Ohio Supreme Court justice with plans to run for governor asked to step down

COLUMBUS (WYTV) – Ohio Supreme Court Justice William M. O’Neill has received a lot of attention recently from some Republicans and, according to him, some Democrats as well.

Since announcing his intention to run as a candidate in the Democrat gubernatorial primary, Republican Auditor of State David Yost and, more recently, State Representative Niraj Antani have called for Justice O’Neill to step down from his post. They say he cannot run as a partisan candidate for office and judge at the same time.

O’Neill says he is not officially a candidate until he files the paperwork to become one. Until then, he is simply exercising his first amendment right while running in the primary.

It may seem like splitting hairs, but let’s be honest — would you expect anything less from someone who deals in law, where words have specific legal meanings?

Whether or not O’Neill is correct, he says he is also facing obstacles from some in the Democratic Party. This, too, is nothing new.

O’Neill says in 2012, he was not the state party’s first choice to run for the Supreme Court seat he now holds and was able to go on to beat the candidate it supported.

He then went on to run his campaign on $4,000 of his own money against Republican incumbent Robert Cupp. He called the campaign “No money from nobody” and won by 4 percent.

O’Neill says he has the support of local Democratic Party members but there seems to be a disconnect between himself and the leadership of the state party.

He claims he has not been invited to join the debates between the four other Democratic candidates in the gubernatorial primary race and has been told he will not be invited until he meets certain demands from party Chair David Pepper.

The Ohio Democratic Party released a statement Monday when asked to address the allegations made by Justice O’Neill:

The Ohio Democratic Party is committed to an open primary process. Our chairman has stated publicly on many occasions that any candidate who wants to participate in our sanctioned debates and forums must go through the same vetting process that all other statewide candidates have gone through. Justice O’Neill made the request to be vetted, and we have initiated that process.”

Whether the challenges O’Neill will face on his path to governorship are real or imagined makes little difference to him. This Vietnam War veteran, retired lieutenant colonel, state Supreme Court justice, pediatric nurse, former civil rights attorney, journalist, and union organizer is ready to take all comers head on.

O’Neill says the debates hosted by the state Democratic Party have been a snore-fest so far, with a lack of substance being discussed by the candidates on topics he feels are most important.

As for Rep. Antani and the comment he made last week that no one believes O’Neill is a political threat, the 70-year-old justice recommends Antani ask State Representative Robert Cupp just how much of a threat he can be.

O’Neill wants to begin discussing bringing jobs back to Ohio, rebuilding the state’s mental illness hospital network to address addiction and the opioid epidemic, and legalizing marijuana to bring in more than $2 million in tax revenue while saving more than $1 million in estimated incarceration costs for low-level marijuana offenders in the state corrections system.