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            January 11th, 2024             Len’s Political Note #614 Michael Donnelly, Melody Stewart, and Lisa Forbes for the Ohio Supreme Court

2024                                                    General Election


Yesterday’s Political Note #613 created the context for the Ohio Supreme Court Races for November, 2024.  Today’s Note provides greater detail about the candidates

Incumbent Democratic Associate Justice Michael Donnelly will be opposed by Common Pleas Judge Megan Shanahan for a six year term

Michael Donnelly is from Cleveland and was educated largely in Catholic institutions.  He went to St. Ignatius High School in Cleveland and the Jesuit founded John Carroll University in University Heights, less than 10 miles east of Cleveland.  He earned his JD from Cleveland State University, a relatively recent public institution.  He lives now in Cleveland Heights.

After graduating from law school, Michael Donnelly was appointed as an assistant prosecutor.  After five years as a prosecutor, in 1997 in private practice, he became a litigator in civil cases – focusing particularly on litigation on behalf of workers injured by asbestos, other personal injuries, and workers’ compensation.

In 2004, Michael Donnelly was elected to the Cuyahoga (Cleveland) county court of Common Pleas. In 2010, he became part of the Mental Health and Development Disabilities Court which considered cases with defendants who had serious intellectual and psychological disabilities.  In 2018, he was elected to the Ohio Supreme Court by a 61-39 margin replacing Terrance O’Donald who, at age 70, was required to retire. Michael Donnelly had campaigned arguing that people with low income faced a “justice gap.”

Democrats have been in the minority for Michael Donnelly’s entire tenure.  He has written several dissenting opinions.  In 2020, he wrote that a 5-2 decision that allowed a law to permit state takeovers of “failing” public schools” had been passed without the mandatory three readings.   “Like a thief in the night, (House Bill 70) appeared without warning to unsuspecting lawmakers and the public they serve, and with no opportunity for reflection, public discourse, or debate, slipped away untouched with the complete power to displace local public control of Ohio public school districts.”

Michael Donnelly was in the minority on the Court in 2023 regarding the legislature’s proposed constitutional amendment.  The Court allowed the legislature to break its own law restricting proposed constitutional amendment and to schedule the August vote requiring 60% majorities to pass future constitutional amendments.

Michael Donnelly’s Republican opponent is Common Pleas Judge Megan Shanahan.  She grew up in Western Pennsylvania, went to Kent State University, and earned her JD at the University of Cincinnati.  Shanahan remained in Cincinnati, initially as a prosecutor and then as a judge in the Hamilton County (Cincinnati) Court of Common Pleas.

In her campaign website, Republican Shanahan touted her membership in the Federalist Society and insisted she would not legislate “from the bench.”  She pointed to her experience as a prosecutor and said she would ensure that “child predators and other criminals” would get ”the sentences they deserve.”  She was an advocate for an adopted constitutional amendment to “allow judges to consider public safety when setting bail for dangerous offenders.“’

Judge Shanahan did not always get her way.  The Ohio Supreme Court overturned her Common Pleas ruling that allowed a Cincinnati police officer to file a lawsuit using a pseudonym instead of his own name.


 Help Ohio retain his leadership.

Incumbent Democratic Associate Justice Melody Stewart will be opposed by Incumbent Republican Associate Justice Joe Deters for a six-year term

Melody Stewart is from the Hough neighborhood on the east side of Cleveland.  She recalls men mostly worked as laborers; some women worked as teachers or nurses.  She attended the private Catholic all-girls Beaumont School in Cleveland Heights. The school says it helps its students become servant-leaders.  The Dean encouraged young Melody Stewart to run for Vice President of the student council.  Melody Stewart ran for president and won.

Melody Stewart continued on to the University of Cincinnati’s music conservatory.  A pianist, she majored in music theory, graduating in 1984.  After college, she taught music and worked as an administrator for a health care management company.  The vice president of the firm was getting his law degree and that seemed worth emulating.  She worked full time while a full-time student at Cleveland State University’s law school.  Graduating, she worked as an assistant law director for the cities of East Cleveland and Cleveland.  She taught at Cleveland State University and then became the Director of Student Services at Case Western Reserve University’s law school in Cleveland where she also earned a PhD from the university’s School of Applied Social Studies.

In 2000, Melody Stewart ran unsuccessfully for the District Court of Appeals.  Her third run was the charm; she was elected in 2006.  In 2018, she was elected to the Ohio Supreme Court, the first African American to be elected to any state-wide office in Ohio.

Melody Stewart recalled in an interview at Case Western Reserve that she could have an impact even while hers was a minority opinion.  “The decision that I am most proud of is a dissenting opinion that I wrote that had some impact, ultimately, on a man being exonerated for a crime he didn’t commit. … [W]hen he was released, I said to myself, if I never render another judicial decision on any case, having written that dissent was worth my entire career.

Melody Stewart is facing a colleague in this race, Associate Justice Joe Deters. An appointee, he chose to run against a sitting Justice for a six-year term rather than run to complete the two years of the term to which he had been appointed. He chose to run against Melody Stewart instead of Michael Donnelly.

Joe Deters is running as a Republican from the Cincinnati area.  He graduated from Jesuit operated St. Xavier High School which had recently moved from the city to the suburbs.  He went to the  Roman Catholic University of Cincinnati as an undergraduate school as well as law school.  The grandson of a sheriff, he saw himself as a law and order guy.

Joe Deters first job was in 1982 as a Hamilton County (Cincinnati) assistant prosecutor.  In 1988, he was elected the County Clerk of Courts.  In 1992, he was appointed and then elected as the County Prosecutor.  In 1999, he was elected to statewide office – the State Treasurer.

Joe Deters resigned as State Treasurer in 2004 after his former campaign manager and chief of staff Matthew Borges pled guilty to political and financial crimes.  Borges refused to testify against Deters and both men recovered politically. Deters’ recovery appears to be permanent.  Deters ran a successful write in campaign to regain his old job as County Prosecutor.  Borges’s recovery was not permanent.  Borges was an aid to Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder.  Both were involved in a bribery scandal that has led both of them to serve time in jail.


 Keep her broader vision on the Ohio Supreme Court.

Court of Appeals Judge Lisa Babish Forbes will be opposed by Common Pleas Judge Dan Hawkins for the vacant two-year term

Lisa Babish Forbes lives in Shaker Heights – a prosperous and famously liberal suburb of Cleveland. Her undergraduate degree is from Cornell.  Her law degree is from Case Western Reserve in Cleveland.  She did not begin with plans for public service.

Lisa Babish Forbes became a business litigator.  Before she ran for the Appeals Court, she was a partner at Vorys.  The firm describes its practice areas as business litigation and estate & trust litigation.  She is often described as having complex litigation as her specialty.

If the past is prologue, Lisa Babish Forbes will not be a radical member of the court – even if, through some kind of blue wave, the Ohio Supreme Court becomes 4-3 Democratic.  Her firm is proud of both its diversity and its stability.

Lisa Babish Forbes and her colleagues were criticized by “Truthout” for her representation in the case “Mothers against drilling in our neighborhood.” She represented Bass Energy.  No matter how much better the world might be if the city charter in which the “Mothers” resided could put into effect its charter-based prohibition against fracking, the Ohio Supreme Court held “the sole and exclusive authority to regulate the drilling and operating of gas and oil wells within Ohio” was the sole responsibility of the state’s Department of Natural Resources.

Lisa Babish Forbes describes her view of the law:  “We as a society generally agree to be governed by the rule of law.  It is our duty with the judicial system to deliver the expectations of accountability and transparency to protect individual rights and liberties.”  That view was reflected in a Supreme Court Case to which she was assigned in place of a recused judge.

A defendant was tried for a felony murder committed only a few days before he turned 18.  While 18, the defendant agreed to tests and to speak to the police without his attorney.  The police made that request despite knowing their obligation to contact the defendant’s attorney before speaking to the defendant.  The police, the Court found, by not contacting the defendant’s attorney had deprived the defendant of his right to counsel.

A reader wrote to remind me.  Terri Jamison, who ran for the Ohio Supreme Court in 2022, filed at the last minute to run again,  She and Lisa Babish Forbes will face off in he primary for the two year sea.
The Republican opponent is Dan Hawkins, a judge on the Franklin County (Columbus) Court of Common. Pleas.  As an undergraduate at Bowling Green University, his intention was to become a police officer.  He went on to law school at Ohio State instead.  He became a prosecutor and, subsequently a judge. He explained his goal as a judge was to follow Ohio law and to avoid “legislating from the Bench.”

As a prosecutor he directed the Franklin County’s Special Victims Unit, focusing on violent crimes against and trafficking of women and children.  He was appointed by Governor Kasich to the Municipal Court after which he was elected to the Court.  In 2018, he ran successfully for the Court of Common Pleas.

In 2022, he advocated for adoption of a constitutional amendment to overturn a State Supreme Court decision that prohibited consideration of public safety when deciding whether or not to set bail for a criminal defendant.  Dan Hawkins argued that the bail system had not discriminated against the poor, that someone who could not afford to post bail had an easy solution – the use of a bail bondsman.  He further argued that judges “work[ed] extremely hard to ensure that the bail amounts they set are appropriate …that [i]t is wrong to think that judges keep people in jail for simply being poor.”


She brings a balanced view to the Ohio Supreme Court.



Wisconsin:        Democratic County Judge Janet Protasiewicz defeated Republican former Justice Daniel Kelly in April, 2023 by an 11 point margin.

Pennsylvania:   Democratic Superior Court Judge Daniel McCaffrey defeated County Judge Carolyn Carluccio in November, 2023 by a 5.6 point margin



North Carolina:  Inc Associate Justice Allison Riggs v. Court of Appeals Judge Jefferson Griffin

Texas:                County District Judge Vinh Weems v. Inc Justice John Devine

Texas:                 Two Democrats are vying to run against     Inc Justice Jimmy Bland

Texas:                Two Democrats are vying to run against.    Inc Justice Jane Bland

Wisconsin April, 2025.   Inc Democratic Justice Ann Walsh Bradley v. County Circuit Court Judge Brad Schimel