Speeches

Chief Justice Maureen O'Connor
New Magistrates Orientation
September 29, 2021

(The following remarks were presented during a virtual meeting.)

Good morning, to all new magistrates!

Welcome to the Supreme Court of Ohio and the Judicial College.

I wish we were meeting in person. Covid has gone on for too long. If only Ohio’s vaccination rates would increase, we’d be in much better shape.

I do want to compliment the leadership, managers, and staff of the Judicial College for advancing their craft of remote meetings and courses.

As magistrates, you will find – as judges do – that Judicial College courses are a godsend in guiding you to do your best while on the bench.

Due to the hard work of the college, the content of these remote courses is totally on par with in-person meetings.

I want to start today by saying “Congratulations!”

You are taking a giant new step along your professional journeys.

Each of you has become a magistrate because a judge has the utmost confidence in your knowledge of the law and the application of the rule of law.

Yours is a great responsibility. You know that.

But your appointment should be inspiring to you, and you should be proud of yourself in this new position.  

Your purpose is simple and noble – to serve the public and those who come before you fairly.

I hope each of you are among those types of people who work harder when they receive accolades and affirmation for their good work.

The positive attributes that led to your appointment should be built upon as you progress.

This is my hope because Ohio is counting on you.

We have more than 800 magistrates working away in our state. That eclipses the 723 judgeships in Ohio.

There is no question that you will be ascending to the bench during a time of great change in our country’s legal history.

The American form of government has always relied on the steady hand of the judiciary.

But as our society and its problems become more complex, the cases spawned by that complexity will require greater competence from all members of the judiciary.

You will be called upon to have a deep knowledge of the law.

You will need to apply that knowledge in various ways because no two cases coming before you will be the same.

I served as a magistrate myself – in probate court.

I know the challenging world you will face.

But I can tell you that, fortunately, you’ll never be alone as you make progress along your paths.

During this orientation, you will hear from judges, attorneys, and fellow magistrates from across Ohio who can offer advice and resources.

Just remember that these veterans you will see and hear represent only a few of those available to help you manage cases and write opinions.

These three days will be full of expert guidance as you make the transition to the bench.

You will learn about the authority of a magistrate and the rules of practice you must follow.

You will receive the tools needed to carry out the basics of what it takes to be a good magistrate.

The fundamental skills you will learn include:

How to write a reasoned and thoughtful judicial decision.

How to understand the research behind that writing.

And here is a crucial attribute you must develop, which will serve you well:

How to establish a judicial presence in the courtroom.

Perhaps you haven’t thought about this before. But you will be in charge of cases and the courtroom will be yours to manage.

How will you project the presence needed to show the fairness, honesty, and aptitude your position requires?

Experienced judges, magistrates, and lawyers will accompany you through these practices during your orientation.

For you to make this journey from the bar to the bench, remember – you are here because you have demonstrated your legal knowledge.

Others have found you trustworthy to make fair decisions.

Over the next few days, your work will focus on your transition to the bench and the attributes you already have – and those you will need to develop. 

Some of the upcoming sessions will address standard operations.

Among those are:

Case flow management.

Writing decisions.

And your conduct, both ethical and professional.

Other programming will include:  

Administrative changes impacting magistrates.

And the increasing need for awareness regarding procedural fairness and implicit bias.

Social movements over the past two years have put a spotlight on inequality in the justice system.

Disparate treatment happens in our justice system.

It is a problem we need to address.

How you treat people in your hearings….

How you opine ….

And how well you listen and engage with litigants can make a positive difference.

Being a magistrate, like being a judge, requires possessing humility and level headedness. Please remember the power of the position is not yours to abuse. It’s not about you as an individual but rather you as a public servant judicial officer. 

Other critical components discussed this week will involve:

Leadership.

Handling hearsay.

… and working with pro se litigants.

You will also benefit from deeper dives into your specific practice area with seasoned veterans and new peers.

If you need more details about a certain subject or situation, the Judicial College has dozens of online courses designed just for magistrates.

There are timely topics on how to conduct court proceedings and so much more. You’ll learn about varied topics such as:

Virtual operations.

Foreclosures and evictions during the pandemic.

And stress management.

Other longstanding issues also illustrate COVID’s impact, but in a more subtle way.

These courses demonstrate the need for courts to adapt to community concerns.

Those include:

Childhood development.

The science and treatment of Substance abuse.

….and domestic violence issues.

All of this informative content is free and easily accessible, any time, from your computer or mobile device.

But don’t forget that these courses of the Judicial College and aid from our Court Services department are adjuncts to something that will always complete your learning – the human touch.

One of the best support systems available to you will be your mentor.  

I mentioned earlier the rising complexity of matters coming before our courts.

This complexity is reflected in the rapid rise in the past decade of specialized dockets.

There are several groundbreaking rule changes that have occurred recently involving magistrates and specialized dockets.

The changes are aimed at addressing the growing caseloads in treatment courts – and court programs that address the underlying issues of the disease of substance use disorder and mental health problems that contribute to criminal behavior.

New rules lay out the standards and requirements for a magistrate to handle one of these dockets.

Among the new rules are those granting magistrates the ability to preside over a specialized docket in criminal cases on a temporary basis.

It's very likely your court has one of these treatment courts.

Ohio is at the forefront nationally with more than 250 specialized dockets certified by the Supreme Court.

They're dedicated to broad populations, or specific subsets, including:

Human trafficking survivors.

Military veterans.

Families.

…. and juveniles.

These treatment courts are proven to reduce recidivism and save lives.

The work of magistrates is growing – and rewarding.

As I often say, the only reason courts are in existence is to help people solve their problems because they are unable to solve them themselves…if they could we’d be out of jobs. 

Of your many responsibilities, one set is vital:

It is fairness and a determination to adhere to the rule of law with impartiality.

As members of the judiciary, we are here to serve our fellow citizens.

Remember:

Each party coming before you deserves respect.

There will be times when the proceedings in your courtroom will be frustrating.

This can be especially true with pro se litigants.

Their lack of legal knowledge can be wearisome.

I ask that you be patient.

Sometimes, the best solution might not be conventional.

It may be about the art of compromise.

That’s one of the areas you will learn about this week.

Not every case needs to be a fight to the finish.

You will learn quickly that listening is a valued component in what you do every day.

You must ensure that all litigants and interested parties know that you listened to them.

You must make it clear that you considered their point of view thoroughly.

Try to view your workday not as a time of dealing with cases but as time dealing with people.

These are people who have a problem that needs to be solved – with you in a key role in solving the problem. 

See people, not cases.

Your new position as a magistrate will be an adjustment.

Your life will change, personally and professionally.

So, don’t be afraid to reach out to other magistrates for advice.

You should be paired with a mentor.

We all need an experienced person to help us with perspective – and to be a sounding board.

You are fortunate to have a magistrate’s association.

Join and get active.

You will make friends and learn.

And when you acquire a few years of seasoning, you can give back as a mentor yourself.

As you take your new position on the bench, stay professionally active.

Engage in your community.

And remember not to lose your focus on friends and family.

Thank you, once again, for taking on this honorable position.

I wish all of you Godspeed and the best of luck.

Please remember that the Supreme Court of Ohio – and our staff – are great resources for you.

We are always here for you.