Speeches

Chief Justice Maureen O'Connor
Michael L. Buenger Tribute
Sept. 12, 2018

(Remarks prepared for delivery on Wednesday Sept. 12, 2018, at the Thomas J. Moyer Ohio Judicial Center.)

Thank you, Judge (Jack) Durkin.

Good afternoon, everyone. It always makes me happy to see the Supreme Court staff assembled in our beautiful courtroom.

This is a bittersweet gathering for me and I think for many of you.

Of course I’m happy for Mike Buenger, as think we all are.  He will be working with great people at the National Center for State Courts as Executive Vice President of Operations.

It will be great for the National Center to have Mike in a position that will make an important and influential organization even greater.

I say this because Mike will bring a variety of high-level legal and organizational skills to that job.

Running an organization smoothly and efficiently – and with a highly defined purpose – is Mike’s strength.

The vision and direction that Mike incorporated in his role here at the Court has allowed this institution to accomplish so much that has benefitted judges, staff, lawyers and the public.

Mike has a phenomenal ability to stay on top of things at the court.  Some people say ‘stay on top of things’ I say, keep all the balls in the air.

Mike has been the go to guy for so many people, so many projects, and so many problems. And he’s handled it all.

Mike has always been an achiever.  A hard worker and at the same time has a comfortable way about him that instills confidence and the desire to have him as a friend.

When I say achiever I just have to reflect on his academic career to make my point.

He was cum laude at both the U. of Dayton, undergrad and at the St. Louis University School of Law.

As a Master of Laws – Mike earned this degree in Public International Law, with Distinction, from the University of Kent, Canterbury, and Brussels School of International Studies.

I know it’s a cliché, but Mike fits the designation of being “a gentleman and a scholar.”

He is a true scholar of the law and legal institutions, and I benefitted greatly from his knowledge and advice these past four years.

Mike is the type of leader who chooses good people to work with.  Allows those people to contribute their skills and talent, and then thru collaboration, completes a mission, a task or meets a challenge.

The list of innovations and collaborations that have borne fruit under Mike’s leadership include the Regional Judicial Opioid Initiative ...

His work was monumental in the formation of we came to call – RJOI.

Mike helped place government on a war footing to fight the opioid crisis by getting eight states deeply involved in working together to share information so that judges, legislators and officials at all levels – from medical professionals to first responders – can work as teams.

We’re not done – not by a long shot. But Mike’s incredible hard work on this issue has brought to life an effort that is now being copied nationally.

He will do similar difficult and good things at NCSC. I know he will.

The administrative director is the top non-elected officer of the Supreme Court of Ohio. That means all operations report to that office.

In addition to helping to tackle the opioid crisis in Ohio in Mike’s four years with us, he did oversee – with tenacity and understanding -- each and every aspect of work inside these walls.

These included:

The planning of new Civic Ed displays ...

The replacement of the 80-year-old elevator infrastructure – I know that was one of Mike’s favorites ... in fact, he went as far as to get stuck in one for an extended period just so he could grasp the whole picture. 

His close oversight extended to the expansion of the Judicial College ...

... and to the improvements in case management systems.

... and to the explosion in specialized dockets activities ...

The list could go on and on – with a common thread:

Mike has been a fabulous judge of talent.

He has worked with his staff to retain solid people who were working before he arrived ...

And he has overseen the hiring of highly qualified new faces.

Put all that together and you see how he has helped to make made this assembly of 230-plus people, the envy of all other state offices.

All of this pays testimony to his leadership.

Leadership takes many forms.

We like our leaders to be smart and to be excellent decision-makers. This gives an institution stability ... and stability is what all of you want and need to make your working lives and personal lives a success.

Mike is all of that – smart and a great decision-maker ... but he has other traits, too, that contribute as well.

One is a sense of humor. Mike is a great story-teller. And his years spent as a senior rule of law constitutional adviser in Kosovo a decade ago have given him some doozies.

To navigate the war-torn Balkans, Mike had a colorful driver named Gushta, who professed total allegiance to Mike and promised to do anything to protect him on harrowing drives through military checkpoints, it was always a toss-up as to whether those checkpoints would be friendly and not-so-friendly.

Gushta wanted to help Mike with anything that he needed ... and that included the offer to eliminate a person or two who might have caused Mike some grief.  Gushta had a very colorful way of solving his problems.

Being a rule-of-law scholar – and advocate – Mike never asked his driver to go beyond the basics ... like keeping him alive.  But the stories were interesting.

As AD, Mike was always mindful of the outside forces whose operations had an effect on the Court and the justices.

He forged great relationships with the personnel serving in the judicial and court administration fields.

Any of you who had to provide numbers and facts for a budget meeting are aware that when it came to expenditures, Mike is an advocate for the taxpayer.

He believed that spending had to be purposeful, looked over wisely – and constantly – and had to be directed to specific, achievable goals that would benefit the public.

Many of you know these things already. But I speak of these things as a reminder for you ... and as a tribute to a great man with great vision ... and great skill at making an organization hum.

Now I will tell you something about Mike that very few, if any of you, know.

When a staffer would be in a hospital for a long illness, or suffered a personal loss, Mike would be there for the family and the staffer.

He made caring visits to the hospital or home of several of our staffers who are no longer with us. His caring is genuine and just part of who he is.

When I announced to all of you last month that Mike would be departing, I issued a statement in which I expressed my gratitude for his “sound counsel and steadfast vision.”

I chose those words carefully. By steadfast vision, I was thinking of the bedrock of Mike’s ideals.

He is lawyer and a scholar, yes. But what makes him so successful is the foundation of his thinking.  He not only believes in ... but has worked hard to achieve ... an Ohio and an America where fair and impartial justice is administered to all because doing so is an obligation of government. And we must hold our government accountable.

He believes, as I do, that the judicial system must be fair to all – and it must be accessible to all. When it is not, reforms must follow.

One of the things that always guides Mike’s performance is accountability ... he holds himself accountable to a very high standard and watching him in action makes others want to embrace a high standard for themselves.

Mike is a great leader and has been great for this Court, for the judiciary, for the people of Ohio.

I will miss Mike on a personal level.  We’ve become great friends ... once he began to trust me…which took some time considering I lured him to this job by telling him that he’s never have to do any heavy lifting with the legislature and the Court practically ran itself.  So I lied!

Shortly after he came we tackled judicial raises with the executive and legislative branches;

Restructured internal operations/organizations; and
devised ways for the judiciary to partner with the treatment community to address the horrific problems of addictive drugs just to name a few challenges.

I believe that we could not have had the successes we’ve experienced had we not had Mike as Administrative Director of the Supreme Court of Ohio.

Mike I know that I speak on behalf of the entire staff when I say you will be missed…certainly more than you know.

We wish you, Caroline, and your family the best as you make your way to Virginia.