DeWine taps Hamilton County prosecutor Deters for state supreme court

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine on Thursday appointed Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters to the Ohio Supreme Court, filling the seat left empty after Justice Sharon Kennedy was elected chief justice.

“Joe Deters has the right combination of experience, legal knowledge, and passion for public service that will serve the citizens of Ohio well as an associate justice of the Ohio Supreme Court,” DeWine said in a statement. “Joe is a long-serving and well-regarded public servant who is known for his legal intellect, reverence for the rule of law, and his accessibility.”

Deters will be sworn in on Jan. 7 to fill Kennedy’s unexpired term and must run for election in 2024.

Matt Keyes, spokesman for the Ohio Democratic Party, quickly denounced DeWine’s pick, comparing Deters to outgoing Ohio Supreme Court Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor whom Kennedy is replacing. O’Connor, like Deters, is a Republican but received scorn from her party and praise from Democrats on rulings regarding matters such as redistricting.

“Mike DeWine has chosen a partisan hack to replace a seasoned, fair jurist,” Keyes said. “Ohioans deserve a justice who is looking out for working families, not one who is looking out for the Ohio Republican Party.”

Deters is Hamilton County’s longest serving prosecutor, in from 1992-99 and from 2005-present. His break in service from that office came when he was elected and re-elected as Ohio Treasurer in 1998 and 2002. Before serving as county prosecutor, he was Hamilton County Clerk of Courts.

“It is the honor of a lifetime to accept this appointment to the Ohio Supreme Court,” said Deters. “I have spent my entire career standing up for victims and protecting the rights of criminal defendants. I appreciate the trust and responsibility that comes with this appointment and look forward to working with my colleagues on the Supreme Court to ensure Ohio’s justice system protects the rights of all Ohioans.”

DeWine’s office described Deters as a “lifelong Cincinnatian.” He has a law degree and undergraduate from the University of Cincinnati and graduated from St. Xavier High School.

As a prosecutor, Deters has a reputation for being tough on crime and a strong supporter of the death penalty. His online biography notes he also supported creation of diversion courts for nonviolent offenders.

One major issue facing the court is the continuing battle over legislative redistricting. O’Connor consistently sided with the court’s three Democrats in rejecting Republican-drawn maps as unconstitutionally favoring the Republican party. The court ordered the Ohio Redistricting Commission to draw new maps for the 2024 election cycle, but with O’Connor’s departure and Deters’ appointment the court may rule differently next time.

Just after the Nov. 8 election Mark Caleb Smith, professor of political science and director of the Center for Political Studies at Cedarville University, said that although DeWine was likely to appoint a Republican-friendly jurist to the open seat, judicial appointees can act unpredictably once they’re on the bench

Also speaking shortly after Nov. 8, Christopher Devine, University of Dayton assistant professor of political science, said how an appointee might rule on redistricting was probably “way down the list” for DeWine.

Based on the governor’s own policy history, opposition to abortion and a focus on crime would probably be his top priorities in finding a justice, Devine said.

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