Justice Michael P. Donnelly has been a member of the Supreme Court of Ohio since 2019.  In this video, Justice Donnelly exposes what he sees as a flaw in the system in the manner in which trial court judges oversee the process of plea bargain negotiations. The vast majority of cases in the criminal justice system are resolved not by proceeding to trial but through negotiated plea agreements. These are contracts between the government and the accused in which both sides are negotiating for some form of benefit in the ultimate resolution.  In a significant number of cases, the state induces defendants to enter into a guilty plea with no certain sentence, amounting to an illusory agreement that confers little if any benefit on the accused. Because the sentencing court is not bound by the parties’ agreement, this flawed process exposes the accused to sentencing by ambush.  His law journal article on the subject was published in 2021 by The University of Akron Law Review.  The article was also entitled “Sentencing by Ambush-An Insider’s Perspective on Plea Bargaining Reform” can be found at:  Sentencing by Ambush: An Insider’s Perspective on Plea Bargaining Reform


Justice Donnelly is a graduate of St. Ignatius High School and John Carroll both located in Cleveland, and received his Juris Doctor Degree from Cleveland State University’s Cleveland-Marshall College of Law.  In 1992, he was admitted to the practice of law in Ohio.
Prior to joining the Supreme Court, he served as a trial court judge on the Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas, General Division for 14 years from 2005 to 2018.
Before serving as a member of the judiciary, Justice Donnelly was an assistant Cuyahoga County Prosecutor from 1992 until 1997.  He then went on to practice civil litigation for seven years, representing plaintiffs and injured workers in asbestos litigation, personal injury lawsuits, and workers’ compensation claims.
He is the proud recipient of the Honorable William K. Thomas Professionalism Award from the Cleveland Metropolitan Bar Association and also received the Ohio  Association of Civil Trial Attorneys (OACTA) 2017 Public Service Award.  He and his wife, Nancy reside in Cleveland Heights.  They have two children.

Note to Viewers: This video is made available to promote education and discussion on issues related to state intermediate courts of appeal.  The views expressed in the video, however, are strictly those of the Presenter and do not reflect any opinion of the Council or its members on any issue.