Ohio’s Chief Justice explains opposition to State Issue 1

Ohio Supreme Court Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor said Issue 1 wasn’t written by Ohioans and the state’s citizens shouldn’t be for it, either.

“The proponents are very fortunate that they were able to siphon money from the likes of (Facebook CEO) Mark Zuckerberg and (billionaire) George Soros and some of the other California billionaires that are interested in social engineering and addressing criminal justice systems and they’ve chosen Ohio,” O’Connor said Tuesday during a meeting with this news organization. “They, of course, don’t live in Ohio.”

O’Connor said that unlike some of the other states where similar efforts have been made to lessen drug and other criminal sentences, Ohio is the first where a constitutional amendment is on the ballot.

RELATED: Cutting through the hype: What Issue 1 would mean in Ohio

“Which brings me to the other issue — 94 percent of the dollars that has gone into promoting Issue 1 and its passage, from circulation of the petitions to the television ads that you’re seeing, is funded by people who do not even live in Ohio and will not have to live with the consequences of Issue 1, which are very serious,” O’Connor said.

The chief justice said that converting fourth- and fifth-degree felony drug cases to misdemeanors takes away incentives for addicted people to seek treatment. She said the threat of a felony conviction and prison sentence sometimes is the only thing that gets some people motivated to recover.

“You take that away and you have people that may get into treatment, but they won’t stay,” O’Connor said, citing a letter she received from a mother who wrote that her daughter’s low-level felony finally broke a 10-year drug addiction.

“Thank God she got arrested,” O’Connor said, quoting the mother, “because without that felony charge, she would be dead.”

RELATED: Election 2018: Ohio’s Issue 1

O’Connor said the well-intentioned portion of Issue 1 — treatment instead of incarceration — is something judges support, but the writing of Issue 1 gets some details incorrect.

Apart from changing the law on drug possession charges, Issue 1 also would provide up to a 25 percent reduction in sentences for current inmates except in cases of murder, rape or child molestation — which is not defined in Ohio criminal code.

Changing possession of less than 20 grams of deadly fentanyl to a misdemeanor is an invitation to drug dealers, O’Connor said, and she disagrees with Issue 1 proponents who say other laws can be used to charge those defendants with trafficking.

RELATED: Governor candidates DeWine, Cordray debate Issue 1

O’Connor said that judges speaking out against Issue 1, especially without any organized opposition to the amendment, is appropriate.

“First of all, it’s non-partisan. It’s not (Republican or Democrat),” O’Connor said. “It is directly related to the justice system. … It’s an obligation of the judiciary, to step up and step out and discuss issues such as this. If not the judges, who?”

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