COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — Gov. Mike DeWine has appointed a Hamilton County prosecutor to the Ohio Supreme Court.
Joe Deters was announced as DeWine’s pick on Thursday to take the seat of Sharon Kennedy, who was elected Chief Justice in November. Sources told NBC4’s Colleen Marshall in early December that Deters was going to be selected. Hamilton County Judge Megan Shanahan and Ohio Solicitor General Benjamin Flowers were also believed to be under consideration.
“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,” DeWine said in a release.
The Ohio Supreme Court has one chief justice and six justices, all elected to their positions. Beginning in 2022, party affiliation was added to the ballot, with Kennedy defeating Democrat Jennifer Brunner to become chief justice. In January, Kennedy will replace Maureen O’Connor, creating a vacancy.
O’Connor is a Republican but is seen as having a moderating influence over the court. With Deters’ addition, the court would have four Republican members and three Democrats.
Deters has never been a judge or magistrate before. He served as the prosecutor in Hamilton County, which includes Cincinnati, from 1992 to ’99 and again starting in 2005. He was most recently elected to a five-year term in 2020 after serving two terms as Ohio treasurer.
“I have spent my entire career standing up for victims and protecting the rights of criminal defendants,” Deters said in the release. “I appreciate the trust and responsibility that comes with this appointment and look forward to working with my colleagues on the Supreme Court to ensure Ohio’s justice system protects the rights of all Ohioans.”
Leading up to the November elections, Deters was an ardent supporter of Issue 1, a state constitutional amendment to require judges to consider public safety, including a person’s criminal record and the likelihood of reoffense, when setting bail in criminal cases. Ohioans overwhelmingly voted to pass the ballot issue.
In an October interview, Deters called Issue 1 his “baby” that would prevent Ohio from becoming a “wasteland of crime.”
His website boasts several high-profile cases he successfully prosecuted. It highlights multiple death penalty convictions for murders, including the trial of Jeffrey Wogenstahl, who was convicted for the 1991 kidnapping, beating and fatal stabbing of a 10-year-old. Wogenstahl has maintained his innocence, and in 2018 the state Supreme Court issued an indefinite stay of execution due to open questions about his case and amid the state’s ongoing battle with pharmaceutical companies that make the lethal injection drugs.
In 1992, his first year as prosecutor, Deters established the Hamilton County Victim Advocate Program. Now dubbed the Victim and Witness Advocate Program, it keeps victims and witnesses abreast of case proceedings and provides in-court support during trial, as well as connections to counseling and other resources.
Deters made national headlines for his multiple prosecutions of former University of Cincinnati Police Officer Ray Tensing, who in 2015 fatally shot Black motorist Sam DuBose during a traffic stop. Both prosecutions ended in mistrials when two separate juries were unable to reach a unanimous verdict.
During his time as prosecutor, Deters has maintained a “tough on crime” reputation and strong support of the death penalty. In a July 2018 interview with WLWT in Cincinnati, Deters advocated for the reinstatement of death by firing squad.
On his biography page, Deters listed the following achievements:
- Fought for passage of a bill to criminalize the unlawful killing of a pregnant person’s fetus
- Helped streamline litigation in death penalty cases
- Supported laws to incarcerate certain violent juvenile offenders until age 21.
- Helped to create Ohio’s statewide DNA database
- Successfully petitioned lawmakers to make the purposeful murder of a child under the age of 13 a death-eligible offense
Deters will be sworn in on Jan. 7 to fill the unexpired term of Justice Kennedy and must run for election in 2024.