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Lone Democrat On The Ohio Supreme Court Will Step Down - But Not Right Away

Ohio Supreme Court
Ohio Supreme Court Justice Bill O'Neill

Ohio Supreme Court Justice Bill O’Neill says he intends to resign from the bench to run for governor.  As Statehouse correspondent Jo Ingles reports, O’Neill says he’ll make his resignation from the court formal tomorrow morning.

O’Neill says he’s making it clear that he wants to be Ohio’s next chief executive.

“I am indeed going to be a candidate for governor of Ohio.”

O’Neill is expected to say he’ll resign before the primary filing deadline of February 7. For months before he announced in October he intended to run, O'Neill had said he'd be out if former Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Chief Richard Cordray entered the race for the Democratic nomination. But O’Neill says Cordray and the other Democratic and Republican gubernatorial candidates are not embracing his plan to legalize marijuana.

“I just don’t see any of the nine candidates running for governor that have a concrete plan that is similar to mine. I’m saying we need to legalize marijuana and use the $300 million that will generate to open the state mental health network and start treating the disease like the disease it is rather than as a criminal matter.”

Because of his name recognition and national connections, Cordray is expected to be able to raise a lot of money. But O’Neill, who won his seat on the court in 2012 by beating a well-funded Republican incumbent, says he’s not worried.

“I’m not worried about money but more importantly, this is the Governor’s race. I’ll raise money and I will match Rich Cordray dollar for dollar.”

O’Neill made his announcement in October on the same day the four candidates who have been in the race for months met for their second debate. O’Neill didn’t participate in that debate or the one Monday. When asked if he would go through the vetting process to be included in debates and events sponsored by the Ohio Democratic Party, O’Neill said he’s had unfruitful conversations with its chair.

“David Pepper sent me a letter saying I could not be vetted until I received a legal opinion from the Ohio Supreme Court that I was a legal candidate. I found that insulting. I told him that. From that point forward, I tried to be in the vetting process but the party has made up its mind and I’m fine.”

The Ohio Democratic Party’s Kirstin Alvanitakis refutes that.

“Justice O’Neill has been treated the exact same way as all of our candidates running for Governor. The vetting process had begun in good faith and then the justice decided to reach out proactively to the chair and request, on his own, that he be removed from that process so any suggestion that he has been treated differently from the other candidates is simply not true.”

O’Neill has been the subject of criticism from several Republicans in the past few weeks. State lawmakers have been discussing whether he should be removed from office because of his comments on policy he supports as a candidate, but also for a Facebook post about his sexual past. And state Auditor Dave Yost has been wanting O’Neill to step down from the state’s highest court.

“Well, it’s long overdue. The rules required him to step down immediately when he became a candidate.”

Yost says he’ll be watching O’Neill’s announcement.

“Well if he’s announcing that he’s stepping down immediately, I think that closes the chapter although the Supreme Court might still want to consider a, I don’t know whether there is a disciplinary complaint or not, I find it hard to believe one wouldn’t have been filed given the very public nature of his behavior. And the Supreme Court, I suppose, if a complaint were out there might still choose to pursue it. But as far as I’m concerned, that would settle the matter.”

The Ohio Supreme Court’s Disciplinary Counsel, in a written statement, says a complaint of this nature is confidential at this point. There’s no word on whether a complaint has been filed. O’Neill is the only Democrat on the state’s high court, and his replacement would be picked by Republican Gov. John Kasich. But O'Neill says he’s not concerned that his departure would make the court more conservative leaning. He says he most often votes along with Republican Supreme Court Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor right now anyway.

Contact Jo Ingles at
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