Chief Justice Maureen O'Connor
OCLRE State Mock Trial Championship
March 9, 2017

Thank you Caitlyn (Smith, OCLRE Ohio Mock Trial program coordinator) for that introduction and for all the work you and other staff members at OCLRE do to further law and citizenship education.

The Ohio Supreme Court is proud to continue its support of OCLRE and the mock trial program.

To this year’s competitors, congratulations on getting this far and good luck going forward. I know you are anxiously awaiting beginning your arguments.

But before we commence the state finals, I want to stress the importance of civility in this competition – and in life, for that matter.

We have heard about a rise in incidents this year of rude and unprofessional behavior both among students and coaches. This is unacceptable.

Civility rules the day. Bullying in the courtroom is no more acceptable than it is on the playground.

I readily acknowledge that we adults sometimes do not model the best behavior. Be that as it may, just because you see an adult running roughshod over another does not make it right. You can choose a different path.

The Ohio Supreme Court hears about 100 oral arguments in a typical year with passionate attorneys on each side representing their client’s interest in a strong way.

This set-up has all the makings for an adversarial encounter. But just because attorneys disagree, doesn’t mean they have to be disagreeable. The best ones fight hard and fight fair during oral arguments, and shake hands after.

Part of what will make you a better litigator in this tournament – and later in life should you choose the legal profession – is an understanding and an appreciation for the other side’s position.

You should know your opposing counsel’s position just as well as your own. You should acknowledge the validity of that position no matter how vehemently you disagree with it. Perhaps most important, you should hold in high esteem the person making that counter argument.

It is called respect. Or R-E-S-P-E-C-T as Aretha Franklin once sang it.

Please don’t misunderstand. I don’t mean to dump on you as the only bad actors out there. The lack of civility in public discourse is a widespread problem.

About a year ago, the Ohio Civility Consortium and the Chief Justice Thomas J. Moyer Committee of the Ohio State Bar Association hosted a statewide, day-long town meeting to develop approaches to move from discord to dialogue.

The event included in-person interaction, texting, and live streaming opportunities to participate and involved government representatives, political parties, the media, the public, high school students, and civility organizations.

And thanks to the work of OCLRE, the OSBA, and the Ohio State Bar Foundation, a civility curriculum was made available statewide in 2015 for middle school students.

The seven lessons are designed to give students the tools to make civility a regular part of their lives and include a visit to a courthouse.

In addition, civility team leaders teach peers how to be civil to one another through peer mediation as a result of the lessons.

As you can see, there are several initiatives working on this issue. There’s no question that we can all improve in this area.

My hope is that by raising this issue now you won’t repeat it later.

Thank you, and I wish you the best of luck during the competition. God bless.