Former Ohio Supreme Court Justice Andy Douglas Dies At 89

Sep 23, 2021

Attorney and former Ohio Supreme Court Justice Andy Douglas, in 2014
Credit Andrew Welsh-Huggins / Associated Press

Andy Douglas, a former Ohio Supreme Court justice who was part of the court’s liberal “gang of four” coalition that forced changes in the state’s school-funding system, died early Thursday. He was 89.

Douglas had been in declining health for a number of years but remained mentally acute to the end, said Columbus-based law partner Paul Lafayette, who confirmed his death.

“He was still mentally super sharp, still giving advice to attorneys and just doing what he’s always done as recently as this week,” he said. “Just, unfortunately, he had some physical issues that caught up with him.”

Douglas, a moderate Republican, served three six-year terms on the state Supreme Court following his election in 1984. He stepped down in 2003 after reaching the mandatory retirement age for Ohio judges of 70.

During the 1990s, Douglas, along with Democrats Alice Robie Resnick and Francis Sweeney and fellow Republican Paul Pfeifer forged a majority that riled businesses for its rulings on insurance, medical malpractice, workers compensation and right-to-sue cases. 

Dubbed the “Gang of Four,” the group in a series of decisions also declared Ohio’s system of funding public schools unconstitutional. Known as the “DeRolph” decisions for Nathan DeRolph, the southern Ohio schoolboy in whose name the lawsuits were brought, the rulings led Ohio to pump billions more into schools.

But the court never fully resolved the issue, relinquishing jurisdiction in a final, 2009 ruling that returned the matter to the General Assembly.

In 1991, in one of the court’s lowest moments, Douglas and then-Justice Craig Wright got into a scuffle over whether Wright accused Douglas of leaking information to the media. Douglas broke two ribs when he fell to the floor. The two mended fences; Wright died in 2010.  

Douglas kept up a rigorous law schedule well into his 80s. In 2014, at age 81, he represented Toledo in a statewide challenge to red-light cameras. He also represented veterans groups suing over a ban against charitable raffles games that the attorney general had called illegal gambling. "I'm happiest when I’m working,” he told The Associated Press in a February 2014 interview. “I’m afraid to retire.”