Speeches

Chief Justice Thomas J. Moyer
Ohio State Bar Association Annual Meeting
May 17, 2000

Law, according to Saint Thomas Aquinas is "an ordinance of reason for the common good, made by him who has care of the community."

Those words are as true today as they were when he uttered them nearly 800 years ago. The goal of the legal profession has, and will always be, the quest for the common good.

Our profession’s adherence to the rule of law - our use of reasoning and intellect, our compassion for understanding - are monuments to our faith in the common good and the good of the community.

Today, the legal profession is confronted with imposing challenges, challenges that require us, as its guardians, to seek solutions that protect and enhance the common good.

Changes in demographics, the economy and technology require us to take steps to ensure that the legal system is fair, efficient and accessible. We must not stand in place while the world around us changes; to do so would risk damaging the trust and confidence of the citizens we serve.

The graying of the Baby Boom generation is being felt in every workplace across America… as citizens prepare to leave the workforce in record numbers. Compounding the problem is the fact that there are not enough young workers to replace them.

The Washington Post reports "the federal government is facing a people crisis." The Post reports that 50 percent of the government’s 1.6 million workers are eligible to retire within five years. One expert calls it a "human-capital time-bomb."

There is nothing to suggest that government offices and courthouse in Ohio are immune from the retirement-created shortages. In addition, it is highly likely that federal recruiters will call upon state and local employees to fill vacant positions.

The Ohio Courts Futures Commission spent the past 2 ½ years examining how these, and other trends, will affect the courts over the next 25 years. The result is more than 60 recommendations addressing computer standards, staff training, and citizen access to the courts.

We appreciate the financial support and allocation of resources by OSBA and Ohio Bar Foundation to the Futures Commission. The final report of the Futures Commission also contains recommendations on judicial qualifications, court personnel training, jury reform and mediation, to name just a few. The full report was publishing in OBAR this week.

In response to the Commission’s recommendations, I am forming a permanent Advisory Committee on Technology in the Courts. One of the committee’s first responsibilities will be to establish uniform computer standards for all Ohio courts.

To appreciate the significance of computer standards one needs to look no further than Ohio's drug courts. Of the 34 drug courts in the state, there are 22 different computer systems, most of which are incompatible with each other.

The Supreme Court recently spent $144,000 dollars to study the effectiveness of drug courts. This was just the first phase of the study. It was expensive because researchers had to first visit each court to develop a uniform process to collect the data. Court personnel then were required to enter by hand the required information, a labor-intensive process.

Much of the cost and effort could have been avoided if courts had a shared software system that combined case management functions with data collection.

Another factor the Technology Committee will examine is the growth of computers and the Internet. Thousands of Ohioans, for example, no longer touch newsprint. Formally, the Internet has replaced the newspaper at the front door. Plane tickets, automobiles, and in some areas, groceries are purchased by logging on.

Citizens now expect that a wide variety of goods and services will be available on the Internet. The computer-savvy citizen has higher expectations of what is considered a minimum standard. For them, if it is not on the Internet, it does not exist.

Last week’s release of the school funding decision by the Supreme Court provides an indication of the widespread use of the Internet. One hundred and fifty computer terminals were logged on to the Supreme Court web site in the minutes leading up to its release.

Throughout that day, slightly more than 4,000 users visited our Web site. An indirect benefit is the reduction in the number of paper copies of that opinion and all opinions of the Court.

The courts and law offices must meet these expectations, or risk losing the trust and confidence of the citizens. The Commission recommends that forms and filings should be made available over the Internet. Citizens should be able to review case law, dockets and jury information from a computer terminal.

Technology is an invaluable resource from which we can provide an integrated system of judicial services. A word of caution - we should not adopt technology because it is technology; we should apply technology to make the courts more accessible and more efficient.

There are many other recommendations in the final report of the Ohio Courts Futures Commission that are worthy of our consideration. The limits of most proposals are time, energy and money.

Recommendations relating to jury reform could have the most widespread impact on citizens. Courts would expand the list of potential jurors by considering driver’s license and motor vehicle registration lists.

To increase the attendance rate of citizens who have been summoned to jury duty, the Commission recommends that the summons provide adequate notice, be clear and understandable, and include background materials explaining the court system and jury service in lay person’s terms.

Other proposals involve the role jurors perform once they are seated - allow jurors to take notes and pose questions to witnesses during a trial through the judge.

The only persons in the courtroom not allowed to take notes are the jurors. That practice is contrary to the process most thinking people use to make important decisions. A prolonged trial would strain the memory of the best minds.

Some Ohio judges already allow note taking and questions from jurors, but others are reluctant to adopt the practices until expressly permitted by rule.

One recommendation that involves many attorneys here today calls on judges to actively manage the voir dire process. Commissioners propose that Ohio courts might want to "authorize judges to allow ‘mini opening statements’ by counsel prior to jury selection so potential jurors have a context for voir dire questioning and later trial testimony."

None of these ideas are new. They are all being used in other jurisdictions with positive results.

The Futures Commission recommends the creation of a permanent jury commission. Such a commission would study and propose innovative jury practices, and would perform a vital role in conducting a statewide assessment of jury service.

Although a final decision has not been made on the implementation of the Commission’s proposals, a jury service commission will be created in the near future.

I think it comes as no surprise that some of my strongest interest is in the Commission’s proposals urging the increased use of mediation. One that shows great promise allows citizens to file for mediation before filing a lawsuit. The Columbus and Cincinnati bar associations have such programs.

Such a proposal could help change the perception that courts are places of conflict. Mediation makes the courts a venue of agreement.

Each study of mediation programs concludes that dispute resolution saves time, money and helps preserve personal and business relationships. Citizens are pleased with the process, and the results. These positive attributes tell us that mediation will increasingly be the remedy of choice.

One set of recommendations that have not received the attention they deserve involves citizen access to the courts. While we certainly do not encourage the frivolous use of the courts, we must guarantee citizens that they will not encounter unnecessary obstacles.

The Futures Commission Report calls for a judicial system "accessible to all citizens regardless of their physical limitations, economic resources, educational levels, or ability to come to court offices during traditional working hours."

The goal is a court system that is perceived as open, fair, impartial and respectful of all citizens.

The specific recommendations include expanded hours of operation, upgrading court facilities to ensure physical access, and to provide adequate resources for public defenders, appointed counsel and other professional legal services for low-income citizens. Citizens will lose faith in our work if they believe the courts are not available to them.

Some recommendations put new polish on existing authority.

The Modern Courts Amendment in 1968 gave courts the authority to merge programs across county lines. With the emergence of drug courts and family courts, the Futures Commission concluded it was time to revisit this option.

Some proposals will generate considerable debate, such as increasing the qualifications for those seeking judicial office.

These recommendations seek to maintain, indeed enhance citizens’ confidence that the process for selecting judges is designed to attract and retain the most qualified persons.

The goals and objectives detailed in the Commission’s report cannot all be accomplished in the next few years. The recommendations are long-term in both scope and implementation.

As the first step in the implementation of the recommendations, I look forward to the comments of the Ohio State Bar committee, chaired by Judge Tom Zachman, that is reviewing the Futures Report. Organizations such as the Ohio Judicial Conference and other judicial, court and interested organizations are conducting similar reviews. An on-going discussion with all judges, attorneys and citizens will help prioritize the recommendations.

To assure accountability, the Futures Commission will reconvene in one year to review a status report developed by the administrative staff of the Supreme Court.

This annual report will provide a systematic accounting to the Commission, and the public of the status of implementation. I am committed to ensuring that the recommendations serve as a touchstone for future planning. They will not be relegated to some dusty bookshelf.

Twenty-five years from now, citizens of Ohio will view the issuing of this report as a crucial turning point where the courts plotted a course for their journey over a changing landscape.

The journey has no end because the destination is the continuous improvement of the administration of the rule of law in a world that will always change.

Future members of the judiciary will also see this as an important step in maintaining the trust and confidence of all citizens in their courts. And it is my hope, and the hope of all members of the Futures Commission, that the citizens of Ohio will agree.

As one commission completes its deliberations, two other court commissions are about to begin.

The Committee on Reporting of Ohio Court Opinions is a product of discussions with Tom Bonasera and Denny Ramey regarding the official reporting of court of appeals and other court opinions. The committee will recommend whether changes made with respect to the number of opinions reported and the process used to determine which opinions shall be reported. The committee consists of nine members with Rick Fry as the chair.

Today, I am announcing that U.S. District Judge Algenon Marbley will chair the Supreme Court’s Racial Fairness Implementation Task Force. Before his appointment to the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio, Judge Marbley distinguished himself in private practice. I assure you that his considerable talents will provide the leadership necessary to guide the task force through its thoughtful deliberations.

The Implementation Task Force was among the recommendations contained in the final report of the Ohio Commission on Racial Fairness, a 5 ½-year joint effort by the Supreme Court and the Ohio State Bar Association.

The nearly 70 recommendations of the Racial Fairness Commission cover a wide array of proposals designed to increase minority representation in the legal profession, and to reduce, if not eliminate, perceptions and realities of racial bias in the justice system.

The task force’s primary objective will be to review the recommendations and draft strategies to build trust throughout the legal system. Task Force members will play a key role in determining how the proposals will be put in place.

The Racial Fairness Commission and the Courts’ Futures Commission share the goal of ensuring that all citizens, of color and white, male and female, rich and poor, have a court system worthy of their respect and confidence.

I ask for your continuing help in shaping the future of our justice system - enhancing it as an "ordinance of reason for the common good" and demonstrating, once again, that by its commitment to preserving the rule of law, the work of our profession is concerned with the "care of the community."