Some Cleveland council members boycott meeting with judge in Brelo case

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CLEVELAND - Several Cleveland City Council members boycotted Judge John O’Donnell’s visit to drum up support for his Ohio Supreme Court candidacy at council’s Democratic caucus meeting Monday.

Council members Zack Reed, Jeff Johnson, Kevin Conwell and TJ Dow boycotted the meeting because they disagree with the Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court Judge’s May decision to acquit former Cleveland Police officer Michael Brelo. O’Donnell found Brelo not guilty of manslaughter charges in the 2012 police chase and shootings of Timothy Russell and Malissa Williams.

“We're going to send a message, and the message, the seed that we are going to plant here today will let O'Donnell know that he may win, but it will be an uphill battle for him to win here in the state of Ohio,” Reed said.

O’Donnell characterized his meeting with council members as a “courtesy call” to promote his candidacy and address and concerns or issues council members had. He said he will be having similar meetings throughout the state ahead of the November election, and he was not seeking the endorsement of council. O’Donnell addressed the Brelo case during the meeting.

“Those who disagree with me they have a right to do so, and they will never convince me that I was wrong, just as perhaps I will never convince them I was correct,” O’Donnell said. “I respect whatever side you fall on, but please don’t go away with the idea that I made the decision I did because of something other than the facts in the case and the law I was bound to follow.”

In an interview with Fox 8 News following the meeting, O’Donnell said he was unaware of the boycott and would be willing to meet with the boycotting council members individually to address their concerns.

“It's certainly their right,” he said of the boycott. “I can't force myself on anyone, and I can't tell them not to disagree with me. All I can do is stand by my decision.”

Some council members voiced support for O’Donnell, including Councilman Matt Zone and Council President Kevin Kelley. Kelley said he felt O’Donnell would be more sympathetic to city rights and home rule. He said he felt O’Donnell’s visit, which O’Donnell requested, fostered better understanding.

“If there's an opportunity for me to talk to somebody I have a disagreement about within our body, I'm going to do it. I’m not going to not come,” Kelley said.

O'Donnell said he is confident the Brelo decision won't derail his run for the state's high court, even though some voters might disagree with it.

“I do think it will be just one of many factors voters will take into account when deciding whether to support me,” O’Donnell said.

O'Donnell said he is not sure if he will ultimately seek the endorsement of council.

“It's the kind of thing the judge in me is conflicted about because of the independence of the judiciary,” he said, “but that the person in me who has to get votes to become a justice of the Supreme Court thinks, ‘Hey, maybe that would be a good thing.’”

For more on the Brelo case, click here.