Speeches

Chief Justice Maureen O'Connor
Employee Recognition Ceremony
May 7, 2019

(Remarks prepared for delivery on Tuesday, May 7, 2019, at the Thomas J. Moyer Ohio Judicial Center)

Thank you, Steph.

Good afternoon, everyone.

This event is one of the highlights of the year for this Court and for you, the staff ... and for me, of course.

You’ve probably noticed that we are two justices short up here.  Justice Donnelly is  actually attending the ‘new justices/judges’ training.  It’s mandatory training for all judges ... no exceptions.  He’s sorry to miss this event – but mandatory means mandatory. And Justice Fischer is busy welcoming his grandson into this world as I speak.

My job takes me to many places during the year, and to many speaking events.

Wherever I go, I talk about the outstanding staff of the Supreme Court of Ohio.

In fact, just a couple weeks ago, we were in Ashtabula County for Off-Site court and I was telling judges, lawyers, and school officials how proud I am of the work that you do. 

It’s easy for me to say this to people because it’s so true.

This staff shows its talent in new ways every day.

I try to deliver the message of your commitment without sounding like I’m bragging to those outside the Court.

I am so honored to share with others what you do, day-in and day-out, for this Court and the people of the state of Ohio.

So, thank you for your brilliance, your diligence, and your creativity.

2018 was a remarkable year for the Court – and a great one in many new ways, but it was also a time of farewells:

We said goodbye to seven colleagues on our staff who retired.  Patricia Latham, Michele Pennington, Terry Lyons, Connie Crim, Jim Shroyer, Michael O’Day, and Lee Ann Ward. And we also said goodbye to Justice O’Neill, Justice O’Donnell and Justice DeGenero.

However, we welcomed 37 new employees to work with us in our magnificent building, including two new justices, Justice Donnelly and Justice Stewart. I know that I speak for all justices when I say we are delighted with our new colleagues.

In 2018, we were busy improving our skills and helping each other improve.

I’m very excited to showcase a new drug court documentary called “Second Chances” that we are releasing to the public this week.

Last week, we made a version available to judges and attorneys for CLE credit. 

This one-hour film was put together through our Public Information Office by our Ohio Government Television staff on the 10th Floor. It showcases the incredible work being done to help those suffering from drug abuse disorder and are charged with a crime.

I encourage all of you to use the link on Court News Ohio and watch it.

We created an on-line course through the Ohio Judicial College because we want to show judges the innovation that is being put to use in our drug courts.

We also want judges, court staff, attorneys and the public to see the human side of drug abuse:

How users get started in the first place.

How their drug use affects their health, their families and their communities.

And how the judicial system can help them find a way out.

Speaking of the Judicial College, they had a standout year.

The total number of participants educated by the college last year reached over 22K at 214 courses.

That included more than 10,000 who took advantage of our growing offerings of online courses.

This past year we added seven interpreters to the roster in Bengali, Haitian Creole, Japanese, Somali, Ukrainian, Turkish, and Wolof.

Raise your hand if you knew that Wolof is a Niger-Congo language spoken by people living in Senegal and Gambia.

And we helped courts find interpreters in

Uzbek

Telugu

K’iche

... and Cape Verdean Creole – to name a few.

Now to something maybe more familiar to us.

Our Children & Families Section hosted juvenile court training – using multi-disciplinary teams.

They were focusing on the safety of children in child abuse, neglect, and dependency cases.

In the spring of 2018, they were working on “quality parent” representation for better outcomes for families – in conjunction with Ohio Department of Job and Family Services.

The Children & Families Section also released The Bridges Tool Kit. It focuses on the new O.D.J.F.S. program – Bridges – that provides services and support for youth “aging out” of the child welfare system.  Bridges helps them develop self-sufficiency skills.

The Domestic Violence Program received more than $160,000 in Violence Against Women Act grant funds to support training for local courts and initiatives involving domestic violence, stalking, and sexual assault.

I now want to switch to the great work going on — high above us on the 11th floor.

Last year, during National Library Week, we paid tribute to America’s law librarians – including our own on the 11th Floor — who handled more than 10,000 research requests and welcomed sixty-three-hundred (6,300) visitors.

Their hard work on a rock-n-roll legal display was even featured in “Columbus Monthly” magazine.

I continue to be amazed and delighted by the work of those on the 11th floor

Besides the library services they provide so well, they find time to use their fertile imaginations with their creative contests, their engineering skills in stacking law books, and their entertaining use of marshmallow ‘peeps.’

They won the First Annual Ohio Regional Association of Law Libraries Peep Contest with their peeps diorama.

They swept two of the four categories, finishing first in: “Most Creative” and “Extensive Use of Peeps.”

Well done, All!

We look after each other, too ...

Our Event Committee hosted five events last year — March Madness with chili dogs and Dog Days of Summer---with the proceeds of that event going to the local CHA animal shelter.

We hosted Plaza Palooza, the Columbus Pizza Day Sale and “Warm Wishes and Hot Cocoa.”

These events provide an opportunity for co-workers to socialize, relax -- and partake of some good food. 

The committee also hosted a toy drive for the Franklin County Children Services Holiday Wish program and provided volunteer opportunities for court staff to volunteer at the Mid-Ohio Food Bank and the Ronald McDonald House.

I hope that all who wanted the Supreme Court umbrella were able to purchase one ... . I like to use mine on a wet day along with my Supreme Court fleece ... What’s next?  Hoodies? Sweat pants? Whtever it is I’ll be sporting it.

Our Wellness Committee performed upgrades to the Fitness Center.

They also started Wellness Walks in the spring to allow court employees to get fresh air during lunch.

Our Wellness gurus hosted the Root Beer Float Fundraiser, and it was a tremendous success.

Turns out----people like a cold beverage on a hot day, especially when it’s free.

They started the Steps Challenge in October in which 20 percent of the Court participated.

And they provided chair massages to relieve stress during the end-of-the-year craziness.

Last year, Take Your Child to Work Day welcomed more than 30 children. I love to see how the children have grown from year to year and answer the questions they ask ...

We have so many departments doing fine work. I can’t mention each and every project, but I would like to highlight several.

Many, if not most, of you have one or many projects that pass through our digital Print Center.

We do all of our printing in-house. This saves taxpayers thousands and thousands of dollars – and saves all of you a lot of hassle. 

The Print Center averages just over 100 individual projects each month while updating dozens of publications all year long.

They perform exotic tasks such as hot-foil stamping, embossing, vinyl cutting, photo matting and framing.

They put their machinery and software to good use. And they add an important extra ingredient – expertise.

And I know that I mention this every year but We are all grateful for the work of facilities and housekeeping. Everyone who enters this building marvels at how beautiful it is and how well maintained it is.  

The Meetings and Events Department in 2018 performed the critical tasks of setting up for all meetings, seminars, training and special events.

Considering that the number of outside guests attending events at our building in 2018 exceeded 40,000. That’s a lot of setting up and taking down ...

Information Technology was a busy place in 2018.

IT is always launching new applications for us, so we can be more efficient.

Their list of projects is very long. Here’s part of it:

A new online inventory application so that courts report the technologies and vendor products they’re using.

A new case management system for the Dispute Resolution office.

Attorney registration was revamped ... the CLE system was replaced ...On Base was implemented, and the new Kronos was installed./p>

I could go on, but here is a rather sober one: Our IT folks worked with the Ohio National Guard to perform a comprehensive cyber penetration test of the Court’s network and systems.  Good news ... we passed

Physical security remains top of mind for us. Our Court security personnel reviewed the safety of 23 court locations and held 11 training sessions. And of course they keep this building and all in it safe and well protected.

Where would we be without budgets and, well, money?

Our Fiscal Department did a fine job, as always, in keeping things straight when it comes to money flowing in and flowing out.

The Court’s annual budget is $186 million.

The Court received  a clean biennial audit last fiscal year.

They did this while processing more than 11,000 payments for invoices, expense reports and grants.

There was lots of Court work, of course ....

Off-Site Court visited Putnam County for the first time in the spring.

The off-site sessions were among 18 oral argument days in 2018, covering 65 cases.

We took a huge step in providing better access to justice.

We launched a task force on bail reform.

We held public meetings here at the Court to try to assist the task force in their recommendations.   

We are in the final stages of putting out a report, so thanks for all involved in the process. 

I know it’s been a lot of work but this project is very important to me — and I know to many of you working on criminal justice reform.

We’ve launched some exciting new projects to help those who are battling addiction.

The Specialized Dockets Section has partnered with the Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services to travel across the state.

They are training court, criminal justice, child welfare, and treatment professionals in the use of Medication Assisted Treatment in the criminal justice system.

In 2018, 14 of these training sessions took place.

Right now the Specialized Dockets Section is working with the Board of Pharmacy to implement a flag in Ohio’s prescription drug-monitoring program, OARRS, to alert prescribers and pharmacists of an individual’s involvement in a certified Specialized Docket because of substance use disorder. 

This will be the first alert of its kind in the nation.

The Commission on Specialized Dockets has worked for the past 18 months to draft proposed rule and certification amendments. These would better align Ohio’s certification process with best practice standards.

Our Regional Judicial Opioid Initiative – which is now two years old and encompasses eight states – continues to make progress by knocking down bureaucratic walls and forging alliances among states and border counties.

The RJOI has collected data from all partnering states and has developed a data dashboard that features hospital emergency room visits for opioids, drug-related case filings, and overdose mortality rates.

There’s also a national opioid initiative working on the problem .... The Conference of Chief Justices and the Conference of State Court Administrators, formed a national task force patterned after our regional effort.

When it comes to fighting the opioid crisis, I am so proud of the work that we are doing in our drug courts. 

And they keep growing.

In 2018, we certified 68 new specialized docket courts, we re-certified 54 of the dockets, and 14 dockets were new programs.

The Specialized Dockets conference hosted by the Court drew more than 500 court personnel from across the state.

The range of services that you perform always surprises people, even those who keep a close eye on government.

Examples from 2018 include:

Our dispute resolution department conducted 304 mediation sessions.

They hosted 436 hours of mediation training for courts all across Ohio.

They developed five mediation online training modules.

They also hosted the first statewide dispute resolution conference with nearly 500 judges, magistrates, mediators, and attorneys.

Now, I want to turn to the outstanding work that the Civic Education Department is doing. 

Right now, they are in the thick of the spring tour season and are doing incredible work.

Civic Education hosted more than 13,000 student visitors on 368 guided tours from Ohio last year.

Justices and staff welcomed many visitors, including graduate students, teachers, attorneys and judges from Afghanistan, Congo, Iceland, India, Nepal, and Pakistan.

We also unveiled the plaster cast of President Warren Harding in the Visitor Education Center.

We updated “A Day in the Life” video that is on display and also on the Court’s website.

Yes, 2018 was a year to remember and the good thing is that thanks to all of you, 2019 is shaping up along the same lines.

And you were the ones who made it all work.

Thank you, all of you, for your dedication.

And now, I would like to turn it back over to Stephanie, who will present our employee service awards and our Employee Excellence Awards.

Thanks to you all, and God Bless.

Steph ...