COLUMBUS – Can Ohio Supreme Courtroom Justice Invoice O’Neill run for governor whereas remaining on the state’s prime courtroom?
In all probability not, in response to the Ohio Code of Judicial Conduct. Here’s the rule: “Upon becoming a candidate in a primary or general election for a nonjudicial elective office, a judge shall resign from judicial office.”
Here’s why: Candidates for offices make promises that could compromise their ability to remain fair and impartial, according to judicial code. A judge must resign when entering a partisan race because of the “potential for misuse of the judicial office and the political promises that the judge would be compelled to make in the course of campaigning.”
On Sunday, O’Neill announced he would run for governor as a Democrat. During his speech, O’Neill promised to legalize marijuana, raise the minimum wage and improve access to mental health care.
Ohio Auditor Dave Yost blasted O’Neill Monday for making those promises.
“There is simply no way to reconcile the reasoning of Ohio’s rule and Mr. O’Neill’s speech outlining his many promises,” said Yost, a Republican lawyer running for state attorney general. “He needs to resign. Now.”
O’Neill sees the rule differently. In a statement, O’Neill said he will become a candidate officially when he is certified for the ballot in February 2018 and not before.
“I will step down at that time,” O’Neill said. “To do so any earlier is unfair to the two million Ohioans who elected me.”
The Ohio Code of Judicial Conduct is enforced by the Ohio Board of Professional Conduct, a 28-member body that oversees the behavior of attorneys and issues opinions on ethics. Board director Rick Dove told The Enquirer that he could not comment on whether O’Neill violated the rules in case the matter is brought before his board.
The definition of “running for office,” whether Yost’s or O’Neill’s, isn’t specifically addressed in the rules, Dove said.
Ohio Supreme Court Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor, a Republican, seemed to warn O’Neill in her statement Sunday.
“I encourage Justice O’Neill to consider his future course of conduct in light of his oath of judicial office and the ethical obligations imposed upon all judges of this state,” said O’Connor, adding that there is no mechanism to force O’Neill to recuse himself from cases.
If O’Neill resigns, GOP Gov. John Kasich would pick the justice’s replacement. That would give…