Tuesday, December 30, 2003
The jurist was born on a farm near Canfield.
By JEFF ORTEGA
COLUMBUS -- Those who knew former Ohio Supreme Court Justice A. William Sweeney remember the jurist as a staunch defender of the voiceless and a common-sense judge who could make a decision and stick to it.
"He had a very strong sense of life and living," Randall Sweeney said of his father, who died early Sunday at a Cincinnati hospital from respiratory and heart failure. He was 83.
"He was always a defender of the downtrodden, people who didn't have a voice," Randall Sweeney of Columbus said Monday. "He did what he thought was right."
Tenure on court
Justice A. William Sweeney, who lived most recently in the Cincinnati area, served on the state's highest court from 1977 until 1994, when he retired.
From 1985 until his retirement, former Justice Sweeney, a Democrat, was the senior associate justice serving under four chief justices, including the current chief justice, Republican Thomas J. Moyer.
"Once he made a decision, a decision was made. He didn't stew about it," Moyer said of former Justice Sweeney, known by his colleagues by his first name, Asher.
"He was a very good listener," Moyer said of Justice Sweeney. "An awful lot of what we do in the appellate court is listen to arguments and he was a very good listener."
Justice Sweeney was born Dec. 11, 1920, on a farm near Canfield, and studied pre-law at Youngstown State University before serving in the U.S. Army infantry during World War II.
After the war, he received his law degree from Duke University and practiced law in Youngstown. He was recalled to active duty in Korea and rose to colonel before leaving the army.
Justice Sweeney later practiced law in the Cincinnati area, where he had moved.
After his 1976 election to the high court, Justice Sweeney was re-elected in 1982 and again in 1988.
"One of his judicial tenets ... was that every wrong had a remedy and that he would always try to find a way to make things right with people," son Randall Sweeney said.
Justice Sweeney may best be remembered for writing two high-profile decisions in 1991 and 1994 in which a divided high court declared unconstitutional several new laws passed by the Ohio Legislature in the early 1990s dealing with restrictions on tort claims for workplace injuries.
In 1994, former Justice Sweeney also was part of the majority that narrowly upheld a series of controversial last-minute commutations of death sentences by then-Gov. Richard F. Celeste, a Democrat.
Justice Sweeney's first bid for public office came when he was still in the military, an unsuccessful attempt to defeat Republican Secretary of State Ted W. Brown in 1958.
In 1970 and 1974, Justice Sweeney was defeated in Democratic primaries for lieutenant governor before his election to the Ohio Supreme Court in 1976.
After he retired from the high court, Chief Justice Moyer appointed Justice Sweeney to the Ohio Court of Claims as a commissioner.
According to the family, Justice Sweeney collapsed earlier this month while preparing to go to a reception in Columbus for his retirement from the Ohio Court of Claims.
Justice Sweeney died at the Jewish Hospital North in Cincinnati, the family said.
Randall Sweeney said a memorial service will be held for his father at St. Paul's Catholic Church in Salem on Saturday.
On Saturday afternoon, the family will spread Justice Sweeney's ashes at his birthplace site in the Canfield-area.
According to the family, Justice Sweeney is survived by sons Randall, Ron and Gary and a daughter, Karen Cody. Sweeney is also survived by several brothers and sisters, the family said. His wife, Bertha, died in 1998.