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John P. O’Donnell for Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Judge, Jan. 5 term: endorsement editorial

September 26, 2018

John P. O’Donnell for Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Judge, Jan. 5 term: endorsement editorial

In his long and distinguished career, Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court Judge John P. O’Donnell has demonstrated integrity, fidelity to the law and the calm, respectful, thoughtful demeanor required of a judge -- qualities that cannot be attributed to all who serve on Cuyahoga County’s general division bench.

Twice nominated by the state’s Democrats as their candidate for the Ohio Supreme Court, O’Donnell, 53, now seeks his third consecutive six-year term as a Common Pleas judge.

He is without question the superior candidate in this race. Voters should re-elect him.

This is the first time O’Donnell has been on the local ballot for re-election as a Common Pleas judge since his controversial 2015 verdict finding Cleveland Police Officer Michael Brelo not guilty of manslaughter or felonious assault in the 2012 deaths of Timothy Russell and Malissa Williams. The pair died in a barrage of bullets fired by Cleveland police officers, including Brelo, after a high-speed chase.

O’Donnell ruled he could not determine it was Brelo who fired the fatal shots and determined the officer believed his life was in danger and was returning fire even though no gun was found in the car and an investigation found that only police fired in the fatal fusillade. O’Donnell has steadfastly defended the verdict as based solely on the law and his evaluation of the evidence.

O’Donnell is being challenged by Republican Lon’Cherie’ D. Billingsley, 34, an assistant Cuyahoga County prosecutor who received her license to practice law in November 2012, making her barely eligible per a state-required minimum six years’ legal experience to be elected judge.

But Billingsley does not meet what should be the voters’ basic expectations.

She was transferred within the prosecutor’s office last year and served a two-day suspension for what Cuyahoga County First Assistant Prosecuting Attorney Lisa R. Williamson called conduct that “continuously illustrates neglect of duty and failure of good behavior.”

Among other actions cited were Billingsley’s apparent attempted intervention last year in a Geauga County case involving her stepfather and an October 2015 criminal contempt holding against her by Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Judge David T. Matia “for knowingly making a false statement in open court.” In that case, Matia fined her $250 and ordered her to write a letter of apology to two victims in an aggravated robbery and aggravated burglary case. 

Billingsley denies she did anything wrong in contacting the Geauga County prosecutor and says she wasn’t given a proper chance in her disciplinary case to see the evidence against her or defend her actions. She also asserts that she wasn’t demoted and that she welcomes the added experience of working on child support enforcement instead of in the prosecutor’s general felony division.

Possibly Billingsley -- a product of the Cleveland schools who cites her “real-life experiences” as an asset, including time in Costa Rica and Mexico as an English teacher (she calls herself as an immigrant because of that time abroad) -- hopes to profit from the Brelo case.

Voters shouldn’t be buying. 

John P. O’Donnell is the clear choice in this contest. 

Early in-person and absentee voting for the Nov. 6 election begins Oct. 10. For more resources on Cuyahoga County judicial races, consult the Judge4Yourself ratings by four local bar associations, Judicial Votes Count at the University of Akron and the League of Women Voters’ voters’ guide. 

Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Judge John P. O’Donnell, a Democrat, is being challenged for re-election by Republican Lon’Cherie’ D. Billingsley, an assistant county prosecutor. The two candidates were interviewed by the editorial board of cleveland.com and The Plain Dealer as part of its endorsement process on Aug. 22, 2018. Listen to full audio of the interview below: 

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