As he leaves Cleveland City Council, Kevin Kelley considers bid for judge

Kevin Kelley speaks to Teamsters members during the Cleveland mayoral campaign. Kelley is weighing a bid for Cuyahoga County Common Pleas judge.
Kevin Kelley speaks to Teamsters members during the Cleveland mayoral campaign. Kelley is weighing a bid for Cuyahoga County Common Pleas judge. [Nick Castele / Ideastream Public Media]
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Kevin J. Kelley relinquished his gavel as Cleveland City Council president at the end of last year, but he will likely pursue a new gavel in 2022.

The former mayoral candidate pulled petitions in late December to run for a Cuyahoga County Common Pleas judicial seat, according to the county board of elections.

“I’m having conversations about it,” Kelley told Ideastream Public Media on Monday. “I’m very likely to be a candidate, and I will make the final decision in the very near future.”

As required by Ohio’s code of judicial conduct, Kelley would have to step down as executive vice chair of the Cuyahoga County Democratic Party if he becomes a judicial candidate, he said. He would also give up his role as a party ward leader.

The county Democratic Party is expected to vote on endorsements in countywide races in late January.

A former social worker, Kelley also holds a job as an attorney with the law firm Porter Wright, where he practices civil litigation. Kelley said he has “seen a lot” in his career and would bring that experience to the bench.

“I think that I would bring a good perspective to the bench, both being a lawyer but also before that, my time as a social worker, I did a lot of work with reentry and diversion-type programs,” he said.

Kelley, who represented the Old Brooklyn neighborhood on city council for 16 years, was the runner-up in last year’s mayoral primary. He lost the general election to now-Mayor Justin Bibb. But the former council president will face a broader, countywide electorate if he runs for judge this year.

Democrats stand the chance to pick up a few judicial seats in this heavily Democratic county this year. In late December, Republican Gov. Mike DeWine made three appointments to the Cuyahoga County Common Pleas bench.

DeWine named Judges Kenneth Callahan and Wanda Jones to fill the seats of Judges Nancy McDonnell and Joseph D. Russo, who died last year. The governor named Judge Mark Majer to replace retiring Judge Dick Ambrose.

The governor also appointed Cornelius J. O'Sullivan to the Eighth District Court of Appeals, which encompasses Cuyahoga County, after the death of Judge Larry Jones.

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