Lawmaker Seeks Removal of Ohio Governor Candidate from Bench

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COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — An Ohio state lawmaker began the process Thursday of trying to remove Ohio Supreme Court Justice William O’Neill from the bench following O’Neill’s decision to run for governor.

State Rep. Niraj Antani, a Miamisburg Republican, said he filed initial paperwork aimed at O’Neill’s removal.

Antani said O’Neill has committed a “clear violation” of the judicial code of conduct by politicking while serving on the court. He said O’Neill has taken positions on a number of partisan issues that jeopardize the judiciary’s operations as a fair and independent body.

“Justice O’Neill’s actions have shaken the public’s trust in our judiciary and he must be removed immediately,” Antani said.

Rule 4.5 of the judicial conduct code says a judge running for a non-judicial office “shall” resign “upon becoming a candidate.”

O’Neill insists he has violated no rules. He said he recused himself last week from any new cases “to avoid even the appearance of impropriety,” but plans to continue work on 99 ongoing cases until leaving the court nearer to the Feb. 7 candidate filing deadline.

“I have notified the court of a comprehensive and constitutionally permissible plan for my departure from the court when I become a candidate for governor,” he said in a statement. “In Ohio, one becomes a candidate by filing petitions. I will be doing that in the first week of February.”

O’Neill, 70, is the lone Democrat holding a statewide elected seat in Ohio. He must leave the court when his current term expires in January 2019 due to age limits. If he leaves early, Republican Gov. John Kasich gets to appoint a replacement.

Antani’s action takes the form of a concurrent resolution requiring action by both the House and Senate. It summons O’Neill to appear before the General Assembly to “show cause” for why he shouldn’t be removed.

The resolution lays out lawmakers’ grievances against O’Neill, including that his Oct. 29 campaign announcement got wide news coverage and that he lists himself as a candidate on his website and on social media.

In his statement, O’Neill suggested Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor, a Republican, said “there is currently no mechanism for removing a Judge or Justice for violating Rule 4.5.”

But that is not what O’Connor said on Oct. 29.

She said there was no mechanism for forcing a justice to recuse himself from pending cases, urging O’Neill to proceed with caution to protect the integrity of the judiciary. As related to the judicial conduct code, O’Connor said “a number of considerations” might be implicated by O’Neill’s decision and so she was going to decline comment.

Members of Ohio’s seven-member high court are elected on non-partisan ballots. The six besides O’Neill all are Republicans.