Lawmakers take steps to remove Ohio Supreme Court justice from bench

Ohio Supreme Court Justice Bill O’Neill, a Democrat, is stepping off the bench Jan. 26 but Republican lawmakers are hot on his heels, calling for him to appear before the Ohio General Assembly to explain why he is campaigning for governor while also serving as a justice.

Judicial conduct rules mandate that judges resign when the become candidates for non-judicial elected office, according to Ohio Senate President Larry Obhof, R-Medina.

Obhof took to the Senate floor Wednesday to introduce a resolution calling for O’Neill to appear before the Ohio General Assembly and show cause for why he shouldn’t be removed from office. State Rep. Niraj Antani, R-Miamisburg, introduced a similar resolution in the Ohio House on Tuesday, though Speaker Cliff Rosenberger, R-Clarksville, said the House will not take it up.

Related: Local lawmaker says state supreme court justice violating conduct rules

“This type of candidacy and this type of behavior from a sitting justice is not acceptable,” Obhof said. The resolution passed 25-9, largely along party lines.

It’s the latest episode in a sideshow created when O’Neill announced he would run for governor and stating on his Facebook page that he had slept with 50 women — something Obhof referred to as “The Facebook Fiasco.”

Related: Ohio governor candidate boasts of sexual liaisons brings calls for resignation

Senate Minority Leader Kenny Yuko, D-Richmond Heights, said the resolution is moot since O’Neill would have 10 days to respond, yet his resignation takes effect before that.

State Sen. Mike Skindell, D-Lakewood, noted that the provision in the Ohio Constitution to remove a sitting justice has never been used in state history.

“Let this issue be dealt with by the judicial process because it is their rule,” he said.

State Sen. Joe Schiavoni, D-Boardman, who is running against O’Neill for governor in the Democratic primary, said the debate is coated in politics but he supports the resolution because he doesn’t believe judges should be allowed to run for office from the bench.

O’Neill posted on his Facebook page: “And the band played on. Fifteen years of distinguished service as a Judge and a Justice. Could it be that they don’t want the next Governor of Ohio addressing the opioid crisis they have so artfully ignored. Or is it the marijuana. Yes. I look forward to addressing the Ohio General Assembly.”

O’Neill jumped into the Democratic primary on Oct. 29.

Obhof defended accusations that it’s a moot point because O’Neill’s resignation is effective Jan. 26. “We don’t know for sure what he is going to try to do. We’ll find out on the 26th,” he told reporters.

In other legislative matters, senators voted on a bill to waive fees for veterans and active duty military seeking concealed carry permits and on a bill that would require cremation or burial of aborted remains.

NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio criticized the bill, saying it is an unconstitutional restriction for abortion providers. The bill passed 24-9, largely along party lines.

Both bills still require approval from the Ohio House.

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