Insurers Win as Appeals Court Refuses Former Ohio Judge’s Appeal

A federal appeals court in Cincinnati has declined to reopen the case of a former judge ordered to pay $587,000 in legal fees she accrued while defending herself from accusations of misconduct.

A district court in Columbus ruled in September 2006 that former Judge Deborah O’Neill of Franklin County Common Pleas Court owed the money because the insurance policy that covers Ohio judges pays legal fees only if the judge is cleared of all wrongdoing.

O’Neill sued Kemper Insurance Cos. and Lumbermen’s Mutual Casualty Co., saying they should pay at least some of her legal expenses since she was cleared of two of the six counts of judicial misconduct lodged against her.

A panel of the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with the district court that the insurance policy was designed to pay only if a judge is cleared on all counts.

O’Neill was a Franklin County judge from 1992 to 2004, when the Ohio Supreme Court suspended her law license.