Speeches

Chief Justice Maureen O'Connor
Ohio State Bar Association Annual Meeting Luncheon & Ohio Bar Medal Award Acceptance
May 10, 2019

Thank you, President (Robin) Weaver, for that introduction. Good afternoon all.

And thank you to my colleagues, Justices French, Fischer, DeWine, and Donnelly for joining us for this luncheon.

I also thank our interim administrative director Stephanie Hess and my two law clerks, Sarah Stafford and Amy Ervin for being here with us.

I am humbled when I see the long list of outstanding attorneys and judges who have received this award.

I look at people like my late colleague and friend Bar Medal Award Recipient, Tom Moyer, and I think about what his legacy stands for ‒ civility, reason and respect for the law.

The other Chief Justice honoree – C. William O’Neill in 1971 – also had a legacy; intelligence and civility – both in the position I now hold, and as governor.

In these current times of social discourse it’s useful to remember that civility, while seemingly in short supply, is, historically, the truest guidepost with which to direct all actions.

When we are faced with the prospect of division, discord, and disagreement, its instances of trust and partnership stand out.

Nowhere was that truer than last fall when we faced the possibility of a constitutional amendment that would have the consequence of providing less incentive for treatment not more.

The issue we came together on was opposition to Issue 1. We came together to educate and guide voters about the constitutional amendment and why it would be a roadblock to treatment and recovery for people suffering from drug abuse disorder.

The challenge was to sift thru all of the misinformation and to come up with a message that would persuade voters to reject Issue 1.

Once the public knew what they were voting on, the electorate said no – resoundingly ‒ by a 2-to-1 margin – 63 percent against and 37 percent in favor.

The knowledge employed by voters came to them in no small part through the efforts of many people in this room, who spoke up and spoke out.

This team included judges and magistrates working in their communities. The prosecutors raised their voices as well as did law enforcement and the treatment community.

Judges individually and thru the Ohio Judicial Conference, lawyers, your president Robin Weaver, all went public ‒ doing interviews, writing open letters and, overall, convincing Ohio voters to vote no.

The Ohio State Bar Association graciously set in motion two evenings of live webinars that allowed interested people to ask questions, listen to others’ questions, and to learn. We reached tens of thousands of listeners in Ohio. I’m grateful to Mary Augsburger and Todd Book for setting this up and especially to my partner on the webinar, Judge Steve McIntosh of the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas and a drug court judge. It was a great thing to do.

Together we dodged a bullet that would have devastated our treatment communities, our drug courts and criminal justice system.

Our drug courts survived. Now, they can expand. Our governor has expressed his willingness to support an expansion – and we need it.

The statistics are that one in five people know of or have a loved one suffering from addiction. As prevalent as this disease is, many see the statistic and not the person. I hope that changes.

There is a new documentary film that the Ohio Supreme Court is unveiling. It’s called ‒ “Second Chances: One Year in Ohio’s Drug Courts.”

We recently made a version available to judges who will earn one hour of judicial college credit when they view it. And now it is available to the public.

This one-hour film showcases the incredible work that judges are doing to help those suffering from drug addiction disorder and involvement in the criminal justice system

I encourage each of you to see it. You can find it on our news website – CourtNewsOhio.gov.

To me, it shows on a human level, how judges replace harsh sentences with mandatory treatment to those who are addicted all the while holding them accountable.

They care about recovery.

Their compassion shows.

They care about the person who’s struggling, the families affected – and their communities.

It’s really a moving film about how judges respond to defendants who have to fight to get up in the morning, get to their jobs, show up for court dates, and face the normal setbacks of life – and do all that while battling addiction.

Three judges are showcased – Judge Joyce Kimbler from Medina Common Pleas, Judge Teresa Ballinger Marion Municipal Court and Judge Fred Moses from Hocking County Municipal Court.

They understand the complexities of addiction.

They understand that relapse is part of the struggle.

The film also is a reflection of Supreme Court staff work that’s going on in the background.

Our Court’s Specialized Dockets Section has partnered for training sessions with the Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services.

Their mission is to train court, criminal justice, child welfare, and treatment professionals in the use of Medication-Assisted Treatment in the criminal justice system.

We have learned through the years that we can’t combat this opioid crisis or any drug addiction without the help of treatment providers, the legal community, law enforcement, prosecutors, public officials and families.

I am grateful to all who join forces to try to combat addiction…

I continue to be proud of the work we are doing with the Regional Judicial Opioid Initiative.

We launched R-JOI two years ago.

Now we are a group of eight states working together on this fight, instead of fighting alone.

What we are doing is unique.

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

The six New England states have formed their own R-JOI based on our model, and our efforts also have spun off a national opioid-fighting effort.

There’s another project that I want to talk about.

It’s access to justice.

There needs to be criminal justice reform and that reform starts with how we deal with defendants pre-trial.

I created a task force on bail reform to examine the Ohio bail system, and to see how we can serve the public, keep communities safe and ensure defendants show up in court without relying on a money bail system.

This task force has continued to meet since January of this year.

During our first meeting, task force members heard from representatives of the Pretrial Justice Institute.

That’s because we wanted to learn about the bail and pretrial systems used in other states ‒ what works.

The task force is examining Ohio’s bail system under Criminal Rule 46 and will make recommendations aimed at ensuring public safety while making sure the accused appear at their court hearings.

Two weeks ago, Ohio held its first Pretrial Justice Summit.

Teams of judges, prosecutors, defense attorneys, and probation and pretrial officers gathered together.

The mission was to hear about and discuss strategies to implement an effective pretrial system that most importantly:

Keeps the public safe.

Ensures that individuals accused of crimes appear in court as needed.

….and respects the presumption of innocence.

We, at the Ohio Supreme Court, are committed to continuing to offer education and training on this important topic for local courts and their justice system partners.

From access to justice and criminal justice reform to the opioid crisis, there is a lot we have done, but there is so much work to do.

This brings me back to this award and all the people before me who have been honored to receive it.

I would not be at this spot in my career if it were not for family, great teachers, friends and mentors. Lawyers and judges who I’ve been acquainted with, friends with, and have learned from.

People who lead not by their words but also by example.

Employing Kindness, decency, trust, intelligence and civility.

These are traits that serve every profession of course but particularly the legal profession.

It’s the legal profession which protects rights and lives. That works to hold those who do wrong accountable under the law.

The legal profession which solves problems for people…big problems and small.

I’ve said this many times, if people could solve their own problems we’d all be out of a job, judges included.

That message resonates with me most of all, helping people to solve their problems. It’s why I’ve chosen to use my law degree in public service. I’m glad that I did.

The projects that I pursue, helping those who battle drug addiction and those who are held unjustly behind bars awaiting the resolution of their cases ‒ are based on the tenants of justice.

When I look back at my career, from judge to prosecuting attorney to lieutenant governor, to Supreme Court justice and now Chief, I’m proud of many things I accomplished.

But I think in this past year, I’m most proud of what WE accomplished.

Lawyers, judges, advocates, and treatment providers coming together to ensure the right response to addiction will be there for those who need it.

Coming together to agree that the humane way that we, in the legal community, can treat those addicted to drugs is to redirect the focus against incarceration and towards treatment.

It’s coming together to ensure that our bail system does not continue to ruin lives.

Remembering that bail exists to facilitate defendants getting out of jail pending trial not keeping them locked up.

It’s doing what’s right and being civil; using reason and showing respect.

In closing, I will continue to champion what I know is right, and do so, I hope, with a sense of reason and respect and civility.

That’s how I’d like my time on the bench to be remembered.

Once again, thanks to President Weaver, the OSBA and its leadership, and its members for all that you do.

And thank you again for this incredible honor.

God Bless.