Speeches

Chief Justice Maureen O'Connor
Ohio Law and Leadership Institutes 10th Anniversary
Sept. 20, 2018

(Remarks prepared for delivery on Sept. 20, 2018 at the Ohio Statehouse Rotunda.)

Thank you, Judge Hopkins, for that introduction.

The reason the late Chief Justice Tom Moyer and others started this program is straightforward:  We need the voice and the perspectives of diversity in our courtrooms.

I’m proud of the work the Law and Leadership Institute of Ohio has been doing and the students — who unfortunately couldn’t be here tonight because they are in school — should be very proud of themselves.

You, who helped start this program, should be pleased with your success.

This is ten years of hard work paid off.

I can’t believe it’s been a decade since this program was started, with the help of the late Chief Justice Moyer.

If he were with us today, he’d be so honored with all that you’ve accomplished.

Let me put this into perspective.

When this program was started ten years ago, there were only 40 students.

They were from Cleveland and Columbus.  

Today, we have 225 high school students from six of the largest cities in Ohio, thanks to the support of eight of the nine Ohio law schools (Ohio Northern is the only school that does not host because it isn’t located in one of the major metropolitan areas), as well as grants from the Ohio State Bar Foundation, the Law School Admission Council, as well as the Supreme Court. Thousands of students have benefited from this program.

So on this anniversary, I want to go back to the program’s roots and remind us all how far we’ve come and why we need this program to grow and flourish.

The statistics are grim — Ohio has the second lowest graduation rate in the country among African American high school students. That’s not good enough, not by a long shot.

So what started next was a mission to turn things around for students who live in the inner-cities who face an uphill battle — but still have the passion and desire to further their education and dreams.

That is why the Law and Leadership Institute didn’t just happen as some kind of a pipedream, it needed to happen. It still must happen.

We do not have a choice — we must be committed to ensuring that students who want to succeed don’t fall through the cracks because of circumstances beyond their control.

Even ten years into the program, the results are inspiring.

100 percent of students in the LLI program go on to graduate from high school.

Of that, 90 percent go on to college.

They don’t just attend classes. They thrive.

They hold leadership positions on campus, they get graduate degrees, and yes, they go to law school.

In fact, one of the program’s first Akron graduates—her name is Arielle Hook — just started her first year at Duke Law School.

I’m proud to say that this year, there are two students from Ohio LLI going to law school.  

The other accomplishments that I want to recognize:

Each year students from eight LLI sites compete in a mock trial program.

High school students compete as attorneys and witnesses to argue both sides of a case in front of a panel of volunteer judges.

This event is a culmination of LLI’s year-round intense legal and educational programming designed to foster vision, develop leadership skills, and build confidence.

Students prepare for this competition throughout the year by studying legal opinions and analyzing witness statements and legal briefs.  

Thank you, to the Ohio Center for Law-Related Education (OCLRE) for donating case materials.

So who won the most recent competition?

Congratulations to the team from Cincinnati who came in first place.

I want to also recognize a program called “Leadership Project Showcase”.

Students work in small groups and identify problems or issues in their communities and create action plans to create positive change.

Cincinnati must be knocking it out of the park, because its team had the winning project in this program, too.

Finally, I’m pleased to recognize students on what they call “Senior Presentations.”

In this program, seniors research colleges and universities that interest them.

LLI seniors identify those colleges, and make a list of the strengths and weaknesses as to how well the students can thrive.

Once they do this, students create success plans and identify ways they can become leaders on campus.

And the most recent winner?

Here we go again, Cincinnati’s Yaw Asante.

He’s attending Princeton University.

I want to encourage you, as our partners, to realize how important it is to keep funding this program.

It changes lives and it has the potential to change our justice system.

The percentage of attorneys and judges in Ohio still trail the diversity found in our state’s population overall.

Until and unless we achieve proportionality, some will believe the justice system is not for them, because no one they came into contact with along the way looked like them.

Having a properly represented, diverse number of judges, and lawyers, elevates public trust and confidence in the legal system. It also involves all of us in the ideal of justice for all.

Congratulations on your tenth anniversary and keep up the good work.

God Bless.