Speeches

Chief Justice Maureen O'Connor
New Judge Orientation
Dec. 9, 2019

(Remarks prepared for delivery on Monday, Dec. 9, 2019, at the Thomas J. Moyer Ohio Judicial Center in Columbus, OH.)

Good morning, everyone. Welcome to the Supreme Court and the Thomas J. Moyer Ohio Judicial Center.

I hope that you are excited to start your orientation.

Thank you, Christy, for the introduction.

I want to thank Christy, and Debbie Weinberg, for their leadership in the preparation of the sessions of the Judicial College, including the seminars that all of you will receive this week.

The transition from attorney to judge takes a lot of work but one of the goals of this training is to help ease the transition, as much as possible.

As a judge, you are asked to ensure that “effective and efficient administration of justice” takes place.

That is such an important term. It goes to the heart of the duty of judges in America.

The goal of “effective and efficient administration of justice” includes many things. Among them is fairness on your part – and a deep understanding of the law.

These are essential to your role as judges.

As for being new – don’t worry about your upcoming rookie season. Focus yes, concentrate yes but don’t worry.  It gets in the way of success.

In Ohio, one of the many strengths of the judiciary is that judges help one another.

You will find that the judge to judge mentoring opportunity is a great resource as are the judicial associations and the Ohio Judicial Conference. 
A big part of being a judge today is innovation.

Judges have been meeting the growing challenges that society brings to our courtrooms.

That’s why cooperation and education are so important.

As judges, we mentor. We share. We help each other size up situations. We work across county borders.

We are expected to be problem-solvers.

We deal with broken families, crime, addiction and the people we see in court span all levels of society — we strive to ensure that people no matter who they are have access to fair justice.

Our court system rests at the center of all of these efforts. 

This is a daunting responsibility.

But you can think of it this way, too – it is a tremendous vote of confidence by our society.

Very soon, you will see people at their most vulnerable.

They are facing a crisis, and they need our help.

You should know that our Supreme Court staff is always here to help, as well.

I want you to know we have a very capable and outgoing staff.

And their portfolios of work are very diverse.

Please, never hesitate, to reach out for help.

We live in a world that embraces distrust.

Cynicism and suspicion makes our profession more difficult because of the sensitive and personal nature of the matters that we handle.

We can combat this cynicism by setting a clear tone of fairness and respect in our courtrooms.

The public – will understand that.

If those of us working in the courts fall into a trap of being cynical and pessimistic ourselves, then we cannot be surprised when the public’s trust and confidence in the justice system plummets.

So, consider respectability and fairness as both a defense and an opportunity.

Ensuring access to fair and effective justice is simply too important to be mechanical in its application.

It is too critical to our notions of self-governance, of fairness, of stability, and social and economic well-being.

There has been no time in the history of the American courts that has required greater innovation, adaptability, creativity, and thoughtfulness than today.

That requires visionary judges willing to look at  problems in different ways.

Take our drug courts, for example. 

We have 255 Specialized Dockets Courts in our state, including more than 180 drug courts.

They literally grow by the month.

I’m so proud of the efforts our staff and local courts have put forth to combat this crisis.  

But simply establishing a new docket does carry us to our goals.

In a drug court – or any court – the real value comes in how the court is operated. It’s the process that is used.

And that starts with your leadership.

Saying or thinking, “That’s the way we’ve always done it” cannot be an acceptable response in the face of the challenges and demands that will meet you each and every day.

I have no illusions about your work on the front lines of the justice system in Ohio’s courts. It’s tough out there.

Families are being destroyed by addiction and many other social problems.

Public cynicism can easily play out in court.

But as I stand here today, I am hopeful and more confident than ever.

Ohio has become a leader in court innovation.  Just look at our specialized docket courts.

In today’s courtroom, applying the law and achieving the best outcome involves innovation and new approaches.

We are doing that in Ohio – and our staff is here to help get you prepared.

The Judicial College is always at your service.

As I mentioned one service is to pair you with a seasoned judge to serve as your mentor.

Please take full advantage of this mandatory mentoring partnership and get to know your other colleagues from across our state.

Having said all that, you must start from a familiar place – you must know the law.

No matter what innovations or differences come about in your court, you will always have to rule from the bench – on an objection or admittance of evidence, for example.

You will have to make decisions on the spot – and by yourself.

You will have to develop a knowledge of criminal sentencing. Which by the way has just become more complicated for level 1 and 2 felonies. On the civil side, you’ll have to keep dockets moving.

That speaks to preparation – and it ties back to mentoring and a commitment to life-long learning.

You will learn a lot this week, from fellow judges and our staff.

I would like to introduce several staff members and give a brief description of what they do and how they will help you.

John Groom is our Court security services manager.

You will meet him this afternoon during a presentation on personal and courtroom security.

One of John’s specialties is the on-site security audit of your courtroom, staff areas and courthouse. I encourage all of our courts to take advantage of John’s expertise. He usually visits a court with a fellow security officer to make suggestions while on site, and then follow up with a written report.

Security is so important in our business. You’re aware of attacks and threats on judges in recent years. Safety and security is no longer a given.

Christine Kidd is our Human Resources Director. Christine and her staff will talk to you about compensation and benefits. I know all of you will be very attentive during Christine’s presentation.

Our new Administrative Director is Jeff Hagler. Jeff will talk to you, and lead off a round of administrative presentations.

John Van Norman, our interim chief legal counsel, will discuss your judges’ liability insurance.

Erick Gale, one of our master commissioners, will speak to you about affidavits of disqualification.

Diane Hayes, judicial assignment specialist, will tell you how special assignments are carried out.

Bruno Romero, manager of interpreter services, will explain the rules and uses of interpreters. Language services are available to all litigants to ensure they can understand court proceedings. This covers those whose first language isn’t English and also those who are hard of hearing.

Tasha Ruth, manager of the case management section of the Court, will discuss case flow and your court’s obligations of statistical reporting.

To open your sessions this morning, you will hear from Hancock County Common Pleas Judge Jonathan Starn.

Judge Starn will discuss with you the establishment of your judicial philosophy and reputation.

Judicial ethics will be covered in detail. For that session you will meet Stark County Common Pleas Judge Taryn Heath as well as Rick Dove and Allan Asbury of the Board of Professional Conduct.
Most of you here today were elected.

I know, campaigns are difficult.

Whether you were confident about your victory – or totally surprised – I’m sure you’re glad that part of becoming a judge in Ohio is over.

If you were appointed, you’re now at the same starting line, embarking on new responsibilities.

Your duties extend to the public you serve, the staff you inherit or hire, and to the litigants who will come before you.

All of those people have a right to demand that you are legally competent, totally professional at all times, and service-oriented.

Being an officer of the court is all about service to your fellow citizens.

You are a public servant, and as a judge you have a list of “musts.” You must:

Keep your docket up to date.

Try, at all times, to be in control, congenial and patient.

Be patient even to those who might not be patient with you or the court system.

Assume your role in the spirit of utmost seriousness. You are in a position of trust, and one that focuses on duty to the litigants before you, and the court.

Understand that the stakes are high and the expectations of you are great.

Be a listener – to your staff and to those who come before you in court.

Work with your mentoring judge. Please, don’t be afraid to ask questions. Your mentor was in your shoes at one time, and he or she will know how to place you on a learning curve.

I’d like to close by reminding you again that you are part of a community back home. You need to stay close to your people.

They need to hear from you.

It’s so important to let the public know what we do – what our days are like – how difficult our decision-making can be.

We must let them know that we are committed to seeking solutions that are in their best interest.

Try it out. Sign on to speak to the Rotary or other group’s breakfast or luncheon.

You can explain how the courts function – and in the context of what you are learning.

As a good listener, you will tap into your community members and see things from their points of view.

The rule of law is the life blood flowing through the veins of our social body. We must respect it ourselves as judges.

And we must perform our duties in ways that allow respect to bounce back to us from the public.

This is how we help society keep faith in the American system of justice.

Make civic education part of your role. It’s important to keeping our society on an even keel. That’s never been more true, given the divisions in our nation today. 

Never let honesty and integrity get far from your thoughts.

These are lofty goals, but honesty and integrity are always within reach.

Please reach out. Please connect.

And don’t forget that the Supreme Court is here to help you.

Enjoy your seminars.

God Bless.