William O’Neill ran unsuccessfully for the Ohio Supreme Court six years ago, stressing above all the unseemly role of campaign money in judicial elections. He has mounted a similar effort in this election year as he challenges incumbent Robert Cupp. O’Neill recently highlighted $20,300 in contributions to Cupp from FirstEnergy executives, their spouses and executives from the Boich Group, which owns a coal mine with the Akron-based power company. (He pointed to $23,700 in donations to the campaign of Justice Terrence O’Donnell.)
The contributions are perfectly legal. FirstEnergy has cases before the Supreme Court. Nothing indicates Cupp (or O’Donnell) has shown favoritism. Yet this role of political money undermines public confidence in the court, as polling has revealed. Refreshing about O’Neill has been his persistence in pressing the argument for finding a better way to elect justices. It follows then that he doesn’t accept campaign contributions.
O’Neill bucked the Democratic Party in the primary, running against and defeating the party’s chosen candidate. Still, his candidacy represents an opportunity to add diversity to a high court dominated by Republicans. The 6-1 Republican majority too easily invites the impression of a court with a partisan agenda, even if that isn’t the case.
More, O’Neill, for all the fire of his campaign words, would come well prepared for the job, in experience and even temperament, having served for a decade on the 11th District Ohio Court of Appeals. He also has had wide experience in his law practice and now works as a registered nurse in the pediatric emergency department at Hillcrest Hospital in Mayfield Heights.
O’Neill is an unconventional candidate. Yet he makes telling points about the state’s judicial system. We recommend the election of William O’Neill on Nov. 6.
All of this isn’t to diminish the quality of the work performed by Justice Cupp in his first term. He has been true to his promise of judicial restraint. That may have been most apparent in a case involving the search and seizure of information from a cell phone. In dissent, Cupp cautioned against drawing more sweeping conclusions. Cupp has been prepared and thoughtful, or what is expected in a solid justice. O’Neill simply makes a larger argument that deserves support.