Seven candidates up for three Ohio Supreme Court seats to determine partisan balance of court

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COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) – The partisan lean of the Ohio Supreme Court is in the hands of voters in 2024, and a full slate of candidates is vying for their attention.

Seven candidates are running for three seats on the state’s high bench.  And in the second election since the placement of partisan labels alongside most judicial candidates, the ideological balance of the court is likely to loom large over the races.

Two Democratic justices, Michael Donnelly and Melody Stewart, are running for re-election. A third justice, Republican Joe Deters, is challenging Stewart instead of running for election to his current seat. In March, Democratic voters will pick their candidate among two appellate judges to go against a Franklin County judge for Deters’ seat.

The results of the races could further cement the conservative sway of the 4-3 Republican court – or flip the balance entirely. Meanwhile, a lawsuit challenging partisan labels for Supreme Court justice and appellate judge seats, filed by current Democratic Justice Jennifer Brunner, remains ongoing in federal court.

The Secretary of State’s Office has until Jan. 9 to certify official ballots for the March 19 primary election. Military and overseas voting begins Feb. 2, and all other early voting begins Feb. 21. The deadline to register to vote in Feb. 20.

Here are the candidates who have declared their intent to run for Ohio Supreme Court in 2024:

  • Michael Donnelly (D), incumbent

    • Donnelly is finishing his term as associate justice after being elected in 2018. From 2004 to 2017, Donnelly was a Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas judge, spending the last seven years of his tenure on the county’s court for criminal defendants with severe mental illnesses and developmental disabilities. Before judgeship, Donnelly was an assistant Cuyahoga County prosecutor. An Ohio native, he received his bachelor’s degree from John Carroll University and his law degree from Cleveland State University. Donnelly is being challenged by Republican candidate Megan Shanahan.

  • Melody Stewart (D), incumbent

    • Stewart, the first Black woman elected to Ohio’s top court, is finishing her first term as an associate justice. In 2018, she came from the Eighth District Court of Appeals after being first elected in 2006. After starting her legal career as a civil defense attorney, Stewart transitioned to legal education, serving on faculty at the University of Toledo Law School and teaching at Ursuline College. She later was an administrator at Case Western Reserve University’s law school before becoming an assistant dean and faculty member at Cleveland State University’s College of Law. Stewart, who studied music at Cincinnati, received her law degree from Cleveland State and her doctorate from Case Western. Stewart is being challenged by her colleague, Deters.

  • Joe Deters (R), incumbent

    • Deters is completing his first year on the Ohio Supreme Court, having been appointed in December 2022 by Gov. Mike DeWine to fill the seat of current Chief Justice Sharon Kennedy, who was an associate justice at the time. Deters has no judicial experience outside his year on the Supreme Court, but was the longest-tenured prosecutor in Hamilton County, serving from 1992-99 and from 2005-2023. While prosecutor, Deters launched the county’s first victim court advocacy program and its first drug court. He started his legal career as assistant Hamilton County prosecutor before serving as the county’s clerk of courts from 1988 to 1992, and was Ohio’s treasurer from 1998 to 2005. He earned both his bachelor’s and his law degree from the University of Cincinnati. Deters is running for Stewart’s seat.

  • Megan Shanahan (R)

    • Shanahan has served on the Hamilton County Court of Common Pleas since 2015 after being re-elected in 2022. Like Hawkins, she came to the common pleas court from her county’s municipal bench. Before entering the judiciary, Shanahan had a decade of prosecutorial experience. She started as assistant prosecutor in Butler County and became an assistant prosecutor in Hamilton County after losing a bid for Hamilton County Common Pleas in 2010. Shanahan received her bachelor’s from Kent State University and her law degree from the University of Cincinnati. She is challenging Donnelly in November.

  • Dan Hawkins (R)

    • Hawkins has been a judge in the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas since 2018, with his term expiring at the end of the year. He came to the court from Franklin County Municipal Court, where he was a judge in the environmental division from 2013 to 2018. For more than a decade before that, Hawkins was an assistant Franklin County prosecutor. He was director of the Franklin County Prosecutor’s Special Victims Unit until 2013, overseeing prosecutions for sexual assault, child abuse, domestic violence and other violent crimes. He received his law degree from Ohio State University after attending Bowling Green State University. Hawkins is running for Deters’ seat.

  • Terri Jamison (D)

    • Jamison launched her second bid for the Ohio Supreme Court in December after losing to Pat Fischer in November 2022. Elected in 2020 to the 10th District Court of Appeals, she has followed perhaps the least conventional path to the judiciary. Hailing from West Virginia, Jamison was a coal miner before moving to Columbus and starting an insurance agency. While working, she attended community college before completing her bachelor’s at Franklin University. After earning her law degree from Capital University, Jamison was briefly a Franklin County assistant public defender before opening her own law practice. In 2012, she was elected to the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas, where she served until 2020. She is running for Deters’ seat and will face Lisa Forbes in the March Democratic primary.

  • Lisa Forbes (D)

    • Forbes started her judicial career in 2020 after handedly defeating an incumbent for a seat on the Eighth District Court of Appeals. Before that, Forbes was a partner at Cleveland law firm Vorys, Sater, Seymour and Pease, specializing in complex litigation in state and federal courts at the trial and appellate levels. She worked for the firm for 27 years. She earned her bachelor’s from Cornell University and her law degree from Case Western Reserve University. Forbes will face Jamison in the March Democratic party. The Ohio Democratic Party originally endorsed Forbes alongside Stewart and Donnelly, before Jamison announced her own candidacy in December. A Democratic party spokesperson said should both Forbes and Jamison officially make the ballot, the party will hold a screening process followed by a full executive committee vote on “whether or not to endorse in the race.”

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