Sup Ct: O'Neill (D) Speaks at Cleveland Heights Democratic Club
Tonight I heard Appellate Judge William O'Neill (D-South Russell), a candidate for the Supreme Court of Ohio, speak at a meeting of the Democratic Club of Cleveland Heights. This is a truly an extraordinary man, running a unique campaign.
An appellate judge since 1996, selected as presiding judge in 2000, O'Neill is also an experienced litigator who tried hundreds of cases; a single father who has raised four children since his wife died ten years ago; a retired Lieutenant Colonel in the Ohio National Guard; a Vietnam veteran with a Bronze Star; and a registered nurse who works two shifts a week in the pediatric emergency department at Hillcrest Hospital. In fact, he was late arriving for this event because a sick child stopped breathing and required resuscitation.
What makes his campaign utterly unique, however, is his absolute refusal to accept campaign contributions from anyone. "Money and Judges Don't Mix," his home-printed flyer proclaims, "No Money From No Body." The Judge believes it is wrong to "raise millions to get elected and then sit on contributors' cases." In short, as he said tonight, "our Court is not for sale."
O'Neill has a printing press in his garage to produce his flyer, and plans to distribute one million copies by Labor Day through a network of volunteers in all 88 counties. Aiding his efforts to get his message out, the New York Times sent a reporter and photographer to prepare a story on his unusual campaign. ("They didn't believe there really was a printing press in my garage," O'Neill says, with evident satisfaction.) The Columbus Dispatch also did a front page story.
To explain why his no-contribution campaign is so important, O'Neill tells the story of the creation of Ohio's no-fault workers compensation system in 1921, and the ruling by Democratic Chief Justice Celebrezze in the 1970s that the workers compensation law does not shield from liability a company that caused the deaths of employees through intentional misuse of toxic chemicals. Four years later, Celebrezze was defeated by the first multi-million dollar Supreme Court campaign, funded by insurers and manufacturers, and since then every campaign except O'Neill's unsuccessful 2004 bid has followed the same pattern. It is wrong, he says, for Justices to take money and then sit on cases involving the people who gave campaign contributions. As he put it, "do you want to have your case decided by a judge who got $100 from your opponent's attorney?"
O'Neill is very strong on the issue of Ohio's unconstitutional school funding system. He notes that he and his parents were all products of public schools (he grew up in a low income household on the east side of Cleveland), and he says the General Assembly "should be ashamed of themselves" for failing to fix the school funding system despite repeated Supreme Court rulings that it is not "thorough" or "efficient" as required by the Ohio Constitution. O'Neill believes that the Supreme Court has the authority to block the paychecks of Ohio legislators as a sanction, or to hold them in contempt of court.
O'Neill has personal views on certain social issues that I find alarming. He thinks that it would be okay to teach "intelligent design" in public schools, and he opposes abortion in all cases as "the taking of human life." (On the other hand, he is morally opposed to capital punishment, and he opposed the anti-gay marriage amendment. He says that he is "deeply offended" by Republicans' obsession with what people do in their bedrooms.) However, he insists that his personal views on such issues are irrelevant to how he would rule as a Supreme Court Justice. "There are a lot of laws that I don't agree with that I nevertheless enforce," he says, and in particular he declares that he will follow the law on the legality of abortion.
O'Neill has a new campaign web site and is actively recruiting volunteers and volunteer coordinators.