Ohio Justice apologizes but refuses to quit court after Facebook fiasco

Ohio Supreme Court Justice William O’Neill, who is serving on the court while simultaneously running for the governorship as a Democrat, made news again this past weekend with a Facebook post in which he claimed to have 50 lovers over the past century, and described two trysts in detail. The since-deleted post read in part:

“Now that the dogs of war are calling for the head of Senator Al Franken I believe it is time to speak up on behalf of all heterosexual males…. In the last fifty years I was sexually intimate with approximately 50 very attractive females. It ranged from a gorgeous personal secretary to Senator Bob Taft (Senior) who was my first true love and we made passionate love in the hayloft of her parents barn in Gallipolis and ended with a drop dead gorgeous red head who was a senior advisor to Peter Lewis at Progressive Insurance in Cleveland.”

As the kids today like to say, OMG.

Everyone is rightly horrified by this post, with some of the harshest criticism coming from those within O’Neill’s own party, and from the court itself. Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor said in a statement, “I condemn in no uncertain terms Justice O’Neill’s Facebook post. No words can convey my shock. This gross disrespect for women shakes the public’s confidence in the integrity of the judiciary.”

O’Neill issued an apology on Facebook on Sunday morning, stating: “There comes a time in everyone’s life when you have to admit you were wrong. It is Sunday morning and i [sic] am preparing to go to church and get right with God.”

Notwithstanding the apology, O’Neill faces calls for him to resign from the court and end his gubernatorial campaign. His campaign manager has already resigned. But O’Neill insists that he will stay on the court, and will only leave the governor’s race if former Consumer Financial Protection Bureau chief Richard Cordray jumps in.

The people of Ohio deserve much, much better than this.

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Ohio Supreme Court Justice (finally) agrees to recuse himself from all new cases in light of pending gubernatorial run

Ohio Supreme Court Justice William O’Neill, who last week publicly announced his intent to run for governor, has now announced that he will recuse himself from all new cases coming before the Court. O’Neill previously indicated that he would continue to hear new cases, a position which drew considerable criticism from the state auditor.

O’Neill is currently the sole Democrat holding statewide office in Ohio. He has said that he will remain on the Court until he formally enters the race in February. In the meantime, he will campaign and raise money for his gubernatorial run.

Justice O’Neill may be legally permitted to campaign for governor while still on the bench. In a series of cases over the past decade, the Supreme Court has affirmed the First Amendment rights of judges to solicit campaign funds and publicly state their general positions on policy issues. But First Amendment rights do not parallel professional responsibilities, and running a political campaign from the bench can do untold damage to the judiciary’s legitimacy.  Justice O’Neill is free to seek another elected job, but he should resign from his current one first.

 

Ohio to consider shielding judges’ personal information from the public

In the wake of the shooting of state judge Joseph Bruzzese on the steps of the Steubenville courthouse in August, the Ohio legislature has introduced a bipartisan bill to shield judges’ personal information from the public. The bill is still in its very early stages.

It is not hard to see why a bill like this might be necessary, but that realization is tinged with sadness. Judges are most effective when they are full members of the community, enjoying the same pleasures (and suffering the same indignities) as ordinary citizens. Grocery shopping, attending community events, waiting in line at the DMV, and similar activities foster an appreciation for everyday life that a judge needs to be an effective mediator, problem-solver, and voice for the community. When our judges are too cut off from the public, or exist in elite bubbles, they cannot have that effectiveness.

The benefits here of keeping a judge’s personal information from the public may well outweigh the costs. But we should be careful not to create a slippery slope in which the public and its judges lose critical opportunities for normal, everyday interaction.

More reaction to the Ohio courthouse shooting

More reaction today to the shooting of Judge Joseph Bruzzese on the steps of a Steubenville, Ohio courthouse on Monday morning:

Fox News: Under Siege, More Judges Choose to Arm Themselves for Protection.  This article contains some useful discussion from the outstanding researcher Bill Raftery of the National Center for State Courts.

WKBN: ‘We should carry guns,’ local judge says following Steubenville shooting.

WTOV: Judge was presiding over shooter’s civil litigation against housing authority.

And semi-relatedly, a 36-year-old Tennessee man has been charged with sending a letter to a local judge, threatening to kill him.

Ohio judge shot on courthouse steps; returns fire; assailant killed

Yesterday morning, Judge Joseph Bruzzese of the Jefferson County (Ohio) Court of Common Pleas was shot in the chest at near point-blank range as he prepared to enter the courthouse in Steubenville, Ohio. Judge Bruzzese was rushed by helicopter to a Pittsburgh hospital, and it appears that he will survive. Remarkably, the judge was armed and returned fire. A local probation officer was also at the scene and also fired at the perpetrator, who was killed. Authorities surmise that had the probation officer not been present, the suspect would have continued firing until Judge Bruzzese was dead.

The suspect was identified as Nathaniel Richmond, whose son was convicted in the same court for raping a 16-year-old girl in 2012. But the motivation for the shooting is unclear.  Judge Bruzzese apparently had nothing at all to do with the younger Richmond’s case, although he is overseeing a separate case in which the elder Richmond is the plaintiff.

A sad and strange story, which could have been much worse if not for some quick thinking by the probation officer.  Wishing Judge Bruzzese a speedy and full recovery.

The logistical challenges of local court administration

One of the challenges for litigators who practice across state boundaries is making sense of state court systems: not just the culture and norms of the area, but often the structure and administration of the courts themselves. Many states are downright byzantine, with a large number of specialized courts (sometimes with overlapping jurisdictions), and no unified (or only recently unified) court systems. Local courts, covering counties and municipalities, are often under the governance of their host city or county rather than a centralized judicial administrator.

This is a product of history as much as anything, but it leads to obvious inefficiencies. One example making the headlines this week comes from Clark County, Ohio, where the county council has voted against consolidating two clerk of court offices, in part because they use entirely different electronic records systems. The move was originally proposed as a way to save up to $400,000 a year for the cash-strapped city of Springfield, but the city was unable to fund a study to confirm that number. In the end, lawyers, judges, and others will have to continue navigating different court systems with different technological resources.

Six state chief justices join forces to combat opioid epidemic

The Chief Justices of six states — Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio, and Tennessee — recently signed a charter to support a Regional Opioid Initiative already in place in those states.  The courts’ commitment to the initiative recognizes that the epidemic crosses state borders and is most usefully addressed with a high level of cross-state cooperation.  It also recognizes the key role of state judiciaries in combatting the epidemic.