Ohio Supreme Court Justice William O’Neill says he will leave the top court late next month to run for governor as a Democrat.
O’Neill, 70, of Chagrin Falls, told The Enquirer that he informed Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor on Friday morning that Jan. 26 will be his final day on the high court. He also sent a resignation letter to Republican Gov. John Kasich, who will pick the justice’s replacement.
“It is time for Democrats in Ohio to actually have an open primary driven by a vision that provides hope for the future,” O’Neill said in a release.
O’Neill has faced criticism for his brash Facebook posts, including one that bragged about his sexual exploits with “approximately 50 very attractive females.” He also is boycotting the Cleveland Browns and supported President Donald Trump’s chief of staff when he criticized a Democratic Congressman.
O’Neill is under pressure to resign from Ohio’s GOP-controlled Legislature, which is considering an unprecedented maneuver to remove O’Neill from the bench.
“For over a month, O’Neill has left Ohio in a constitutional crisis,” Dayton-area Rep. Niraj Antani said in a statement. “Unfortunately, for him to resign on January 26 is unacceptable; it would leave justice unserved at the highest level for another seven weeks.”
Judges are not permitted to run for a partisan office, such as governor, while still sitting on the bench, according to Ohio judicial code. Candidates often make promises but judges are supposed to remain impartial.
O’Neill has maintained that he is not an official candidate until after he files paperwork in February.
Ohio Supreme Court Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor, a Republican, disagrees.
“I think that he should have resigned 10/29/17. I suspect we are in agreement on that point,” O’Connor wrote in a Nov. 2 email to justices obtained by The Enquirer. “Simply put we have no mechanism in place to remove a justice when one becomes a partisan candidate.”
“Going forward, should we revisit some of our Rules of Judicial Conduct? I think that’s a definite yes,” she wrote.
Ohio Democratic Party Chairman David Pepper, who is also a lawyer, told The Enquirer that he agrees with O’Connor’s assessment.
“What she wrote made perfect sense to me,” Pepper said. “The rule seems pretty darn clear.”
Even the Ohio State Bar Association joined the chorus Friday, with its president Randall Comer calling on O’Neill to resign immediately.
Simply recusing himself from cases isn’t enough, especially since O’Neill is a “declared candidate for Governor with a published campaign platform.”
Pepper recommended that O’Neill seek an advisory opinion from the Board of Professional Conduct about whether he could remain on the bench. O’Neill chose not to, so the Ohio Democratic Party sought an opinion anyway. The party has not yet received a response, Pepper said.
“On the surface, it looks like he can’t do what he’s trying to do,” Pepper said. “That gets to the heart of having an independent judiciary.”
O’Neill initially said he would drop out of the governor’s race if his preferred candidate, former Consumer Financial Protection Bureau leader Richard Cordray, entered it. Cordray announced his gubernatorial bid Tuesday, but O’Neill said he would remain in the race anyway.
Cordray broke his silence on O’Neill’s antics Friday.
“Bill O’Neill is a loose cannon who callously disrespects women, embarrassing our party and our state. There’s no place for that in this race,” Cordray wrote in a tweet.
Other Democrats in the race include former state Rep. Connie Pillich, state Sen. Joe Schiavoni, former U.S. Rep. Betty Sutton and Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley.
Once O’Neill resigns, Kasich will name his replacement. That would give Republicans complete control of the seven-member court.