Three Ohio Supreme Court Justices and the state’s highest-ranking law enforcement official made their way to Fayette County this Presidents’ Day holiday weekend during the annual Republican and Democratic dinners.
On Monday at the 56th-annual Fayette County Republican Party Lincoln Day Dinner, Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost thanked the large crowd for their support in the November election. Yost was elected to replace Mike DeWine, who was elected governor of Ohio.
“You gave me 73 percent of your vote last time,” Yost said from the podium at the Mahan Building on the county fairgrounds. “The votes in places like Fayette County and Pickaway County and Highland County are what makes up for places like Cleveland. We appreciate you here in the heartland.”
Yost also praised Fayette County Sheriff Vernon Stanforth and his office for their exemplary evidence room.
“At the state level, we agreed to put out a best practices evidence manual, and the first place I came, and a huge portion of the work, was based on the best practices right here in Washington Court House because Vern Stanforth had it down, he knew was he was doing.”
Yost said he believes the job of attorney general is to “protect the unprotected.”
“The people that make the rules, that make the decisions about our society, are frequently protected from the impacts of those decisions,” he said. “They’ve got a bank account, they’ve got connections. If something bad happens in their life, they can navigate it, they have ways to deal with it. Whereas most of us just have to figure out as best we can one foot in front of the other. We’re the unprotected, and for too long the governing majorities, Republican and Democrat, frankly, in America have tended to be protected and not caring about the unprotected. But my job is to protect the unprotected.”
Before being elected as Ohio’s 51st attorney general, Yost was Ohio’s 32nd auditor of state. As auditor, Yost’s public corruption investigations resulted in more than 170 criminal convictions, and he found more than $260 million in potential taxpayer savings, according to his bio.
Ohio Supreme Court Justice Sharon Kennedy gave a brief speech to the crowd before Yost was introduced by Fayette County Prosecutor Jess Weade.
On Sunday during the annual Obama Legacy Dinner, held at Our Place Restaurant, local Democrats were able to meet the first African-American woman elected to the Ohio Supreme Court, and a justice who received nearly 50 percent of the vote in Fayette County.
Melody Stewart spoke to the crowd about her campaign and how she noticed that people across the state have many more similarities than they do differences — whether they are Democrat, Republican, rural or city folks. She told the story of a lifelong Republican who voted for her in the November general election.
“This person said, ‘I’m a dyed-in-the-wool Republican. I have never voted for a Democrat in my life. I just voted for Melody Stewart for the Ohio Supreme Court,’” said Stewart. “Although it’s been a whirlwind getting there, you’ll be happy to know the Supreme Court is an extremely professionally-run organization.”
Stewart thanked the voters of Fayette County for their support.
Prior to joining the Supreme Court, Justice Stewart served on the Eighth District Court of Appeals – elected to an unexpired term in 2006, and twice reelected to full terms. She served as the court’s administrative judge in 2013.
Justice Stewart has more than 30 years of combined administrative, legal and academic experience. She was an administrator for a health care management company, a music teacher, a civil defense litigator, and a law school administrator and professor before being elected to the Court of Appeals. While on the appellate court, Justice Stewart was assigned to hear cases in other appellate districts and on the Ohio Supreme Court.
Justice Michael Donnelly, who received 3,549 votes in Fayette County, also thanked the local Democrats and all county citizens for their support.
“From the bottom of my heart, thank you for everything that you’ve done,” he said. “If you ever want to come visit the court (in Columbus), we can make that happen. It’s a beautiful building, probably one of the most beautiful courthouses in the country, and I would love to give you an opportunity to see it…see our chambers and where we make our decisions.”
Prior to joining the state court, Justice Donnelly served as a judge on the Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas, General Division for 14 years, from 2005 to 2018. He was elected to the seat in November 2004 and re-elected in 2010 and 2016.
Before serving as a member of the local judiciary, Justice Donnelly was an assistant Cuyahoga County prosecutor from 1992 until 1997. He then went on to practice civil litigation for seven years, representing plaintiffs and injured workers in asbestos litigation, personal injury lawsuits, and workers’ compensation claims.
In recent years, Justice Donnelly served as chair of the Ohio Supreme Court’s Commission on Professionalism and currently is a member of both the Ohio State Board of Bar Examiners and the Ohio Jury Instruction Committee. He was appointed by the chief justice to the Ohio Supreme Court Death Penalty Task Force in 2013.
Reach Ryan Carter at 740-313-0352 or on Twitter @rywica