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Thursday, January 24, 2008

OH-14 Dem William O'Neill: Does Athens County Lawsuit Signal Trouble Ahead?

ATHENS, Ohio (TDB) -- Could a lawsuit filed last week over a January 2007 stabbing outside an Ohio University fraternity house impact a Cleveland area congressional race where Democrats have high hopes? The litigation comes after local authorities chose not to prosecute an individual who has been identified as the son of Democratic congressional candidate Bill O'Neill, a former state appeals court judge. The civil case seeks $1 million damages and was first reported by the Athens Messenger. O'Neill is running against two other Dems for the OH-14 nomination. The seat is currently held by Republican U.S. Rep. Steven C. LaTourette.

The Messenger reported that Athens County Prosecutor C. David Warren chose not to handle the case because he knew Bill O'Neill through state Democratic politics; Warren, too, is a Dem. O'Neill's son was apparently represented by lawyer Susan Gwinn, chair of the Athens County Democratic Party. She is now challenging Warren in the Dem primary for the prosecutor's job.

According to Messenger reporter Elizabeth Gousettis, the Athens cops recommended a felonious assault charge be filed against O'Neill's son. She said charges were never filed and the case was closed:

"The Athens Police Department documents also indicate that about an hour after the fight, O'Neill's father, Judge William O'Neill, called the police department and allegedly said that his son Brandon called him and told him he had been in a fight outside the Delta Upsilon house, and that someone had been badly injured and taken to the hospital. Judge O'Neill allegedly told to the dispatcher Megan Dowler that his son saw what happened and that he had advised him to go to the police department."

As the civil lawsuit slogs through the courts, it could have an impact on the congressional race. Bill O'Neill has a long history of public service, including Vietnam and the Ohio National Guard. He has been a journalist, a lawyer, a union official, a judge and works weekends and evenings as an RN in a pediatric emergency center. He is a distinguished, dedicated public servant. According to the Messenger, Athens County Prosecutor Warren said he would keep an eye on the legal proceedings:

"Warren said Thursday that sometimes evidence comes out in a civil case that wasn't available before, so there is a possibility of opening the case at any time."

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