Ohio Chief Justice issues warning to Justice O’Neill after he announces run for governor

William O’Neill

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William O’Neill

Update 3:30 p.m.: 

Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor issued the following statement Sunday on Supreme Court Justice William O’Neill’s announcement that he is running for governor:

“I am aware that Justice William O’Neill has announced his intention to run for governor. I am also aware that Justice O’Neill has indicated that he intends to remain a member of the Supreme Court for the foreseeable future. Justice O’Neill’s decision to announce his candidacy is obviously a decision only he can make. His decision may, however, implicate a number of considerations that are governed by the Rules for the Governance of the Judiciary and the Code of Judicial Conduct. As such, it would be inappropriate for me to comment on his decision relative to those considerations. Under our current rules there is no mechanism by which this Court could require Justice O’Neill to recuse himself from any pending cases. I encourage Justice O’Neill to consider his future course of conduct in light of his oath of judicial office and the ethical obligations imposed upon all judges of this state, which are designed to protect the interests of litigants, the public’s trust and confidence in the fair administration of justice, and the institution of the judiciary as a separate branch of government.”

Original Story: The lone Democrat holding statewide office in Ohio is joining the governor's race Sunday on a liberal platform of tax incentives for solar power, expanded mental health care and legalized marijuana.

Supreme Court Justice William O’Neill has told The Associated Press the candidacy he’ll announce Sunday in Chagrin Falls will respond to what he sees as an over-managed Democratic political organization that has lost touch with its roots.

“The Democratic Party has always been the party of ideas, but we have somehow lately become the party of careful consultants who advise, ‘Don’t do anything that is going to annoy anyone,’ ” according to an advance copy of his announcement speech provided by O’Neill’s campaign. “So today I am going to do something that will surely annoy some people: I’m going to talk about ideas.”

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Not all his ideas are out of the Democratic mainstream, including support for boosting the minimum wage to $15 and taking on for-profit charter schools.

But O’Neill’s plans further call for legalizing and taxing recreational marijuana. He says Ohio can make $200 million on the effort and save another $100 million by releasing all non-violent marijuana offenders from prison. He proposes using the money that will be saved to build a state-run mental health system that would “treat addiction like the disease it is.”

He also pledges to champion high-speed rail.

“If they can build it in China, France, Spain and California, there is no reason it cannot be done in Ohio,” his prepared remarks said. “Let’s put Ohioans back to work, and build a fast, reliable rail network that will strengthen our transportation system, protect our environment, and make Ohio more attractive to big business.”

At 70, O’Neill must retire from the Supreme Court when his current term ends in January 2019 because of age limits. He said he plans to wait until February to declare his candidacy to circumvent a judicial ethics rule that bars him from pursuing another office while sitting on the bench. His decision not to resign immediately will likely draw questions and criticism. O’Neill contends he won’t technically qualify as a candidate until that paperwork is filed.

Already in the race for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination next year are former U.S. Rep. Betty Sutton, Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley, former Cincinnati-area state Rep. Connie Pillich and Youngstown-area state Sen. Joe Schiavoni. They’re seeking the seat that will be vacated by Republican Gov. John Kasich, who is barred from running again by term limits.

At the annual Democratic dinner Saturday night, Schiavoni said O’Neill should have been at the Saturday debate if he is serious about running.

“I think if he was serious about running, then he should be here and he should have asked to be part of this debate in front of thousands of people who are going to be watching online and a thousand people in the room,” Schiavoni said.

“If he wanted to run for governor, he should have announced this before today and got involved in the events today so he can explain his ideas to voters rather than having a press conference at the same time as the debate in a different city.”

Whaley said she welcomes O’Neill to the race.

“We’re excited to have a discourse of ideas about what the message should be,” Whaley said. “We still feel, no matter who gets in, that we’re the best candidate for the general” election.

The Democratic party issued this statement late Saturday from Democratic Party spokesperson Kirstin Alvanitakis:

"The state party is committed to an open primary process. We’ve stated publicly on many occasions and to potential candidates that any candidate that wants to participate in our sanctioned debates and forums must commit to going through the same vetting process as the other four candidates currently in the race and our down-ticket candidates. Justice O'Neill has made the request to be vetted, and we will now initiate that process."

Earlier, O’Neill indicated he would abandon plans to run if former Ohio Attorney General Richard Cordray joined the race. Cordray, the federal consumer chief, hasn’t yet said if he’ll run. Tabloid television show host Jerry Springer also has been mulling a run.

O’Neill launched a statewide listening tour in January to discuss nine policy planks that he said he hoped to see embraced by fellow Democrats in the wake of the punishing 2016 election for the party. Republicans continue to hold majorities in Congress and the Ohio Statehouse.

The only other Democrat in office after being elected statewide in Ohio is U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown.

O’Neill has been an outspoken critic of the Democratic Party, which has over the years recruited primary opponents to run against him.

Three GOP statewide officials — Attorney General Mike DeWine, Secretary of State Jon Husted and Lt. Gov. Mary Taylor — are running for governor, as is U.S. Rep. Jim Renacci, a Republican from Wadsworth.

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