Weekly Legislative Report: Senate takes first step toward the removal of Justice Bill O’Neill


​Jan. 18, 2018

With continuing concerns that a sitting justice of the Ohio Supreme Court is actively campaigning to be Ohio’s next Governor in violation of the Ohio Code of Judicial Conduct, the Ohio Senate took initial steps on Wednesday to remove Justice Bill O’Neill from the bench.

Senators passed Senate Concurrent Resolution 20, sponsored by Senate President Larry Obhoff (R-Medina) and Senator Bob Peterson (R-Washington Court House), by a vote of 25-8. The resolution outlines the grounds for his removal and, should it likewise be adopted by 2/3 of the members of the Ohio House of Representatives, would serve as a summons for Justice O’Neill to appear before the General Assembly and “show cause why he should not be removed from office under Article IV, Section 17 of the Ohio Constitution.” The Article IV process affords the individual subject to removal an opportunity to be heard.

The Ohio Senate is among the many individuals and organizations who believe Justice O’Neill’s decision to stay on the bench while a candidate for Governor runs afoul of the Ohio Code of Judicial Conduct and his duty to promote public confidence in the independence, integrity and impartiality of the judiciary. This includes the Ohio State Bar Association. As you may recall, OSBA President Randall Comer issued a statement on Dec. 8 stating that recusal was not sufficient and calling on Justice O’Neill to do the right thing and resign. Justice O’Neill has said he will resign upon filing his petitions for Governor with the Secretary of State, setting a date of Jan. 26. Though he maintains he is not a candidate until that time, he originally declared his intention to run in October, has discussed his issue platform widely, and has even selected his running mate. His continued refusal to resign and continued campaign activity led to the Senate’s actions Wednesday.

A similar removal resolution (House Concurrent Resolution 17) has been introduced in the Ohio House of Representatives by Representative Niraj Antani (R-Miamisburg), however, Speaker Cliff Rosenberger has reportedly indicated that the Ohio House does not plan to take any action on the resolution. Regardless, the Senate’s vote this week marks the first attempt by the General Assembly to use the Article IV process to remove a sitting judge and indicates how seriously its members take the integrity of the judiciary.​

When it comes to the integrity of the judiciary, the OSBA has been a champion throughout its long history. Moving forward, we plan to work with the Supreme Court of Ohio, the General Assembly and other interested parties to avoid future controversies of this nature and to ensure continued public confidence in our courts.  

Governor’s Race: Kucinich in; Whaley out 

The Democratic field for Governor got even more interesting this week when Dennis Kucinich officially declared his candidacy on Fox News’ Fox & Friends and at events in Cleveland, Columbus and Dayton. He says that he can reach out to the people who voted for President Trump, showing them that “there are Democrats who stand solidly for economic progress, who want to protect our markets, who want to stand up for everyday Americans.” 

Kucinich joins a competitive field of fellow Democrats running for Governor, including Justice Bill O’Neill, former Ohio Attorney General Richard Cordray, State Senator Joe Schiavoni, and former State Representative Connie Pillich.

Since OSBA’s Weekly Legislative Report last discussed the race, Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley announced that she would be dropping out of the Governor’s race and supporting Richard Cordray.

On the Republican side, Attorney General Mike DeWine and Lt. Governor Mary Taylor are currently the only two competing for the nomination of their party following Congressman Jim Renacci’s announcement last week that he would be entering the race for U.S. Senate instead.   

The filing deadline is Feb. 7. Though its coming quickly, trust us, there is still PLENTY of time for positioning and more surprises. Stay tuned. 

OSBA-proposed Brightline residency rule gets first hearing in Ohio Senate

In other legislative business, Representative Gary Scherer (R-Circleville) made the case before the Senate Ways & Means Committee that Ohio needs a new and improved Brightline test for determining Ohio residency for tax purposes. Fortunately, he and the OSBA’s Taxation Law Committee have done the legwork in drafting House Bill 292, which the Ohio House overwhelmingly endorsed, passing the bill 90-1 in November. It’s our hope the Ohio Senate will follow suit in short order. We’ll keep you posted. To read more about HB 292, check out our previous update or Rep. Scherer’s sponsor testimony (which you can find on the Ways & Means webpage under Committee Documents for Jan. 17).

Week Ahead   

The House has scheduled session for Jan. 24, and has Jan. 25 slated “if needed.” The Senate has the 24th reserved “if needed.” Committees will continue to meet and we’ll continue to keep our eyes on issues of importance to the members of the OSBA.

Tracking OSBA Legislation   

You can always track OSBA priority bills and bills we are watching via the Legislative section at www.OhioBar.org




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