Cuyahoga County judge announces bid for Ohio Supreme Court

January 3, 2018 GMT

Cuyahoga County judge announces bid for Ohio Supreme Court

CLEVELAND, Ohio -- Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court Judge Michael Donnelly announced Wednesday that he will run for a seat on the Ohio Supreme Court in this November’s general election.

Donnelly, a Democrat and former prosecutor, has been on the Common Pleas bench since 2005.

The terms of Justices Terrence O’Donnell and William O’Neill are set to expire at the end of the year.

O’Neill, who lives in Chagrin Falls and is only Democrat of the court’s seven justices, said last month that he’ll resign his seat Jan. 26 as he runs for governor.

Donnelly spent five years on the Ohio Supreme Court’s Commission on Professionalism and was appointed to the Ohio Supreme Court Death Penalty Task Force in 2013.

Donnelly is perhaps best known for his public crusades to curtail plea agreements that lead to defendants admitting to crimes they didn’t commit.

He was part of a committee that recommended in 2015 that the Ohio Supreme Court alter Criminal Rule 11 and require the state’s judges to hold a public hearing to determine that facts support each charge in a plea deal before accepting the deal.

Donnelly used as an example a 2012 case out of East Cleveland where a man charged with rape pleaded guilty to aggravated assault, and within weeks of his release was accused of committing another sexual assault.

The effort was met with resistance from some judges, prosecutors and defense attorneys and the Court ultimately declined to take up the rule change. But Donnelly, as recently as September, participated in a forum at the City Club of Cleveland to examine the practice of plea bargains.

“People have to have faith in our courts for our justice system to work,” Donnelly said. “Those that work within the system have an obligation to prevent that faith from eroding. As a trial judge, you can do this by being fair, transparent, and accessible, but your impact is limited to one case at a time. I’m asking Ohioans for the chance to have a broader impact as a Justice of the Ohio Supreme Court.”

Donnelly would be the second Cuyahoga County judge in as many years to pursue a seat on the high court.

Common Pleas Judge John O’Donnell challenged Justice Pat Fischer’s seat in 2016 and lost by about 0.25 percent of the vote.

Donnelly graduated from St. Ignatius High School, John Carroll University and Cleveland State University’s Cleveland-Marshall College of Law. He was admitted to the bar in 1992. He spent five years as an assistant Cuyahoga County prosecutor and seven years in private practice before he was seated on the Common Pleas bench.

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