Saturday, June 12, 2004

Ohio justice charged, has court date

The Associated Press

COLUMBUS - A self-proclaimed court watchdog has accused an Ohio Supreme Court justice of billing the state for personal trips in a state car and failing to claim the amount as income.

Justice Terrence O'Donnell is to enter pleas to the three misdemeanor charges at a Franklin County Municipal Court hearing Wednesday.

Then, the city prosecutor's office will determine whether there is enough evidence to prosecute.

David Palmer has filed numerous complaints against judges who serve at all levels in the state. Most of the complaints have been dismissed, but in one case he forced nine visiting judges to repay the state for double billing.

Private citizens can file complaints with the clerk of courts office, then the clerk may determine whether there is probable cause to file charges, said Stephen McIntosh, assistant county prosecutor.

O'Donnell did nothing wrong, said Brian Hicks, a consultant to the justice's campaign. O'Donnell, appointed by Gov. Bob Taft last year, is running for election this year against Democratic appeals court Judge William O'Neill.

"Justice O'Donnell is a man of the highest ethical standards. Both the events in question here he attended in his official role," Hicks said. "David Palmer has a long history of filing frivolous charges against both Republicans and Democrats."

Palmer filed complaints charging O'Donnell with two counts of improperly receiving compensation and one count of filing a false financial record, all first-degree misdemeanors, punishable by up to 6 months in jail and a $1,000 fine.

"He used a state car and paid for gas with a state credit card that is supposed to be used only for official business," Palmer said Thursday.

Palmer says O'Donnell spent taxpayers' money to drive to Mansfield Motorsports Speedway on Aug. 2, when he served as grand marshal for the day's races.

Palmer also says O'Donnell drove from his Rocky River home in Cuyahoga County to Columbus on Aug. 24 to attend a party hosted by then-Franklin County Republican Chairman Michael Colley and his wife. He put the trip on the state tab, Palmer says.

He estimated the costs of the round trips at about $165, based on the distances and records of O'Donnell's gasoline purchases.

Palmer says O'Donnell's financial disclosure statement filed in February doesn't mention the $165.

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