An Ohio Supreme Court justice who recently declared his intention to run for governor faced widespread condemnation — and even some calls to resign — after he boasted about his sexual history while defending “heterosexual males.”
Justice William O’Neill posted a statement Friday morning on Facebook about what he described as the “national feeding frenzy about sexual indiscretions,” and in doing so disclosed details about his sexual history.
“As a candidate for Governor let me save my opponents some research time,” O’Neill wrote. “In the last fifty years I was sexually intimate with approximately 50 very attractive females. It ranged from a gorgeous blonde who was my first true love and we made passionate love in the hayloft of her parents barn and ended with a drop dead gorgeous red head from Cleveland.
“Now can we get back to discussing legalizing marijuana and opening the state hospital network to combat the opioid crisis.”
Amid a storm of bipartisan condemnation from Ohio politicians and the chief justice of the state’s supreme court, the post was deleted Friday afternoon.
Shortly before 6 p.m. Friday, O’Neill posted new comments on Facebook.
“As an aside for all you sanctimonious judges who are demanding my resignation, hear this. I was a civil right lawyer actively prosecuting sexual harassment cases on behalf of the Attorney General’s Office before Anita Hill and before you were born,” O’Neill wrote.
“Lighten up folks. This is how Democrats remain in the minority.”
On Saturday afternoon, he again posted to Facebook, apologizing but not apologizing.
“If I offended anyone, particularly the wonderful women in my life, I apologize. But if I have helped elevate the discussion on the serious issues of sexual assault, as opposed to personal indiscretions, to a new level … I make no apologies.”
Friday evening, O’Neill told NBC affiliate WKYC that he was likely dropping out of the gubernatorial race, though he said he would not resign from the Ohio Supreme Court.
O’Neill said he made his initial comments in response to the allegations of sexual assault surrounding Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.). He wrote it was “morally wrong” for “the dogs of war to leap onto his back and demand his resignation.”
In an interview with the Columbus Dispatch, O’Neill mentioned the allegations surrounding Franken and Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore of Alabama. He told the Dispatch in a phone interview: “I’m a candidate for governor, and I assume I’m the next target.”
As O’Neill’s first Facebook post circulated, Ohio Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor said she was shocked by her colleague’s comments.
“No words can convey my shock,” O’Connor said in a statement emailed to The Washington Post. “This gross disrespect for women shakes the public’s confidence in the integrity of the judiciary.”
Ohio Democratic Party Chairman David Pepper said O’Neill’s remarks were “terrible,” especially given their timing.
“We’re having a serious national conversation about rape culture and sexual harassment, and it’s crucial for men to take time to listen to women and consider their experiences and insights,” Pepper wrote on Twitter, adding, “Justice O’Neill’s Facebook comments both dehumanize women and do nothing but trivialize this important conversation, which is actually about harassment and abuse, not encounters between consenting adults.”
O’Neill could not be reached for comment Friday by The Post.
His campaign spokesman, Chris Clevenger, condemned O’Neill’s comments, calling them “both disturbing and misguided.” Clevenger said he was quitting the campaign.
The justice’s remarks came one day after broadcaster Leeann Tweeden publicly accused Franken of forcibly kissing her during a USO tour in 2006 and groping her breasts while she was sleeping on a plane during the trip home. Tweeden’s revelation was made shortly after an explosive congressional hearing on sexual harassment, which female lawmakers said is a pervasive problem on Capitol Hill.
O’Neill told the Dispatch that Tweeden should not have publicly accused Franken, as the senator “has accepted responsibility” — and said calls for Franken to resign were “outrageous.” He similarly questioned the timing of The Post’s extensive report detailing Moore’s alleged pursuit of teenage girls in the late 1970s and early 1980s.
“He’s in the middle of a Senate campaign,” O’Neill told the Dispatch.
O’Neill, who would not comment whether The Post should have written the story or whether he supports Moore in light of the revelations, said the accusations are a distraction that “trivializes the process” and diverts the Senate race’s focus away from the issues.
Shortly after posting his statements to Facebook, O’Neill edited his comments to remove personal information about two of the women, according to the Dispatch. Then, he deleted the post.
This isn’t the first time O’Neill stirred controversy in recent weeks. In late October, he announced his intention to run for governor in 2018 — but said he would hold his seat on the state’s high court until he submits his petitions for candidacy in February.
He wrote in the Star Beacon earlier this week that once his paperwork is filed, “I will resign from the Supreme Court. And not a day before. Here’s why”:
In 2012, I was elected by over 2 million Ohioans to serve on the Supreme Court of Ohio. It has been a privilege, and nowhere will you find even a shred of suggestion that I have done anything other than a competent, impartial and professional job.
There are about 99 cases pending before the Court. I have participated in them, conducted the research and consulted with my colleagues. They are nearly ready to be released. To simply walk away from those matters would be grossly unfair to the litigants, and a violation of my oath of office … which I cherish. As I indicated this week, I have already voluntarily informed the Court I will not be sitting on any new cases from this point forward. That is the right thing to do.
When I file petitions to run for governor I will be a candidate for governor. Anything short of that act is constitutionally protected free speech, which has been ratified by none other than the late great Justice Antonin Scalia.
On Friday, lawmakers and political leaders slammed O’Neill for his “crass” comments; some also called for the judge to step down.
“There’s a very serious conversation going on right now in this country about sexual harassment and @BillForOhio’s crass post is ill-timed and dismissive at best. We have to be better than this,” Lt. Gov. Mary Taylor (R) said on Twitter.
O’Neill’s four rivals for the Democratic nomination also called for him to drop out of the race. Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley (D) tweeted that “sexual harassment, degrading and devaluing women is not a joke. Justice O’Neill should resign.”
Democrat Connie Pillich, who is also running for governor, agreed the justice should resign, tweeting that “there’s nothing funny about sexual assault.” Pillich said O’Neill “has been a friend” and donated money to her campaign — money she now says she will be redistributing to women’s organizations.
Betty Sutton, another Democrat in the race for governor, said she was “appalled” by O’Neill’s comments.
“As a democrat I’m horrified he would belittle victims of sexual harassment/assault this way and as a woman I’m outraged he would equate sexual assault with indiscretion,” she wrote, adding, “He should resign immediately.”
O’Neill’s fourth rival, Sen. Joe Schiavoni (D), said that “a spontaneous run for governor and now this ridiculous Facebook post” led him to believe it’s time for O’Neill to “hang it up.”
O’Neill confirmed to the Dispatch that he would drop out of the governor’s race if Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Director Richard Cordray chooses to run — now a possibility, the Dispatch reported, because of Cordray’s announcement that he will resign from his federal office by the end of the month.
This post has been updated.