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Justice Speeches

New Magistrate Orientation
Retired Chief Justice Maureen O'Connor
September 30, 2020

(Remarks delivered remotely on September 30, 2020, to a virtual audience)

Thank you, Christy (Tull), for your kind introduction.

welcome, new magistrates, to the Ohio Supreme Court.

I wish we could be in the same room today.

But the global pandemic forces us to connect virtually. 

Congratulations for arriving at this step on your new professional journey.

You are about to embark on a critical mission.

As a magistrate you will be carrying out key duties in the state judiciary.

There are over 800 magistrates working across Ohio’s appellate and trial courts.

That compares with 722 judgeships in the state.

Judgeships can only be created by the General Assembly.

But the magistrate number is dynamic. It keeps rising.

rise proves that the need for magistrates in our state is greater than ever.

And that need reflects the state of our society.

It reflects the demands that society places on our court system – judges, magistrates and staff.

I want you to know that you are not alone when it comes to advice and resources.

I was a probate court magistrate – not all that many years ago.

I know the challenges you will face.

Each part – managing cases, writing opinions, scheduling hearings, and more, will test you every day.

It will feel overwhelming at times.

So, I want you to know that we have a great staff at the Court, and we are here to help.

You will meet many of these staff members while you are here the next few days.

You will receive a great deal of expert guidance.

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

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

These are basics that you will build upon very quickly.

For example:

You will learn how to write a reasoned and thoughtful judicial decision.

You will understand the research that’s behind that writing.

Perhaps you haven’t thought about this one – you will learn how to establish a judicial presence in the courtroom.

Seasoned judges, lawyers, and magistrates will guide you through these processes.

I have no doubt that, based on your background and sound legal judgment, you can achieve a smooth transition from the bar.

You didn’t reach this point in your careers by coincidence.

You are here because each of you possess a demonstrated track record of legal knowledge.

In addition, you are deemed trustworthy in your ability to make fair decisions.

This orientation will provide you a chance to learn the tools you need to sit on the bench.

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.

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

You will also hear from our Court Services Director Stephanie Graubner Nelson.

Our statistical analyst Brian Farrington will talk about case flow management. 

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

You will hear from Magistrate C. Michael Walsh of the Ninth District Court of Appeals.  He will share his experience about judicial decision writing.

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

The recent and on-going protests that have focused on the inequality of the justice system highlight disparate treatment within that system.

It’s a reality and it must be addressed.

You are in a position to address the problem.

How you treat people in your hearings, how you opine, how you listen and interact with litigants can make a positive difference.

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

Ample time will also be dedicated to 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 100 CLE hours of courses offered for you by the Judicial College.

These courses are delivered virtually online and are available to you 24/7. 

The Judicial College now has 57 online courses designed just for you, and new ones are released monthly. 

You will learn:

How to hold virtual hearings, Understanding substance abuse and Stress and conflict management.

There are courses that drill down into specifics of law and practice in these areas: 

Child development basics

Fines and fees

Evictions and foreclosures in times of COVID

Domestic violence.

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

In addition, for the remaining months of 2020, the Judicial College will offer approximately 250 hours of live webinars.

Remember, one of the best on-going 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.

Our goal is a simple, yet noble one. 

You are here to serve the public as 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.

As I often say, we help people who cannot help themselves. 

We solve problems that they cannot solve themselves.  If they could, they wouldn’t need us.

Of your many responsibilities, you have one simple, yet vital goal.

We, as members of the judiciary, are here to serve our fellow citizens.

Your work will be challenging, yet rewarding.

Please remember this:

Each party who stands before you deserves respect.

There will be times – trying times for you – when the proceedings in your court room will be frustrating.

This can be especially true when dealing with pro se litigants. Their lack of legal knowledge can be wearisome.

I ask that you offer patience.

Sometimes, the work that you do isn’t so much about providing a legal solution.

It’s about the “art of compromise.” 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.

We are charged with dispensing justice faithfully and impartially.

You must ensure that all litigants and interested parties know that you listened to them – that you considered their point of view thoroughly.

Try to view your day not as dealing with cases but as dealing with people who have a problem that needs to be solved.  See people not cases.

Your new position as a magistrate will be a transition.

And as a result, your life will change, both personally and professionally.

As you transition, don’t be afraid to reach out to other magistrates for advice.

I hope that you realize that judges do that all the time.

You should be paired with a mentor. We all need an experienced person to help with our perspective and to be a sounding board.

Magistrates are fortunate that there is the Magistrates Association…join and get active.

You will make friends and learn.

And when you get a few years of experience, you will be able to give back by acting as a mentor yourself.

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.

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