O’Neill won’t hear new cases but will rule on 99 others, amid run for governor

The Columbus Dispatch | Randy Ludlow

Amid his run for governor, Justice William M. O’Neill has recused himself from hearing new cases coming before the Ohio Supreme Court.

However, the lone Democrat on the high court says he will continue to participate in and vote on 99 cases in which he previously was involved.

Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor will appoint appellate judges to take O’Neill’s spot on a case-by-case by basis.

In a letter to the court, O’Neill said his decision to step aside from hearing new cases was “in the interest of avoiding the appearance of impropriety.”

He indicated he would resign from the court effective Feb. 7 (the filing deadline for the primary) to officially begin his run for the Democratic nomination for governor next May.

Ohio’s judicial canons of conduct require judges to resign before they run for non-judicial office. O’Neill says that requirement is not triggered until he later officially becomes a candidate.

Critics such as Auditor Dave Yost, a Republican running for attorney general, have said O’Neill must resign to avoid any conflicts between his political aspirations and his votes on cases.

Yost took another shot at O’Neill on Friday morning, writing in a tweet: “How can a guy with this website claim he is NOT a candidate for partisan office? Flagrant violation of ethics rule!”

In another tweet, Yost said: “Let me get this straight: it’s improper for him to listen to cases, but it’s perfectly OK for him to deliberate, decide and write opinions?”

O’Connor also had cautioned 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.”

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