COLUMBUS — Democrats sharply criticized a new Ohio Republican Party political video on Wednesday that suggests state Supreme Court candidate Bill O’Neill sympathized with rapists as an appellate judge.
The spot targets a 12-year-old ruling that reversed a rape conviction and sent the case back for retrial because no expert witness was called for the defendant.
“When crime occurs, victims deserve justice but, as a judge, Bill O’Neill expressed sympathy for rapists,” the voiceover says.
Democratic Chairman Chris Redfern said the GOP engaged in “Willie Horton-style attacks,” demanding that the video be taken down and O’Neill’s rival, incumbent Justice Robert Cupp, apologize. Horton was a convicted killer whose crimes during a Massachusetts prison furlough became an issue in the 1988 presidential campaign between Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis and then-Vice President George H.W. Bush.
Meanwhile, O’Neill stood by the targeted ruling and others he made in more than 3,000 cases during his decade on the Ohio 11th Circuit Court of Appeals.
“I am a retired Army officer, a registered nurse, a former Court of Appeals judge and the proud father of two daughters,” the Democratic candidate said in a statement. “To suggest I am sympathetic to rapists is an outrage.”
O’Neill said his Republican opponent should be ashamed of the video.
“Shame on you, Bob Cupp. To bring the word ‘rape’ into a Supreme Court campaign sends a clear message about the quality of a campaign you are running,” O’Neill said.
But Cupp came out against the ad, which his campaign said he had not seen before its release.
“Justice Cupp does not believe the purported ad is an appropriate approach to judicial campaigning, which is why he has not and would not approve a commercial like this,” campaign spokesman Mark Weaver said in a statement.
Ohio Republican Chairman Bob Bennett had anticipated the spot would be controversial and make people uncomfortable. But he said that’s the fault of O’Neill’s, not the party or Cupp. Bennett questioned other O’Neill rulings, which Bennett said were sympathetic to rapists, sexual predators, and child batterers.
“O’Neill must not be elected to the court for many reasons, but his support of the wicked in some of Ohio’s worst crimes tops that list of reasons,” Bennett said.
To back up the video’s claim, the GOP pointed to a portion of O’Neill’s written 2000 decision.
“Rape is a crime of violence which ultimately devastates the lives of at least two people. It is beyond question that the victim suffers emotional damage,” he wrote. “The perpetrator, on the other hand, is labeled for life as a rapist and left to lead a life of rejection and scorn by society as a whole.”
Redfern said that with the video, Cupp and the Republicans have “sunk to new lows.”
“It’s because their internal polling shows the same thing as ours: This race is a tossup so they’re pulling out every last dirty trick to try and smear Judge Bill O’Neill,” he said.
The tightening of the race between an incumbent and a challenger is particularly surprising because of O’Neill’s policy not to accept campaign contributions.
The Ohio State Bar Association has called in past elections for jurists and lawyers not to be attacked over controversial cases. A spokesman said Wednesday the lawyers’ group had not yet had a chance to review the video.
Supreme Court ad