Speeches

Chief Justice Maureen O'Connor
New Magistrates Orientation
March 24, 2021

(The following was presented live via Zoom technology.)

Welcome, to all of you.

It’s the first week of spring, and today is a day of new beginnings.

It’s also the start of your journey as a magistrate.

Congratulations!

We also recently passed the one-year anniversary of the pandemic.

This is a milestone that reminds us of the incredible strides we have taken to keep our courts moving in Ohio.

While early 2021 still carries many of the world’s 2020 pandemic-related challenges, we are making progress on the health front.

Just last week, our governor announced that Ohioans 40 and older are eligible for the vaccines. In about a week, all those 16 and older will be eligible, too.

We can finally see a light at the end of the tunnel.  But, as Doctor Fauci says, we’re still in the tunnel.  Keep wearing your masks.

Even though last year presented huge struggles, it resulted in today’s exciting new journey for you.

You will start your career as a magistrate in a day and age when court hearings will occur with limited capacity — or even by laptop and video monitor.

If this pandemic has taught me anything, it is that remote technology has become the new way of working.

We have been changed forever.

Society’s adoption of remote technologies will only grow and improve.

This is why I appointed the i-Court Task Force.

This is a group that will is looking into the future of technology as it relates to courts and the practice of law.

They will make recommendations which will be shared and I hope you get the opportunity to read the report and weigh in.

I want to thank the magistrates who took the time to respond to the i-Court survey last November.

That’s when 91-percent of magistrates indicated they had participated in remote proceedings since the pandemic began.

They weighed in on the pros and cons of using remote technology to conduct court proceedings.

The Task Force will use these recommendations in their final report.

Today, we have at least 51 magistrates who are taking this three-day conference. 

This means that as of today, there are 835 magistrates working across Ohio’s appellate and trial courts.

It’s a dynamic number.

You officially outnumber our 723 judges.

Your appointment is your starting point on your path as a judicial officer.  

I want to thank you for making this commitment to our justice system.

I can tell you that I have walked in your shoes.

I served as a probate court magistrate.

I know first-hand the challenges you will be facing. 

This orientation is such a guiding light for you.

Let me assure you, those whom you will hear from over the three days have one mission…to help you transition into your new role…you are in good hands.

Your education doesn’t stop with this course.

We have a remarkable Judicial College which is nationally recognized and we have a superior judicial services division all dedicated to helping members of the judiciary to not only learn their jobs but to also excel in those jobs.

Please call on us — we are here for you. 

I want to go back to where we stand with the pandemic.

COVID affected everything we do.

From social distancing to mask wearing, the pandemic also decimated the job market and remains a huge challenge people who have lost their jobs.

Depending on what type of court you preside in, your cases may very well have the pandemic as a ‘party.’

Municipal and Common Pleas magistrates can expect a possible rise in evictions and foreclosures.

That’s why we have created documents called “The Evictions Report and Recommendations” and “The Foreclosure and Civil Justice Report and Recommendations.”

These guides will walk you, as magistrates, through the tools and considerations that will help you greatly.

One very important example is mediation.  We are testing an Online Dispute Resolution pilot program.

Seventeen (Ohio courts were picked to participate in the pilot program to help with evictions, foreclosures, small claims, and family cases.

This is a way to allow mediators from one part of the state to mediate cases in another part of the state, virtually.

I know you are coming into this job during uncertain times, but I want to reassure you.

You did not get this job by chance.

You are in this position because a judge considered your knowledge of the law and found you to be trustworthy and hardworking and most of all fair in your decision-making ability.

Both magistrates and judges have the same mission when they take their places on the bench every day.

You must bestow justice faithfully and impartially.

You must ensure that all litigants and interested parties know that you listened thoroughly to their cases.

This week’s orientation program will focus on the existing responsibilities and the role of a magistrate.

So, I want to take a moment to get you up to speed on two rules that will affect you.

A major change for magistrates would be proposed alterations to Criminal Rule 19 and Superintendence Rule 36.33.

These would allow magistrates to preside over certified specialized dockets held in municipal courts and in the general division of common pleas courts on a temporary or as-needed basis.

This proposed change went out for public comment last month.

There’s also a list of non-Rules of Practice and Procedure items that you need to know about.

And there are updated protection order forms that need your attention. 

They were adopted by the Court, and go into effect April 15th.

These new protection order forms have been updated to reflect recent changes in the law.

They also are being made more user-friendly.

Another major development is the permanent implementation of the Civil Stalking Protection Order Mediation Pilot Program.

These are adopted amendments to Rule of Superintendence 16.

In the pilot program, mediation was a success in cases such as neighbors fighting over pet disputes and about property lines.

It also allows a common pleas court to offer mediation in certain types of civil stalking protection order cases.

Another change I would like to point out involves the standardization of sealing and expungement forms. 

These are standard forms that could be used by individuals and courts for every instance, under Ohio law or Supreme Court rules.

They address what kind of information can be sealed, expunged, or restricted from public access.

In addition to this week’s conference, magistrates should try to attend a Judicial College Webinar on April 8th dealing with Mediating Civil stalking Protection orders.

I know changes can be difficult, especially when you’re in a brand new position.

But, like I said, there’s plenty of help embedded in our Ohio judiciary.   

Now, back to your role as magistrate…

Over the next few days, your work will focus on making the transition from the bar to the bench. 

I’d like to highlight some of the sessions the Judicial College is offering you at this week’s orientation to help you.

Representing our Court, you will hear from our Administrative Director Jeff Hagler, who will give you court updates that may affect you.

You will also hear from Colleen Rosshirt, manager of the Case Management Section, and our statistical analyst Brian Farrington, who will talk about case flow management. 

There will also be an important session on working with interpreters and language access issues with Bruno Romero.

Board of Professional Conduct Director Rick Dove and Disciplinary Counsel Joe Caligiuri will talk about ethical and professional conduct for magistrates. 

You will hear Magistrate Michael Walsh, of the 9th District Court of Appeals, address decision writing.

Former Cleveland Municipal Court Judge Ronald Adrine and Fairfield County Common Pleas Magistrate Jillian Boone will talk about procedural fairness and implicit bias.

Other critical topics will be addressed this week, such as basics on hearsay, leadership, and working with pro se litigants.

Ample time will be dedicated to a discussion about your specific practice area with experienced and new peers.

Prior to this course, you were able to experience four of our more than 200 hours of courses offered for you by the Judicial College.

All of these are delivered virtually online and available to you 24/7. 

The Judicial College now has 46 online CLE courses designed just for you. And new ones are released monthly, including:

Regarding your specific practice areas, the Judicial College is offering courses on:

And many more.

These courses can be viewed for free at any time, from any computer.

In total – online and via webinar — and for the remaining months of 2021, the Judicial College will offer approximately 220 hours of education.

Remember, one of the best ongoing resources available to you is your mentor.

Please take advantage of all these resources.

And remember to seek out the offerings of the Judicial College and the Office of Court Services.

We are here to serve the public through the judiciary… and you are now a full-fledged member of the judiciary.

As I mentioned, Ohio has more than 800 magistrates to assist in the workload of our courts.

The work is rewarding.

I often say, we solve the problems of people who cannot help themselves.  If they could they wouldn’t need us.

What does a party have a right to expect from you?

First and foremost, respect.

No matter whether represented by counsel or pro se, the party needs to know that you respect them and their position…even if they are legally wrong.

They have the right to expect professionalism and competency on your part.

Speaking of self-represented litigants or pro se — if you become easily frustrated or have no patience, you probably need to seriously re-examine what you’re doing here.

Pro se litigants can be some of the most trying of all those coming before a court.

Sometimes, their lack of legal knowledge can actually help you put their problem into perspective. 

That’s because the best solution often isn’t the “legal’ solution, but rather a compromise.

You may be able to fashion a solution because you listened well.

You have the power to instill trust in the parties.  And your proposed solution will make sense — and save time and money.

Just as important — your decision will allow people to move on.

Not every case has to be a battle.  It’s your job to see to that.

As you transition from the bar to the bench, your life will change. 

But hopefully, not so much that it changes you.

Remember to stay professionally active.

Be active in your community, and focused on friends and family.

You will be a better magistrate by paying attention to your work-life balance.

Once again, thank you for listening.  

Best of luck to each of you.

And may God Bless.