Kids Voting OhioRetired Chief Justice Maureen O'Connor
February 16, 2021
(The following was videotaped for inclusion in the Kids Voting Ohio Video Library.)
Hello. I’m Ohio Supreme Court Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor.
I’m happy to be here today to share my story with you.
I am proud to say I am the first woman to serve as chief justice of The Supreme Court of Ohio.
I was elected Chief Justice in 2010 and was re-elected to my second term as chief in 2016.
Before being elected chief justice, I was an associate justice on the Court.
To qualify for election as chief justice, associate justice, or judge, you must be a licensed attorney with at least six years’ experience.
Before I was elected to the Supreme Court I was elected to be Ohio’s lieutenant governor for a 4-year term.
Before that I was a trial court judge and then the county prosecutor. These are all elected positions.
But this path wasn’t something I thought about when I was your age in school.
In college, I studied to be a doctor, then a history teacher.
I realized that neither career would be a good fit for me.
I was always drawn to the law and decided that having a law degree would be a rewarding experience. So, I applied to, Cleveland-Marshall College of Law in Cleveland.
I was accepted into law school, and that decision opened many doors for me. It was a good fit.
Soon after graduating, I started my own law practice.
I represented many clients, including criminal defendants, parents in juvenile cases, small business owners and heirs in probate matters.
That’s when an important door opened for me. It was a door I wasn’t planning on.
I was asked to become a magistrate in Summit County Probate Court.
A magistrate is a lawyer who is appointed to assist a judge with the cases of the court.
This is where I got my first taste of being a judge.
I found out that I was helping people who could not help themselves.
I became a public servant.
I went on to become a judge and a prosecutor.
Later, another door opened.
I was asked to run for the office of lieutenant governor.
Bob Taft ran for governor and I was his running mate as the lieutenant governor candidate.
We won! And when I entered office I also became head of the Ohio Department of Public Safety.
That appointment allowed me to develop administrative skills that have served me well ever since.
Then another door opened – as a candidate for justice of the Supreme Court.
I served for 8 years and then asked voters to elect me as chief justice. They did.
In my role, as Chief Justice, I lead the judicial branch in Ohio.
The primary function of the judicial branch is to fairly and impartially settle disputes, using what’s called the “rule of law.”
The rule of law is a principle under which all people and institutions are accountable to our laws that are equally enforced, independently judged and consistent with human rights principles.
I am one of seven justices on the Supreme Court.
The Supreme Court is Ohio’s court of last resort.
We interpret the laws according to the Ohio and U.S. constitutions, and we regulate the practice of law in our state.
Let me explain the path a case takes to get to the Supreme Court.
When someone is charged with a crime, their case is tried in a local court. This is called criminal law.
Local courts also handle cases of one person or group or institution suing another party. This is called civil law.
A person who loses their criminal or civil case in the local court has the right to appeal.
This means taking the case to an appellate court.
There are 12 appeals courts in Ohio.
Those who lose at the appellate court can ask the Supreme Court to hear their case.
But, we may or may not take your case.
At the Supreme Court we agree to hear cases that are of great public importance or contain constitutional issues that need to be addressed. We agree to hear cases where the law, as stated by lower courts, may be unclear.
When we do take up a case, we may agree or affirm the lower court’s decision or we may disagree or reverse the lower court, sometimes we remand or send back the case to the lower court for a ‘do-over’ of the case.
There are certain cases we must take.
Death penalty cases, for instance.
Yet, most of our jurisdiction is “discretionary,” which means that hearing the case is up to us as a group of seven justices.
We hold oral arguments for the cases we agree to take in.
During oral arguments, each side gets 15 minutes to address the court.
Lawyers for the clients use oral arguments to try to convince the justices to decide the case in their favor by pointing out how the lower court made a mistake in the law.
After oral argument the justices meet – just the seven of us. We discuss the cases, and we vote on each one.
We don’t always agree as a group. When four or more justices agree, this is called the majority, and one of the justices in the majority writes the majority opinion.
Justices who disagree are free to write about why they are disagreeing. This is called a dissent.
When the Supreme Court issues its opinion, the decision is law.
So, when lower courts are faced with the same situation again they will read what our opinion says and decide their case accordingly.
All of this happens at our beautiful building in downtown Columbus.
You may come to the Thomas J. Moyer Ohio Judicial Center and watch while our Court is in session.
You can also watch these proceedings on TV or online.
The Court has other important duties.
Creating rules of procedure and providing guidance for all of our courts.
And we oversee the practice of law by attorneys.
You, as students, have a duty to become an engaged and informed citizen of your community, your state, and your country.
I encourage you to visit our building – either in person or online. It is so important that you become familiar with courts and the law.
I am a huge believer in what’s called civic engagement.
It’s important to know that the government’s power is limited and that the government serves the people, not the other way around.
If you can’t make it to Columbus, you can learn about Ohio’s judicial branch of government by visiting the Court’s Judicial Branch Education Resources page at the address on your screen.
I have one request, that you study hard, learn all you can, and remember that as a citizen, you have a duty to not only know about your government but to actively participate.
Share your knowledge with others.
We need good citizens in Ohio and America.
And to be a good citizen, you must understand how our government works and participate and that participation means voting. It’s the most important act a citizen can do.
Thank you all.