Speeches

Chief Justice Maureen O'Connor
Annual Summer Conference for Probate, Domestic Relations and Juvenile Judges
June 7, 2017

Good evening.

Thank you (Mahoning County Juvenile Court) Judge (Theresa Dellick) for that introduction.

Thanks as well to Mahoning and Trumbull counties for hosting this annual summer conference and each county’s roster of probate, domestic relations, and juvenile court judges.

Besides Judge Dellick, Mahoning County’s other judges include: (Domestic Relations Court) Judge (Beth) Smith and (Probate Court) Judge (Robert) Rusu.

Trumbull County’s judges include: (Family Court) Judges (Sandra) Stabile Harwood and (Pamela) Rintala and (Probate Court) Judge (James) Fredericka.

I also want to recognize the probate, domestic relations, and juvenile judge association leaders respectively: (Pickaway County Probate/Juvenile Court) Judge (Jan Michael) Long, (Cuyahoga County Domestic Relations Court) Judge (Diane) Palos, and (Erie County Juvenile Court) Judge (Robert) DeLamatre.

Before I move on to the main part of my remarks, I have a few more shout-outs to extend.

I want to highlight a few judges who are working harder and smarter in courtrooms every day to solve the seemingly intractable problems facing Ohioans. As you know all too well, today’s societal problems profoundly impact the lives of countless citizens. Those problems are as complex as they are interconnected. And many of those problems come knocking at your door as a last resort.

In Cuyahoga County, Domestic Relations Court Judge Rosemary Grdina Gold launched a self-help center for the increasing number of litigants representing themselves. Under the supervision of a staff attorney, the center provides self-represented parties with access to justice via legal information and resources but not legal advice.

In Ross County, Probate/Juvenile Court Judge Jeffrey Benson’s family drug court received certification on May 5. In one of the hardest-hit areas of the state affected by opioids, the family drug court joins already existing drug courts in municipal court and the common pleas court’s general division. Now there’s a continuum of services to promote recovery and sobriety whether it’s an offender’s felony or misdemeanor drug charge or juveniles negatively impacted by their parents’ drug abuse.

In Stark County, Probate Court Judge Dixie Park is using a $625,000 national elder justice innovation grant to enhance and expand the Court Angel program and to prevent elder abuse and neglect. Judge Park’s court is also one of the few in Ohio piloting elder-care coordination nationally, where mediation attempts to resolve family conflicts over elderly care and safety.

In our host Trumbull County, Probate Court Judge Fredericka created a unique partnership with Trumbull’s municipal and county courts to help residents connect with services they may not be aware of. For instance, the court directed an elderly couple heard shouting at each other to social services to obtain hearing aids. Now, there’s no more shouting.

And, as if you needed more evidence of how bad Ohio’s opioid problem is, Lorain County Domestic Relations/Juvenile Court Judge Sherry Glass helped revive a man who overdosed in front of her home. Thankfully, a dose of naloxone was within reach because her husband serves as a deputy sheriff. She administered the first dose before deputies arrived to administer two more doses.

Thank you all for your work to dispense justice fairly and impartially all across the state despite the challenges. Through innovation and collaboration, your efforts make a difference in lives of countless Ohioans.

Some of you may have heard about an idea to ensure that the scope of your work is explained more fully and comprehensively, so your efforts to dispense justice are recognized and appreciated. That idea is through a weighted workload study.

Although caseload numbers have been trending down, particularly for this group’s jurisdictions, you are well aware that numbers alone don’t tell the whole story.

Caseload numbers cannot account for the complexity of cases.

Caseload numbers do not include the number of hearings conducted in a case or the number of parties you interact with.

Caseload numbers also do not reflect the number of extrajudicial activities in which you participate in your communities.

In our recent budget testimony before the House and Senate, we made these points and many others.

We told state legislators that the job of judges has expanded substantially and significantly through the operation of drug courts and other specialized dockets, through judges’ resistance to pressure from local officials to raise more revenue in the form of court fines and fees, and through the implementation of local programs to increase access to justice for Ohioans, some of which I already mentioned.

So, we are looking at various ways to identify and articulate the importance of the judiciary to the state and its citizens.

We live in a data-driven world and can no longer rely on anecdotes. Hard data is sometimes the only way to make those on the outside of the judicial branch of government understand what we do and why.

I’m in discussions with judges and others to solicit their ideas on a weighted workload study.

The bottom line is we must explain why a vibrant, well-funded, capable judiciary is critical for Ohio, and caseload numbers simply don’t convey that.

Now, on to other topics.

It’s widely expected that statewide statistics to be released later this summer by the Ohio Dept. of Health will once again show an alarming increase in the number of opioid overdoses last year compared with 2015.

That will come as no surprise to anyone in this room.

Opioids impact delinquency proceedings in juvenile courts and allocating parental rights in domestic relations court. In addition, those of you operating drug courts know you are treating more and more offenders in different ways to help them get better.

It’s been 10 months since the Supreme Court hosted delegations from nine states across the region and many national partners over three days in Cincinnati at the opening summit of the Regional Judicial Opioid Initiative.

The delegations engaged on a regional level on ways to combat the opioid epidemic and created state and regional action plans to more effectively rehabilitate offenders entering the criminal justice system because of an opioid use disorder.

By starting with the opioid summit, it is hoped that the nine-state region will supply a blueprint for policy and practice for others to follow. The initiative is the first in the nation to bring together state judicial leaders, treatment providers, and medical experts to explore regional solutions to a problem that knows no borders. The opening summit began a year-long program of regional policy planning and development across state criminal justice, public health, family support, and child protection systems. At regular intervals, teams are charting their progress.

We are continuing to work with our partners in other branches of government to address opioids.

For instance, we are grateful for a proposed expansion of medication-assisted treatment to 18 additional county drug courts in the budget.

We are also optimistic that budget language that calls for direct access to OARRS (the Ohio Automated Rx Reporting System) – the state’s prescription drug database – for drug court judges, not just their probation staff, will clear the budget.

I want to remind you of a few Supreme Court resources.

First, please don’t forget about our shared resources website.

The website acts as a clearinghouse for courts to share their current projects and to find partners for future projects.

You can view a list of statewide projects and see examples of how resource-sharing proved successful for local courts.

There are no fewer than 29 projects listed on the clearinghouse Excel document from all corners of the state ranging from mediation programs, to alternative sentencing, to protection order information sharing.

You can access the page through the case management section of the Supreme Court’s website.

The availability of a model language access plan should also come in handy on a local level.

The model plan is intended to assist local courts in meeting their obligations under federal law to ensure access to justice for litigants with limited English proficiency and for those who are deaf or hard of hearing.

The plan encourages local courts to appoint a language access coordinator to ensure compliance with foreign language and sign language interpreter statewide rules and federal mandates.

You can also view statewide rules, model forms, and other resources by accessing the language access section of the Supreme Court’s website.

You should also have heard about changes to Judicial College education.

On May 22, the College launched a new one-stop website to register and take online courses to help you meet your CLE requirements.

Ohio Court E-D-U replaces the old mode of delivering education that required learners to access multiple sites for registration and training.

The new portal delivers all of the College’s online education as well as registration for its face-to-face events seamlessly on one platform.

To access Ohio Court E-D-U, go to the Supreme Court’s website and look for the button on the front page.

More than one thousand judges, magistrates, and court personnel have subscribed so far. Please encourage you staff to sign up so they receive course notices. Judges already have accounts. To make it easy, the College emailed your username to you last month.

The College expects to grow the number of courses offered while making it easier for learners to access education via the new portal.

Over the past few months, the College has added 14 new online courses, including 14 hours for judges and magistrates, six hours for adult guardians, six hours for guardians ad litem, and a legal advice vs. information course for court staff.

There are still more resources for you to be aware of that were developed by Supreme Court staff since your last summer meeting.

The assessing allegations of domestic violence in child abuse cases guide encourages judicial officers to seek out meaningful information from child protective services agencies to examine this issue. It recommends seven questions every juvenile court should ask a CPS agency and suggests other resources.

Another guide focuses on juvenile court trauma-informed practices. The guide provides a list of questions the court should consider when examining the effects of trauma on a child and courtroom practices to implement.

Court staff also produced a guide about juvenile human trafficking red flags and signs to look for. The guide discusses juvenile courts using Safe Harbor protections and how to combat the issue locally.

Each of these guides are available through the Publications page on the Supreme Court’s website.

And, finally, please know that Supreme Court staff is hard at work in attempting to preserve the final two market adjustments to judges’ pay that were proposed in the last two-year budget.

While I can’t say for certain until the governor signs on the dotted line, the prospect of keeping the additional pay raises in this budget looks promising. Please stay tuned.

Thank you for allowing me to speak to you this evening. Thank you as well for all you do to administer justice in Ohio’s probate, domestic relations, and juvenile courts. You’ve got some of the hardest and heaviest lifting to do each and every day. It does not go unnoticed or unappreciated. God bless.