A judicial conduct panel ruled this week that the primary election opponent of a local Municipal Court judge knowingly misrepresented himself in campaign materials.
The panel decided that retired appellate court judge William O’Neill from Cleveland left the impression that he is a current judge in a two-sided campaign card he distributed. In fact, O’Neill now works as an emergency room nurse at a hospital.
O’Neill and Hamilton County Municipal Court Judge Fanon Rucker are vying to be the Democratic Party’s nominee for the Ohio Supreme Court.
Whoever wins the March 6 primary election will face off against incumbent Justice Robert Cupp, a Republican, in the November general election.
The three-judge panel upheld the complaint filed by Richard Dove, secretary of the Ohio Supreme Court’s Board of Commissioners on Grievances and Discipline. The panel said O’Neill’s campaign card refers to him nine times as “judge,’’ while describing him as “former court of appeals judge’’ once.
“The fact that he is known as judge because of his tenure on the 11th District Court of Appeals and that as a retired judge he is known as a judge, he nevertheless as a judicial candidate is prohibited from using the term ‘judge’ before his name in campaign materials since he does not currently hold that office,’’ wrote Guernsey County Common Pleas Judge David Ellwood, who chaired the three-judge panel.
The panel recommended no discipline for O’Neill other than he stop distributing the card. A 5th District Court of Appeals judge must appoint a panel of five fellow appellate judges within the next week to consider the lower panel’s recommendations and make a final decision.
Rucker is the Ohio Democratic Party’s endorsed candidate, but O’Neil has twice before — in different races — had party leaders rescind an endorsement and give it to him.
O’Neill has run twice for the state Supreme Court — in 2004 and 2006 — and then Congress in 2008 and 2010. Although he has won in the primaries, O’Neill has lost in the general elections.
Local Democratic Party leaders are criticizing O’Neill, stating he is moving too slowly to remove misleading material from his campaign website.
“While Mr. O’Neill promised Monday to make the required corrections, as of this writing on Wednesday, Feb. 29, his website remains unchanged,” Hamilton County Democratic Party Chairman Tim Burke wrote in a statement issued Wednesday night.
“This is not the kind of conduct we as Democrats should condone by any of our candidates, especially candidates running for a seat on the highest court of our state,” Burke added. “Ohioans deserve a Supreme Court candidate who not only understands the law, but respects it as well.”