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Justice Speeches

Ohio Common Pleas Judges Association Winter Conference
Retired Chief Justice Maureen O'Connor
December 1, 2021

(The following remarks were presented at the Embassy Suites Hotel in Dublin, OH.)

Thank you, Judge (Scott) Gusweiler.

Good morning.

It’s great to be here with you -- in person.

Let’s hope that in the new year, the pandemic finally abates and we can hold more conferences like this one, and a lot less Zoom.  

I’m excited to see you, and I know you are happy to see your fellow common pleas judges in the same room.

I’d like to start by swearing in the new officers and trustees to the Ohio Common Pleas Judges Association.

First, let me recognize them.

Judge Robert C. Hickson from Morrow County, your new president.

Judge Taryn L. Heath of Stark County, president-elect.

Judge Brendan J. Sheehan of Cuyahoga County, first vice president.

Judge Julie R. Selmon of Monroe County, second vice president.

Judge Nick A. Selvaggio of Champaign County, third vice president.

Judge Ian B. English of Lucas County, fourth vice president.

Judge Linda J. Jennings, also from Lucas County, secretary.

Judge Mark K. Wiest of Wayne County, treasurer.

And Judge Scott T. Gusweiler (GUS’-why-lehr) of Brown County, past president.

There are two new trustees ….

Judge Molly Mack of Wood County.

….and Judge Martin Burchfield of Van Wert County.

I will also mention the Trustees whose terms don’t require swearing in at this time.

They include Judge Michael Ater of Ross County.

Judge Joy Malek Oldfield of Summit County.

Judge Michelle Garcia Miller of Jefferson County.

….and Judge Andrew P. Ballard of Lawrence County.

Before I swear in Judge Hickson as your new president, I would like all other new officers and trustees to come forward.

I am going to read the entire oath, and you will reply at the end with “I do.”

Do you swear to support the Constitution of the United States of America, the Constitution of the state of Ohio, and the constitution and by-laws of the Ohio Common Pleas Judges Association, and to faithfully perform the duties incumbent upon you in the office to which you have been elected, so help you God?

[Pause for replies]

Now, I’m going to swear in your new Ohio Common Pleas Judges Association President, Judge Robert C. Hickson Jr. of Morrow County ….

Judge, please repeat after me…

I, Judge Robert C. Hickson Jr., do solemnly swear ….

….that I will support the Constitution of the United States of America, the Constitution of the state of Ohio, and the constitution and by-laws of the Ohio Common Pleas Judges Association…..

….and I will faithfully perform the duties incumbent upon me in the office of President of the Ohio Common Pleas Judges Association, to which I have been elected….

….so help me God.

Congratulations to your new officers and trustees!

I want to thank all of you for your perseverance during the pandemic – as we approach the two-year mark.

You kept things moving in your courts, and you also kept up with your CLE requirements.

The Ohio Judicial College tells me they offered 310 courses in 2021, including more than 100 online courses that were available 24/7.

Congratulations, as well, for advancing your knowledge.

Now, I’d like to brief you on items that are moving along at the Supreme Court and the legislature.

First, I want to touch on criminal justice reform.

There are two bail reform bills in front of the general assembly.

They are House Bill 315 and Senate Bill 182.

These bail reform bills would create a rebuttable presumption that a defendant would be released on their own recognizance.

Beyond that, it would require the least amount of bond or bond restrictions necessary.

It would also require local courts to use text or email alerts to let defendants know about future court dates.

Of course, many of you already use the texting option. Some of you have been doing this for quite some time.

It’s one of those no-brainer solutions that applies just a little bit of technology while yielding a whole of lot of benefit.

It’s very important to note that this bill will be amended over the next few months.

In fact, both bills are in the early stages of the legislative process and subject to further negotiations and changes.

But we know that the bills will generally focus on bail reform.

I also expect a criminal justice reform omnibus bill.

It will be a larger bill, covering several different aspects of criminal justice reform.

It won’t be a bill that merely focuses on increasing drug trafficking penalties or promoting bail reform.

It will cover many areas, but all under the criminal justice umbrella.

It will likely be debated and amended through 2022.

So, stay tuned.

Speaking of bail reform ….as you know, the Court approved a rule effective July 1st.

The rule requires bail schedules used by municipal and county courts to include a rebuttable presumption that defendants can be released on non-monetary personal recognizance before resorting to formal bail.

For counties with more than one municipal or county court, the courts must collectively establish a uniform bail schedule for use by those courts.

These changes took place based on recommendations from the Ohio Task Force to Examine the Ohio Bail System.

I believe these changes make our system more fair, and at the same time, address public safety concerns.

By now, I hope that all of you are familiar with Judicial Votes Count, the reliable non-partisan web site that provides voters with information about candidates in judicial elections.

 This project started in 2015 and it’s grown – but not enough. We need to get more judicial candidates to take advantage of this site, and we need more voters to make it a mainstay of their education about candidates.

 I am happy to announce that the site is going to get a boost in a number of ways.

Beginning in 2022, JVC will have a new website that will be fully supported and hosted on the web by the Supreme Court.

Another new development is a small appropriation from the legislature to promote JVC. The money will be used to advertise the site to voters -- primarily through digital communications and social media.

We will be building on many continuing partnerships, including the League of Women Voters of Ohio, the Bliss Institute at the University of Akron, the Ohio State Bar Association and the state news media and broadcasters’ groups.

These updates and boosts couldn’t have come at a better time. Next year, there will be about 170 judicial races.

And while voter education about judges is increasing, we’re hoping to see a substantial uptick in visits to the site.

Keep this in mind when you’re running.

Don’t just be a name on the ballot. Be a presence on the ballot.

Whether you’re opposed in the race or not, this is an excellent way for voters and your community to learn about your background and qualifications.

Moving on, our public comment period just ended (November 4) on some proposed rules that will modernize our court.

During the pandemic, we all relied on remote technology to keep our courts operating smoothly.

I wanted to take it a step further.

So, I convened the Improving Court Operations Using Remote Technology Task Force, otherwise known as I-COURT.

This task force was directed to study how technology upgrades can modernize the courtroom experience.

A few of the proposals we are examining include:

Expanding the use of remote technology to conduct virtual hearings.

Giving courts the flexibility to use technology to meet the needs of individual cases while increasing all the parties’ access to justice.

Another option we are examining would expand the ways that testimony can be taken at a deposition.

It would allow depositions to be taken remotely using a video conference platform and expand how pre-recorded testimony is taken and stored.

For now, we are looking through the public comments and we’ll keep you updated on what we decide.

We also have amendments to the court security standards that went into effect July 1st.

The amendments focus on communication devices in the court facility. 

Specifically, it is recommended that each local court’s security committee formulate a plan governing the presence and use of communications devices.

These include mobile phones, computers, tablets, and cameras.

Each court should specify how these devices can be used in the courthouse, the courtroom, and courthouse grounds. 

Your plans should provide the following:

The use of these devices must not be intrusive and must not disturb court functions or distract from court proceedings.

At no time should the public, jurors, or witnesses be able to use these communication devices during a trial.

However, with the court’s prior approval, the news media must be permitted to use these communication devices in the courtroom.

Of course, when it comes to the media, they also cannot be intrusive, must follow the judge’s rules, and cannot disrupt.

Also starting July 1st, we adopted a rule that would allow magistrates to oversee adult specialized dockets, if there is a temporary absence or disability of a judge.

The biggest endeavor that’s moving along is the creation of the Ohio Criminal Sentencing Database Platform.

As of late November, more than 50 Common Pleas judges in over 20 counties have joined the project and are participating at some level.

Joining the project begins with an informational meeting, then a site or learning visit. That’s followed by piloting or testing the system.

We anticipate that soon several judges will “go live” on the system.

I want to dispel the notion that you as an individual judge will have your identifying information as a data point and somehow will be disadvantaged, misrepresented, tracked, etc.

There is no information that you will submit that is not a public record in the clerk’s office.

Sentencing entries detailing your sentence for every defendant are readily available to anyone who wants to see them.

The OSDP isn’t using your name as a data point. Let me analogize:

The data points will be in a repository if you will…when a research request is formulated, those data points are mined and the answer…the big picture is created.

If another request is formulated, a different big picture is created…none of those big pictures have you in them. 

Think of it this way, you’ve all seen a giant swarm of insects in the sky. It forms a dark figure that moves and changes shapes. You can’t see the individual insect, but you can see and describe and measure the swarm. The big picture is like that swarm…don’t be offended, but you are the insect.

After reviewing your agenda, it seems that our partner University of Cincinnati IT Professor Hazem Said and several judges will give you a presentation on Friday about the Uniform Sentencing Entry.

I love the title, “How We Can Learn to Stop Worrying and Tell the Sentencing Story.”

I look forward to hearing your ideas about this presentation.

If the last two years taught us anything, it is that we shouldn’t take conferences like these for granted.

Conferences – especially those in person – are a chance to share best practices, reconnect with colleagues, and see old and new faces.  

I hope you enjoy this conference.

Just think – for the rest of the week you don’t have to worry about un-muting yourself.

May each and every one of you have a wonderful holiday season.

Thanks again for the work you do.

And may God Bless.

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