Supreme Court of Ohio: O’Donnell seeks to bring balance to court

October 30th, 2014



Judge John P. O’Donnell

The Supreme Court seats in Ohio are currently held by one Democrat and six Republicans. Of its seven members, only five were elected to their positions, and the one Democrat is among those five. The other two were appointed by Republican governors Bob Taft and John Kasich.


Judge John P. O’Donnell is running to bring balance and “new perspective to the court, but won’t be campaigning as a party standard-bearer,” he said in an interview with Ideastream.


O’Donnell is longtime Democrat with a lot of varied experience behind him. This, and the accumulation of enorsements O’Donnell has won, could lead to the dethroning of current seat holder Judith French, who was appointed by Kasich in December 2013 to fill a vacant spot. O’Donnell is attempting to replace her in the Nov. 4 election.


O’Donnell frequently emphasizes that he does not think French is unqualified, but rather, that he is more qualified. Four local bar associations who run a judge rating website called agree.


According to the website, it rates candidates based on the “criteria of integrity, judicial temperament, diligence, professional competence and community understanding.” Following its guidelines, O’Donnell scored a perfect 4 out of 4, compared to French, who still scored a solid 3.75.


Among the four categories, O’Donnell scored the highest possible rating of “excellent” in all of them. French lacked the same endorsement by the Cuyahoga Criminal Defense Lawyer’s Association in one of the categories, which led to her lower rating.


O’Donnell was also openly endorsed by the Editorial Board of the Northeast Ohio Media Group and The Plain Dealer. The Athens News also endorsed him, saying, “O’Donnell, of Lakewood, is a highly qualified lawyer and judge who will bring some desperately needed ideological balance to the GOP-dominated state Supreme Court.”


“While both candidates received ‘highly recommended’ ratings from the Ohio State Bar Association, we prefer O’Donnell,” the Athens News added.


Their reasoning, similar to many others, is that the imbalance of six Republicans to one Democrat on the current Ohio Supreme Court needs redressing. The Athens News goes on to say, “This overwhelming GOP advantage has held true for many years on Ohio’s highest court, and we believe that it’s long past the time when the court more closely reflects the relative even party and ideological balance in this state.”


Among the endorsements for a more balanced Supreme Court, is the Toledo newspaper, The Blade. Its editorial board said, “Two of the seven seats on the Ohio Supreme Court are up for election on next month’s ballot. The Blade recommends the election of Democrat John O’Donnell.”


O’Donnell was born in Euclid and currently lives in Lakewood. He obtained his bachelor’s degree from Miami University of Ohio in 1987 and a law degree from the Cleveland-Marshall College of Law at Cleveland State University in 1993. O’Donnell has been a judge on the Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas since 2002. He was elected to a six-year term in 2012, which would end in 2019, but announced last year that he was running for Ohio Supreme Court this fall.


Cassidy, Johnson

Kyle Cassidy, left, and Kenn Johnson, campaign worker at the county’s Democratic Party headquarters

I had the opportunity to speak to some campaign staff at the Cuyahoga County Democratic headquarters in downtown Cleveland. The first gentleman, Kyle Earley, when asked about candidate O’Donnell, stressed one particular portion of his accreditation: his commercial docket. At first I was unsure what this was, but upon looking into it, I found that commercial dockets are “used to resolve business-to-business disputes quicker and to provide consistency to the process by judges developing expertise in this area,” according to the Ohio State Bar Association.


O’Donnell was one of eight judges chosen, statewide, to handle these dockets and, according to a report by the Task Force on Commercial Dockets issued in 2012, “The benefits of the program included accelerating decisions, creating expertise among judges, and achieving consistency in court decision around the state.” This alone is an accomplishment.


The other gentleman who spoke to me was Kenn Johnson, who was in charge of organizing and implementing local phone banks for Democratic candidates.


We corresponded via email after our meeting and I found that phone banking, according to Joe Garecht,  a well-known  professional fundraiser, has five main benefits when campaigning.


“Phone banking is a follow-up for the campaign’s direct mail; for identifying which voters are committed to which candidate; getting out the vote; fundraising calls; and to get out your rapid response to the opponent’s attacks,” Garecht said. Along with the five reasons above, Johnson said that “phone banking is a great way to get in touch with the community.”


It is a close race for Ohio Supreme Court, and O’Donnell is giving French a run for her money. He has proved that he is qualified and, according to his peers, might be more qualified than French. Aside from this, the imbalance of political parties in the current Ohio Supreme Court is a factor that could convince many to vote for O’Donnell.


“Some of the Republicans on the Supreme Court are joining the majority opinion on too many occasions,” O’Donnell said at a Democratic dinner on May 22. “We currently have a Supreme Court (in Ohio) with one Democrat and six Republicans. Even people who are heavily partisan should recognize that a court that is that far out of balance is not good in the overall scheme of things.”