A Facebook post touting his sexual exploits with “50 very attractive females” Friday had colleagues expressing shock and political opponents calling for Ohio Supreme Court Justice Bill O’Neill to resign.
“I condemn in no uncertain terms Justice O’Neill’s Facebook post. No words can convey my shock,” said Ohio Supreme Court Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor in a statement released on Friday. “This gross disrespect for women shakes the public’s confidence in the integrity of the judiciary.”
O’Neill, a Democratic candidate for governor, admitted he wrote the post on his Facebook site.
“I did post it and I stand by it,” O’Neill told WHIO Reporter Jim Otte by phone.
“Now that the dogs of war are calling for the head of Senator Al Franken I believe it is time to speak up on behalf of all heterosexual males,” O’Neill wrote in the post. “In the last fifty years I was sexually intimate with approximately 50 very attractive females. It ranged from a gorgeous personal secretary to Senator Bob Taft (Senior) who was my first true love and we made passionate love in the hayloft of her parents barn in Gallipolis and it ended with a drop dead gorgeous redhead who was a senior advisor to Peter Lewis at Progressive Insurance in Cleveland.”
O’Neill later removed the names of Taft and Lewis from the post.
O’Neill’s sole campaign staffer, Communications Director Chris Clevenger, resigned Friday from the Bill for Governor campaign as soon as he learned O’Neill had posted the comment.
“Moments ago I was able to contact Justice O’Neill to announce my resignation from the campaign. I have been out of pocket all day, and had no prior knowledge of his statement,” Clevenger wrote in an afternoon tweet. “Sexual harassment and assault is no laughing matter. The next Governor of Ohio must take it seriously to receive my vote.”
Clevenger, who called the comments “disturbing and misguided,” said in a phone interview that he was a victim of sexual assault as an undergraduate in college and “taken aback” by O’Neill’s comments.
All four of O’Neill’s opponents in the 2018 Democratic primary for governor called for his resignation from the court.
“Sexual harassment, degrading and devaluing women is not a joke. Justice O’Neill should resign,” Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley said in a tweet.
Her comments were echoed by former state representative Connie Pillich of Cincinnati, state Sen. Joe Schiavoni, D-Boardman, and former U.S. Rep. Betty Sutton of Akron.
“This is a ridiculous comment by someone who is supposed to be a professional representing Ohioans on our highest court,” Schiavoni said. “It is definitely not reflective of the way I feel as a heterosexual man. Bill O’Neill is not speaking ‘on behalf of all heterosexual males.”
“We need to continue to create channels for reporting and protect women in the workplace from harassment — rather than bragging about having sex with them. Before today I thought that would go without saying.”
State Rep. Niraj Antani, R-Miamisburg, said O’Neill “is off the hinges.”
“Now he’s defending sexual harasser Al Franken, which is conduct unbecoming of any supreme court justice. It’s a sad day in our democracy when a supreme court justice who is supposed to give justice to victims of sexual harassment, instead defends sexual harassers like Al Franken.”
Franken, D-Minnesota, on Thursday called for an ethics investigation of himself after a Los Angeles news anchor came forward with allegations that he kissed her forcibly and groped her as she slept during a USO tour in 2006. A photo also surfaced showing a smiling Franken with his hands hovering over the anchor’s chest as she slept on the plane during the return trip from Afghanistan.
In his post, O’Neill post ended with: “Now can we get back to discussing legalizing marijuana and opening the state hospital network to combat the opioid crisis. I am sooooo (sic) disappointed by this national feeding frenzy about sexual indiscretions decades ago. Peace.”
Spokeswomen for the Democratic and Republican parties also weighed in on O’Neill’s comments.
“Heterosexual males need a new spokesperson,” wrote Ellie Hockenbury, regional communications director of the Republican National Committee in an email.
“Newsflash: no one asked how many notches you have on your belt. The so-called ‘national feeding frenzy’ is about empowering victims of sexual assault or harassment who’ve been afraid to speak up; it’s not an opportunity to brag about your sexual conquests through the years,” Hockenbury wrote in a statement.
Kristin Alvanitakis, communications director for the Ohio Democratic Party, said O’Neill’s comments “dehumanize women (and) add nothing to this important conversation, which is actually about harassment and abuse, not encounters between consenting adults.”
O’Neill’s entry into the Democratic primary for governor in 2018 was already controversial because he chose to remain on the state’s high court but recused himself from future cases.
The Ohio Code of Judicial Conduct requires judges to step down if they run for partisan office. O’Neill, who announced on Oct. 29 that he is running, has a campaign set up but says he won’t step down from the court because he does not believe he is officially a candidate until he files his petitions for candidacy by Feb. 7.
Those petitions, which require the signatures of 1,000 valid registered Ohio voters, are an official declaration of candidacy.
Antani earlier in the month filed a resolution to begin the process of hauling O’Neill before the General Assembly in an effort to remove him from the court.
Many believe that Richard Cordray will enter the Democratic race for governor and O’Neill previously has said that would lead him to drop out. Cordray, announced this week that he is stepping down early as the director of the U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
Candidates for governor on the Republican side include Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine, Secretary of State Jon Husted, U.S. Rep. Jim Renacci of Wadsworth and Lt. Gov. Mary Taylor.
O’Neill is the lone Democrat on the state’s high court and if he leaves office before his term ends in 2019 his replacement would be named by Ohio Gov. John Kasich, a Republican.
Other stories by Lynn Hulsey