Firm Foundation: Judge John P. O’Donnell
by Kenneth R. Callahan, Jr.
The Irish Diaspora is perhaps unique among nations, whose sons and daughters have scattered like the head of a dandelion to the four corners of the world. It is so in their deep sense of belonging to a distinct people, a loyalty codified in Article 2 of the Irish Constitution, amended in 1999 as part of the peace process to state: “the Irish nation cherishes its special affinity with people of Irish ancestry living abroad who share its cultural identity and heritage.”
This special affinity is manifest in the person and family of Judge John (Jack) P. O’Donnell of the Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court. Jack’s grandfather, Owen “Red” O’Donnell, was born in the village of Islandeady in County Mayo, near Westport (retired Judge Bill Coyne’s family was from the same town). One of eight children; he went to work in a Welsh coal mine at age 13, thence to Canada, and finally to Cleveland, where he worked for Local Laborers 310.
Red married Margaret Keaveney, from Ballintube, who he met here. The couple had four children: the famous Fr. Jim O’Donnell, Eugene Owen (Jack’s dad), Eileen Hansen O’Donnell and the late Joseph.
Eugene O’Donnell attended Cathedral Latin High School and John Carroll University. After graduating he worked as a salesman for a small flooring company, whose owner died suddenly. Eugene bought the business from the decedent’s estate and it continues to operate as Owens Flooring, located in Willoughby, under the leadership of two of Jack’s brothers.
Eugene O’Donnell married Donna Clifford, the daughter of the Cleveland Press’s City Editor during the Sam Sheppard homicide trial. The O’Donnell family grew roots in Holy Cross Parish (now Our Lady of the Lake) on Lakeshore Boulevard in Euclid. Jack is one of seven children.
He later attended St. Joseph High School, which allowed him to walk to both to grade school and later to high school. Jack obtained his B.A. from Miami University of Ohio; through the late Bill Sweeney, he found work as an insurance adjuster with Aetna and later obtained his J.D. from Cleveland Marshall Law, one the brave souls who, after a full work day, went to school at night. Jack was hired by the insurance defense firm of Meyers Hentemann, later moved to Gallagher Sharp, and did a stint as in-house counsel at Cincinnati Insurance. These experiences provided trial and procedural background that contributed to his decision to seek judicial office.
Judge O’Donnell’s parents taught these values: “Persistence, honesty, integrity and self-confidence,” attributes that have served Judge O’Donnell well on the trial court, including cases that have been the subject of national attention and editorial praise. He and retired Judge Richard McMonagle were selected by then Chief Justice Moyer to lead the Commercial Docket, a pilot project launched in select Ohio counties. It has been well received by the litigation bar and continues, with changes and new faces, until this day.
Jack O’Donnell married Tessa Finnan, a product of Lakewood High School, the city where the couple continue to reside. They have five children: Fiona, Kathleen, Owen, Sean and James. The family are members of St. Malachi Parish.
Like others in our community, Judge Jack O’Donnell weaves his Irish heritage and values into the mosaic of Greater Cleveland.
*Callahan is a retired judge and a partner at Collins Scanlon LLP
Jack’s dad, Eugene, played Gaelic football for the west side IA (even though they lived east) and played against the County Down team at Lakewood High in the 1950s.