Pursuing Governor Run, Bill O'Neill Will Leave Ohio Supreme Court In January

Dec 8, 2017

As promised, Ohio Supreme Court Justice Bill O’Neill has submitted his resignation in order to continue his run for governor. But it’s not effective immediately.

O’Neill declared his run for governor in October and hasn't been hearing cases since then. He's now announced he’s leaving the court January 26. The candidate-filing deadline for the gubernatorial primary is February 7.

O'Neill had said he'd leave the race if former Consumer Financial Protection Bureau chief Richard Cordray entered. 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," O'Neill said on Thursday. "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.”

O’Neill would need to go through a vetting process to be included in debates and events sponsored by the Ohio Democratic Party. But he 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,” O’Neill said. “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,” Alvanitakis said. “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.”

In newly-released emails, Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor made it clear she thinks he should have quit the day he began running, six weeks ago.

Some Republican and even Democratic state leaders have questioned his presence on the bench once he started making his public policy positions known – and after O’Neill wrote an explicit Facebook post about his sexual history. The Ohio Supreme Court’s Disciplinary Counsel, in a written statement, says it cannot confirm if a formal complaint has been filed against O’Neill for making those statements.

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 most often votes along with O’Connor anyway.

With the entrance of Richard Cordray this week, the number of Democratic candidates has swelled to six, setting up what could be the largest gubernatorial primary battle in six decades.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.