends and associates to President Bush to skirt contribution limits.

Ohio officials have also said Mr. Noe stole millions from a pair of rare-coin funds he operated for the workers compensation fund.

Democrats are waiting to hear from Justice Alice Robie Resnick of Ottawa Hills, the sole Democrat on the court, as to whether she will seek a third and final term in the wake of her arrest early this year for drunken driving.

She did not return a call yesterday.

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



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