John Marshall Matthias
b. Jan. 20, 1903
d. Jan. 25, 1973
114th Justice of the Supreme Court of Ohio
Term
Dec. 16, 1954
to Sept. 25, 1970

JOHN MARSHALL MATTHIAS

John Marshall Matthias followed his father, Justice Edward S. Matthias, in serving on the Supreme Court of Ohio. He brought to this post a wealth of knowledge of civil and criminal procedure gained from serving 15 years as a judge on the Columbus Municipal Court.

Matthias was born Jan. 20, 1903 in Van Wert to Edward Shiloh and Mary F. Crouch Matthias. After his father’s election to the Supreme Court in 1914, the family moved to Columbus. In 1928, Matthias received a bachelor’s degree from Ohio State University. From 1928 to 1930, he attended both Ohio State University College of Law and Franklin University Law School. In January 1931, he passed the bar and was admitted to the practice of law in Ohio.

From 1931 to 1939, Matthias was engaged in the private practice of law in Columbus. In 1934, he was elected to the Ohio House of Representatives as a Republican from Franklin County. In 1936, he was defeated for re-election, but, in 1938, he was elected to the Ohio House again.

Matthias’ judicial career began with his election to the Columbus Municipal Court in 1939. On Jan. 1, 1940, Justice Matthias administered the oath of office to his son, giving the date double significance as it was the 25th anniversary of his own swearing-in as a Justice.

On Dec. 28, 1944, Gov. John W. Bricker appointed John Matthias to be presiding judge of the Columbus Municipal Court. In 1945, Matthias was elected to a full six-year term, and he was re-elected in 1951. He served as president of the Ohio Municipal Judges Association from 1945 to 1953.

After his father died in 1953, Judge Matthias entered the 1954 Republican primary for election to the Supreme Court seat held by his late father. His victory – without party support – was in part a testament to the popularity of his father. In the fall election, he handily defeated his father’s successor, Justice John H. Lamneck, by winning 86 of 88 counties. When Chief Justice Carl V.Weygandt administered the oath of office on Dec. 16, 1954, it was the first time in Ohio history that a Justice was sworn in to succeed his father on the Supreme Court. Matthias was elected to a full six-year term in 1956, and he was re-elected in 1962 and 1968.

In his 15 years of service on the Supreme Court, Justice Matthias participated in many important decisions. One that established a significant precedent was McKay Machine Co. v. Rodman (1967). At issue in the case was whether expert testimony also served to improperly lead the jury to its conclusion.

C.J. Rodman ordered a welding machine from the McKay Machine Company, but upon receipt, he refused to pay for it, saying that it did not perform the types of welds he specified in his purchase orders. One expert witness called to explain the nature of the welding process expressed his opinion that the company built the machine to Mr. Rodman’s specifications. Justice Matthias wrote, “This court has continuously held that in all proceedings involving matters of a scientific, professional or other like nature, requiring special study, experience or observation not within the knowledge of laymen in general, expert opinion testimony is admissible to aid the court or the jury in arriving at a correct determination of the litigated issue.” Matthias held that expert testimony both informs and instructs by its very nature. He reversed the decision of the appeals court.

When Chief Justice Kingsley Taft died in March 1970, Matthias let it be known that he did not wish to be elevated to the position of Chief Justice. Since the beginning of 1970, he could not perform his judicial duties due to poor health and Judge Robert E. Leach of the 10th District Court of Appeals of Ohio served on assignment for him for the spring term of 1970. Gov. James A. Rhodes named Justice C. William O’Neill to be Chief Justice. On Sept. 25, 1970, Matthias resigned and Gov. Rhodes named Leach to replace him.

Matthias and Lois Kirkpatrick were married on March 20, 1939. They had one son.

After his retirement, Matthias never regained his health. He died Jan. 25, 1973 at his home in Upper Arlington. He is buried at Greenlawn Cemetery in Columbus.