Speeches

Chief Justice Maureen O'Connor
2018 Greater Cleveland Bench-Bar Memorial Program
April 16, 2018

(Remarks prepared for delivery on April 16, 2018, at the CMBA Conference Center Auditorium in Cleveland, Ohio.)

Thank you President Clay for that introduction.

Thanks as well to the Cleveland Metro Bar for holding this event. Thank you for arranging the opportunity to recognize the work, the contributions, the lives of our deceased honorees

I am proud to be here to pay tribute to the fine attorneys and judges who passed away last year.

They devoted their lives to upholding the rule of law and the highest standards of the profession while serving all with the highest level of integrity.

Today we honor men and women who, through their profession, their training and perseverance defended civil rights; championed the underdog; served the needy; righted wrongs; and won victories both big and small.

We honor judges who demonstrated integrity and the unwavering commitment to the concept of an independent judiciary. Our judges gave life and meaning to the phrase, independent judiciary.

Without these capable and fearless men and women, the words independent judiciary, would be just that. .. only words.

When I look at the body of work that these judges and attorneys accomplished, I'm overwhelmed by their sum total of public service.

I see attorneys who represented clients who had no money, who devoted their lives to pro bono work.

I see public servants who were fearless fighters on behalf of their clients, even when it wasn't popular to do so.

I see men and women who worked two jobs in order to pay their way through law school, taking classes at night to fulfill their dreams.

I look at attorneys like Marcia Dettelbach.

Among her many accomplishments, she ran the Guardian Ad Litem program in Cuyahoga County, fighting for the legal rights of children.

She also taught at Hathaway Brown.

In fact, one of her students, Benita Pearson, is now a U.S. District Judge in the Northern District of Ohio.

Pearson said: "She was breaking glass ceilings long before that term was ever coined."

Speaking of breaking glass ceilings, today we honor trailblazers like Judge Jean Murrell Capers, who died at the young age of 104.

She was stubbornly independent and the first African American woman elected to the Cleveland City Council.

She served as an assistant state attorney general.

She served as the Cleveland Municipal judge.

She was a role model for women.

She never gave up and never gave in.

Judge Capers was an activist for those who didn't have a voice.

Another activist was the Honorable Raymond Pianka.

He was elected to the Cleveland Housing Court in 1995, where he helped improve Cleveland's building, housing, and health codes.

He held property owners to the standards set by the city.

He appreciated the important role that his work played in shaping the quality of Cleveland's neighborhood.

His knowledge of his city and desire to improve life for residents plagued by unsafe, unsanitary and dangerous properties was legendary. Errant owners and other scofflaws were held accountable.

He imposed daily fines on slumlords who didn't show up for court to deal with housing violations.

He once wrote: "Nothing I have done or could do to serve my community is more important, or fulfilling, than being the Housing Court Judge."

Selflessness can also be attributed to the Honorable Pauline Tarver — lovingly known as the "People's Judge."

She was the champion of the downtrodden.

As the Executive Director of the NAACP, she led a peaceful protect against the KKK in June of 2000.

She also designed an HIV and AIDS education program in the African American Community.

On the bench, she helped launch Project H.O.P.E., an intervention program for prostitutes.

She also started a mental health court, to offer treatment and recovery instead of incarceration.

We recognize attorneys such as Larry Sutter who took pride in not only delivering his all which meant his best to every client but also carved out the time to mentor, lead and encourage law students.

What I say to those mentored by Larry, those only dreaming of following in his footsteps, you learned from the best. Now honor him by practicing law as he did.

I also want to acknowledge Judge Jim Porter. There is a family connection in as much as my grandfather grew up with his father. They remained friends throughout their lives. When I was in law school, my grandmother would often bring up Jim Porter's name as the finest lawyer, the smartest guy, just the epitome of what a lawyer should be. Quite frankly I was a little tired of hearing about this lawyer of mythic proportions. Years later, when I had the privilege of knowing Judge Porter, I realized that my grandmother's descriptions were accurate. He was all that and more.

As a retired judge, I often called upon him to sit as a visiting judge and did so with the utmost confidence.

Among those we honor today are many men and women who served in the armed forces, as well as the bar and bench.

All the men and women we pay tribute to today will be remembered not only by their colleagues but by their families.

These honorees are your spouse, your mother, your father, your sibling your grandparent.

You knew them for much more than their professional accomplishments.

You knew their unwavering love, their devotion, their sense of humor, patience, and guidance.

I don't need to tell you ... choosing this line of work means long hours at the office, travel, and precious time away from family.

I know there were basketball games, and choir performances that were missed ... parent teacher conferences that passed them by.

I know it wasn't easy so thank you for sharing a loved one with the profession

Those we lost in this past year will always be in ourhearts and our minds.

We will never forget them and are grateful that they pursued their dreams, became our mentors and role models and made it possible for all to be better people, in life and in law.

Thank you, and God Bless.