Ohio Supreme Court Justice William O'Neill
COLUMBUS — The Ohio Supreme Court will return to an all-Republican bench after Gov. John Kasich on Thursday named his party’s endorsed candidate to the vacancy about to be created by the departure of Justice William O’Neill.
Judge Mary DeGenaro, in her third term on the Youngstown-based Seventh District Court of Appeals, will be sworn in to complete the 11 months left in Justice O’Neill’s term. She will also have the advantage of running as an incumbent this fall to keep the seat in the Republican fold for another six years.
“We need to find people that can look at the law, understand the constitution, make an interpretation on the bench that is not going to be viewed as a party determination,” Mr. Kasich said. “We begin to even see, I’m told, some partisanship beginning to slip into the judiciary, which is not helpful for our country, our state, or our community.”
Judge DeGenaro won the endorsement of the party’s State Central Committee last fall. Mr. Kasich selected her over two other applicants — Richard Lee Johnson, a Toledo workers’ compensation attorney, and Carol M. Gottschling, executive director of human resources for Lorain City Schools.
Judge O’Neill’s resignation takes effect Friday as he seeks the Democratic nomination for governor.
His announced candidacy last fall not only placed him at odds with judicial rules prohibiting sitting judges from running for partisan non-judicial office but also the Ohio Senate, which recently took the initial step toward removing him from the bench.
The deadline to file petitions is Feb. 7. Although he’s spelled out his policy positions and selected a running mate, Judge O’Neill has insisted he won’t officially become a candidate until he files those papers.
Judge DeGenaro served three years on Poland Village Council before being elected to the appellate court bench in 2001. She was re-elected twice, most recently in 2012.
She earned a bachelor’s degree from Youngstown State University in 1983 and her law degree from Cleveland-Marshall College of Law three years later.
“I will work diligently, fairly, and collegially with the other justices on the court, and I will do my part to make sure the public continues to have confidence in their Supreme Court, where the rule of law and the protection of our precious constitutional rights are the guiding principles,” Judge DeGenaro said.
Mr. Kasich noted one of her hobbies is beekeeping.
“She knows what it’s like to be stung, and I would warn any of those who attempt to put pressure on her that it won’t work,” he said.
This marked Mr. Kasich’s second and likely last appointment to the Supreme Court. Justice Judith French, a Columbus appellate judge, joined the bench to fill a vacancy in 2013 and went on to win her own full six-year term the next year.
Judicial candidates in Ohio run in partisan primary elections, but they appear on the November ballot without party labels.
Justice O’Neill in 2012 became the first Democrat to win election to the high court bench since then-Justice Alice Robie Resnick, of Ottawa Hills, was re-elected in 2000. But he was barred from serving more than a single term because of his age.
A second court seat, held by Justice Terrence O’Donnell, will also be on the ballot this year. He too faces mandatory retirement. Republicans have endorsed Judge Craig Baldwin, on the Canton-based Fifth District Court of Appeals, for that seat.
Democrats have not selected their candidates yet.
Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Judge Michael P. Donnelly recently announced his candidacy for the bench, and Eighth District Court of Appeals Judge Melody Stewart has pulled petitions for a potential run. It’s unclear which seat each will target.
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