Three seats on the Ohio Supreme Court will be on the ballot in 2024. While three incumbents — Justices Michael Donnelly, Melody Stewart, and Joe Deters — are running for office, Justice Deters has chosen to challenge Justice Stewart rather than running to retain his own seat, leaving an open seat.
The Ohio Supreme Court has partisan primaries and also (since a new law went into effect in 2021) partisan general elections. There is only one contested race in the Primary Election. Here is how the elections for the three seats match up:
- In the first race, incumbent Justice Michael Donnelly will be the Democratic nominee and Hamilton County Common Pleas Court Judge Megan Shanahan will be Republican nominee.
- The second race pits two incumbents against one another. Justice Melody Stewart will be the Democratic nominee, while Justice Joe Deters – appointed to the state’s highest court in 2023 – will be the Republican nominee for this race.
- In the only contested primary race, we will see Eighth District Court of Appeals Judge Lisa Forbes and Tenth District Court of Appeals Judge Terri Jamison vying against each other to be the Democratic candidate for the third, now open, seat. Franklin County Common Pleas Court Judge Dan Hawkins will be the Republican nominee for the seat.
Ohio’s Primary Election is on March 19 with early in-person voting beginning on February 21. February 20 is the voter registration deadline. Click here to check your voter registration or get registered. Ohio voters can request a vote-by-mail absentee ballot; applications are due at the Board of Elections on March 12 (seven days before the Primary).
Below is a summary of the endorsements, support, and achievements of this year’s candidates. In alphabetical order:
Joseph T. Deters
Governor Mike DeWine appointed Republican Joseph T. Deters to the Ohio Supreme Court in January 2023. In the announcement of Deters’ appointment, DeWine said, “Joe Deters has the right combination of experience, legal knowledge, and passion for public service that will serve the citizens of Ohio well as an associate justice of the Ohio Supreme Court.” Deters is a close family friend and has no previous experience on the bench.
Deters first served as Hamilton County prosecutor from 1992-1999 and then resumed this elected position from 2005-2023. His tenure as Hamilton County Prosecutor was interrupted by his election as Ohio Treasurer in 1998. He won re-election in 2002 but resigned in 2004 amid a pay-to-play scandal in which his chief of staff Matt Borges pleaded guilty to improper use of a public office. Justice Deters was never charged and Borges was later convicted for his role in the Householder/HB6 corruption scheme.
During his tenure as a prosecutor, Deters came under fire for calling violent criminals “soulless and unsalvageable” and for advocating that Ohio should bring back the firing squad for death penalty executions. Hamilton County is considered an outlier in its use of the death penalty in Ohio.
Justice Deters attended the University of Cincinnati for both his undergraduate degree and his law degree. Early in his career (1988-1992), he served as Hamilton County Clerk of Courts from 1988-1992.
The Ohio Republican Party has endorsed his candidacy.
Justice Deters’ annual campaign finance report, filed January 30, 2024, shows he has a balance on hand of $400,000, after raising over $446,000.Website
Michael P. Donnelly
In 2018, Democrat Michael P. Donnelly was elected to the Ohio Supreme Court and is seeking re-election. Before joining the Ohio Supreme Court, Justice Donnelly served as a judge on the Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas, General Division, for 14 years. From 2010 to 2017, he was one of five judges on Cuyahoga County’s Mental Health and Developmental Disabilities Court.
Justice Donnelly was an assistant Cuyahoga County Prosecutor from 1992 until 1997 and was in private practice for seven years.
He is leading an effort to collect criminal sentencing data systematically. “I’ve become convinced that this isn’t just a good idea, it’s an absolute necessity to deal with the problem of disparate treatment and implicit bias that permeates our sentencing laws,” Donnelly told the Columbus Dispatch.
He graduated from John Carroll University, and he received his law degree from Cleveland State University.
Justice Donnelly’s annual campaign finance report, filed January 30, 2024, shows he has a balance on hand of $10,000, after raising $8,500.
Democrat Lisa Forbes is a judge on the Eighth District Court of Appeals. Before her election in 2020, Judge Forbes was a litigator for 27 years and a partner at Vorys, Sater, Seymour, and Pease in Cleveland.
“We as a society generally agree to be governed by the rule of law. It is our duty within the judicial system to deliver the expectations of accountability and transparency to protect individual rights and liberties,” Judge Forbes told Court News Ohio.
She has been serving on the boards of the Centers for Families and Children and Circle Health for over a decade.
Judge Forbes graduated from Cornell University and received her law degree from Case Western University.
The Ohio Democratic Party Executive Committee has endorsed her candidacy. Forbes has also been endorsed by The Plain Dealer, which stated that “we believe it is Forbes whose background and wide-ranging experience would make her the best justice and the best choice for Democratic voters to challenge for that position in November.” Both the Shaker Heights Democratic Club and the Matriots-Ohio have endorsed her candidacy.
Judge Forbes’ annual campaign finance report, filed January 30, 2024, shows she has a balance on hand of $1,400, after raising $145.
Elected in 2019, Republican Daniel Hawkins is a Franklin County Common Pleas Court judge. From 2013 to 2019, he served as a judge in the Franklin County Environmental Court. This court reviews cases of housing, environment, building, health, fire, zoning, and sanitation.
For a decade, he was the director of the Special Victims Unit for the Franklin County Prosecutor’s Office. During his tenure, he reported that he personally conducted over 100 jury trials, including six death penalty cases. Prior to that, he spent a few years as an assistant Franklin County prosecutor.
“I believe my decades of experience as a prosecutor and judge have prepared me to serve Ohio as a Justice,” said Judge Hawkins in a press statement.
Judge Hawkins graduated from Bowling Green State University and received his law degree from The Ohio State University.
The Ohio Republican Party has endorsed his candidacy.
Judge Hawkins’ annual campaign finance report, filed January 30, 2024, shows he has a balance on hand of $177,000, after raising $188,000. This includes a $20,000 personal loan.
Judge Terri Jamison is a Democrat who has served on the 10th District Court of Appeals since 2020. Prior to starting her law career, Judge Jamison owned an insurance agency for 16 years. She also worked briefly as a public defender and then opened her own law firm.
“My objective is to allow litigants a fair hearing and opportunity to be heard. Even when the law is not on your side, you need to feel that you were an active part of the process. After all, a crisis situation brought you to court,” explains Judge Jamison on LinkedIn.
Elected twice, Judge Jamison served on the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas, Division of Domestic Relations and Juvenile Branch. In 2022, she unsuccessfully ran for the Ohio Supreme Court.
Judge Jamison is a founding member of the Ohio Black Judges Association.
Judge Jamison graduated from Franklin University and received her law degree from Capital University.
Jamison did not receive a primary election endorsement from the Ohio Democratic Party; they instead chose to back her opponent, Judge Lisa Forbes. She has received endorsements from The Toledo Blade, and according to her website, LiUNA Local 500, Working Families Party, The Collective PAC, and the Matriots-Ohio have also endorsed her campaign. The Ohio Women’s Alliance Action Fund and the Youngstown Warren Black Caucus are also backing her candidacy.
Judge Jamison’s annual campaign finance report, filed January 30, 2024, shows she has a balance on hand of $6,000, after raising $3,800.
Since 2015, Republican Megan Shanahan has been on the Hamilton County Common Pleas Court. Before that Judge Shanahan served on the Hamilton County Municipal Court.
“The American judicial system is the gold standard for the world. Our republic survives in part because we believe in the rule of law. Fairness. It’s why foreign companies locate in America. Our judicial system is stable, predictable, and impartial. Everyone gets their day in court,” wrote Judge Shanahan in an op-ed in the Ironton Tribune “expressing her opinion about why judges should not give public comment on cases that may come before them if elected.”
Judge Shanahan is a member of the Federalist Society and is a former prosecutor who began her career with the Butler County Prosecutor’s office. In 2005, she moved to the Hamilton County Prosecutor’s office where she worked for Joe Deters.
She earned her undergraduate degree in political science from Kent State and her law degree from the University of Cincinnati.
The Ohio Republican Party has endorsed his candidacy.
Judge Shanahan’s annual campaign finance report, filed January 30, 2024, shows she has a balance on hand of $89,000, after raising $134,000.
The first African American woman elected to the Ohio Supreme Court, Democrat Melody Stewart is now seeking re-election. Justice Stewart was first elected to the Ohio Supreme Court in 2018. Prior to joining the Ohio Supreme Court, she served on the Eighth District Court of Appeals for12 years.
“I consider myself a lifelong learner, so the more you learn about different things, I think the better informed your decisions are,” Justice Stewart told WOSU in 2019.
Before her election to the Ohio Supreme Court, Justice Stewart was an administrator for a healthcare management company, a music teacher, a litigator, and a law school professor.
Justice Stewart earned a Bachelor of Music from the University of Cincinnati. She received her law degree from Cleveland State University, and her Ph.D. from Case Western Reserve University. Her dissertation focused on juvenile diversion programs.
Justice Stewart’s annual campaign finance report, filed January 30, 2024, shows she has a balance on hand of $100,000, after raising $81,000.
Where else can voters get information about the candidates?
The Ohio Supreme Court can defend or undermine our rights. Voters need to know whether a candidate has the essential qualities to be a good judge: integrity, knowledge of the law, and freedom from bias so that they can apply the law fairly. However, it isn’t easy to get to know judicial candidates. Unlike other candidates, judicial candidates cannot make promises to voters or say anything about how they would rule in cases that they might decide in the future. This fact contributes to the disproportionate impact that dark money can have in these elections.
You might be able to find out something about the judicial candidate through their own ads and the political ads running against them. But political ads are only a piece of the puzzle. Try to get to know the candidates.
These resources can help:
- Judicialvotescount.org is a voter guide hosted by the Ohio State Bar Association where Ohio voters can read what candidates say about themselves.
- Keep an eye on upcoming debates and forums. This is an opportunity to hear directly from the candidates for the Ohio Supreme Court. Sometimes you can ask the candidates questions. The League of Women Voters published this list of useful (and permissible) questions to ask judicial candidates.
- Follow the candidates on social media; google their names to find news articles and more; read their judicial opinions.
- Examine what organizations have endorsed each candidate.
Take a look at who has made campaign contributions on the Ohio Secretary of State’s website.