COLUMBUS (WKBN) – Never in institutional memory has Article IV, Section 17 ever been successfully invoked and completed, according to the Legislative Services Commission (LSC).
State Representative Niraj Antani could be the first lawmaker to get it done if he can convince enough of his fellow lawmakers to agree with him and if the target of his ire doesn’t take the same action as the last judge this measure was used on.
Antani has filed a concurrent resolution that calls for the removal of Ohio Supreme Court Justice William M. O’Neill from his position on the bench.
O’Neill recently announced he plans to join the race for the Democratic Gubernatorial candidacy. Antani says this is highly improper because judges are not allowed to run in partisan races while serving.
O’Neill has recused himself of all new cases that come to the court but plans to remain active in cases that have already been filed and require work.
He also plans to resign his position with the court the first week of February, in coordination with filing, to officially become a candidate in the primary race.
However, Antani doesn’t see things the same way and says O’Neill is a candidate now because he has announced. He points to several online platforms that label him as a candidate, including O’Niell’s social media pages.
This is how the process is supposed to work, according to LSC — a written complaint is filed and then the judge has to be notified and given an opportunity to defend themselves at a hearing, then both chambers of the legislature would need to have two-thirds of their members vote to remove the judge.
As mentioned, this has never happened before but it has been tried.
In 1993, Senator Watts filed a concurrent resolution seeking the removal of Franklin County Common Pleas Court Judge William L. Millard. That resolution was never acted upon because Millard resigned from his position shortly thereafter.
According to Brad Millar, the spokesman for Speaker of the House Cliff Rosenberger, “The Speaker will carefully review the resolution with leadership and the caucus in the coming weeks. Due to the legal and technical complexities of the resolution, the initial stages of review will be to make sure caucus members have a firm understanding of what exactly this particular process entails before taking any further action.”
Antani says it is now up to him to convince his fellow lawmakers that he is right and they should vote to remove O’Neill.
The 26-year-old lawmaker points out that his parents and grandparents grew up in British-ruled India.
“There wasn’t a fair and independent judiciary,” Antani said. “The judiciary did whatever they wanted.”
That is in stark contrast to how our nation was set up, according to Antani.
O’Neill did respond to Antani’s resolution with a statement of his own.
In it, he says, “I can understand why some members of the Ohio General Assembly do not want me to be Governor,” and, “As stated by Maureen O’Connor, Chief Justice of the Ohio Supreme Court, there is currently no mechanism for removing a Judge or Justice for violating Rule 4.5.”
However, in looking at the original statement provided by Chief Justice O’Connor, it should be noted that she only discusses what the court cannot do, not what the legislature may be able to.
“Under our current rules there is no mechanism by which this Court could require Justice O’Neill to recuse himself from any pending cases,” O’Connor wrote.
Antani says he did not seek out permission or guidance from House Leadership before bringing this resolution forward, which some view as a line in the sand.
If this resolution is acted upon, it will force members of the legislature to go on record and some say that could turn O’Neill into a political martyr, which could consolidate the Democratic base.
The optics on this could be skewed to look like the GOP was simply using their overwhelming legislative power in the form of super-majorities in both chambers to win a political battle.
O’Neill is the lone Democrat serving on the Ohio Supreme Court and some could view this as the Republicans pushing him off the bench and refilling his position with Republican.
But Antani says that’s ridiculous.
“I don’t think that anyone thinks that Bill O’Neill is a political threat.”
He says he is only doing this so the public’s trust is not shaken.
“If this was a Republican judge doing the same thing, I would want to remove them because this is wrong,” Antani said.
No word on if or when Antani’s resolution will be heard.