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Justice Speeches

Eighth District Judicial Conference
Retired Chief Justice Maureen O'Connor
October 10, 2019

Chief Justice Maureen O'Connor
Eighth District Judicial Conference "Justice System: From Judge to Social Worker and Back Again"
Oct. 10, 2019

(Remarks prepared for delivery on Oct. 10, 2019, at the Landerhaven, Mayfield Heights, OH)

Good morning, everyone.

I'm always happy to be invited to participate in the Eighty District Judicial conference

You have quite an agenda for today, and tomorrow morning.

The agenda is spot-on.

There are many critical issues for judges to consider as our court world evolves.

Each one is related to another — access to civil justice, the bail system, debtors' prisons, and pre-trial reform, sentencing reform and technology and innovation.

All of these must remain top of mind for us.

This conference is focusing on mental illness and drug use, and that is top-of-mind for us as well.

I commend all of you for coming here and learning from the speakers and panelists - and for learning from each other.

The headline on the agenda is thought-provoking:

"The Justice System: From Judge to Social Worker and Back Again."

Yes, all of us have become social workers in one way or another because of the problems that come before us. And concepts we need to master if we are to deal successfully.

Specialty Court judges, not only Drug court judges and family court judges, certainly, feel they have worked their way into that title.

Our society's mental illness and drug problems are so deep that judicial assignments have by necessity, drifted into the social worker arena.

Many of the solutions for the cases that come before today's courts are routed in the arena of mental health and drug treatment.

The imposition of incarceration makes way for counseling, treatment and accountability.

The talents and skills needed by today's trial judge are vastly different than even 15 years ago. Previously the solution was to deal with the person and removal from society was the chosen option.

Today because of an enhanced understanding of mental illness, drug addiction, alcohol addiction and the physiology of the brain, judges have tools that were non-existent previously.

These tools and your training allows you to do your job in a more successful way with the goal to reduce violence, recidivism, and all that accompanies criminal behavior.

But it's also to restore the human being, the family, and the community.You are bringing your enhanced social work-type of knowledge and application to the world of justice.

On the flipside, those professionals who toil in the fields of mental health, drug treatment and family aid are also becoming more familiar with the demands of our jobs, as judges.

Occupations in the behavioral sciences and justice systems are blending into each other's territory more than ever.

It's a two-way street. Or maybe a better metaphor is an intersection, or even a town square.

Of course, there's a courthouse in that town square.

That's another way of saying social problems are right there in front of us - and we need to work with each other, across disciplines - to heal our society.

We must do this while making sure the rule of law and justice are the underpinnings to any initiative.ature of addiction is complex.

Solving the problem is difficult. You know this. You see it every day.

But there is reason for hope, despite the bad days that you have in court and the onslaught of horrific statistics that continue to roll out.

Hope is there because we have made progress on many fronts.

I have to tell you that hope cannot be de-coupled from hard work and smart work, and continuing education.

We as judges must continue our training and the sharing of knowledge.

We also must be open to throwing out old prejudices and archaic thinking.

One example of a reason for hope, one that is tied directly to education and having an open mind, is the rise of Medication Assisted Treatment (MAT).

The claim that it was useless to fight drug abuse with medication took root in the 1960s. It's only now being widely rejected.

Why now? Because it works, and there is evidence to prove that and more importantly there are former substance abusers who are living proof of it.

The days of "Just Say No," and automatically locking up users, should be over. We are getting there.

It goes without saying that Those who commit grievous crimes must face the appropriate consequences.

But those who commit crimes against themselves, their own futures and their families and communities - they are in a different category.

As judges, we need to acknowledge the difference.

When we do, we are steps away from following through with an effective plan for an addicted offender.

You will receive a history lesson and good perspective today from the author of "Dreamland," Sam Quinones.

I understand that Mr. Quinones is releasing a young-adult version of "Dreamland," with the hope that high school teachers will use it in their classrooms.

The author wants to educate and, hopefully, get students to take action in their own lives and, perhaps, their communities. (Source: Sam Quinones' blog).

I echo the belief that we are at a point in this crisis where using or abusing drugs isn't just a question of discipline, or willpower.

It's no longer about making that kind of choice.

We are beyond that.

Addiction is embedded deep within one's brain chemistry, and must be treated as a disease.

That's why I'm a strong believer in MAT.

I mentioned at the State of the Judiciary last month that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has studied this topic exhaustively.

So, too, have other medical and behavioral professionals.

The CDC's list of overdose prevention strategies take into account the complexities of the human body paired with the complexities of drugs.

To sum it up, the evidence is scientific and it's compelling.

There is such a thing as a road to recovery.

It is a road paved with science-based solutions, and human understanding.

This is why I'm so proud of our Specialized Dockets Section of the Supreme Court.

In Ohio, we have 256 Specialized Dockets courts.

Each court is a road paved with knowledge-based action.

Of those 256 dockets, drug courts in Ohio make up 180. The number keeps growing, and will continue to rise. (Source: Monica Kagey.)

Drug courts combine tough love with compassion.

Judges understand that with two steps forward, there's often one step backward - or maybe two, or three. The backward steps mean a relapse.

But the success of this approach, overall, is proven.

Just as a reminder, the Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services is hosting M-A-T symposiums in the next few weeks. You should consider attending.

Governor Mike DeWine sees the value of our drug courts.

The new state budget will provide for at least 30 new drug courts and the gov's future plan is for doubling that.

It's re-assuring that the executive branch sees the value of drug courts in the lives of those addicted -- and their families.

MAT is reimbursed through Medicaid, and that is a big plus for moving this ahead.

We have put a giant dent in the doctor-shopping that Mister Quinones and others observed.

We did this through data gathering and sharing - and then by going further with our legislative partners to suggest new legislation that will work across state borders.

Prescription drug monitoring program (PDMP) statistics provide health authorities real-time information on what's being prescribed, so patients can't drive to the next town or state for more pain pills.

Of course, without proper treatment, those deprived of prescription opioids seek illegal heroin - or worse - drugs laced with fentanyl.

This is why treatment with court intervention is a workable combination.

Currently, addiction treatment numbers are trending in the right direction.

This isn't happening quickly enough, of course.

But we are making progress.

From what I see on your agenda, you will be hearing from experts who will help all of us continue this progress in the fields of drug treatment and mental illness.

I'm happy to see sessions such as, "How to address the population of mentally ill, developmentally disabled, and drug defendant offenders."

You also have panels and speakers addressing treatment for the incarcerated, the role of juvenile and municipal courts and treatment, and guides for domestic relations courts, and probate and civil divisions.

Now, I want to briefly touch on some items that directly affect your court governance.

I encourage you to check out the Data Dashboards on the Supreme Court's home page.

While the dashboards currently contain trial court data, including judge data, our staff is working to have appellate court-level data soon.

Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas has remarkable transparency for your dockets. The report is judge specific and allows all to review the performance of each. That's a good thing because it allows hard working judges to be recognized for the standards they meet. And it encourages judges to recognize where there is room for improvement. Please be reminded that the Judicial Services section of the Supreme Court stands ready to assist any judge with any issue at any time.

Next, I want to touch on criminal justice reform.

The public comment period for changes to the bail and bond schedule, as recommended by the task force I convened will end on October 25.

This is a real "hot button issue" right now with jail overcrowding in Cuyahoga County. (Source: Judge Richard McMonagle.)

I know the Cleveland Municipal Court is working hard to reduce its jail population.

They use a risk assessment tool that helps determine the correct individuals to keep in jail.

They are constantly reviewing their jail population and determining alternatives to detention, such as electronic monitoring.

This is especially important because we have learned that keeping low-risk individuals incarcerated during the pre-trial phase can be extremely detrimental to these individual's lives. (Source: Tasha Ruth)

That's why I spearheaded the bail task force.

I'm proud of those from the Cleveland area you who helped by serving on the task force.

They are:

Once the public comment period ends, we hope to make some decisions on this critical issue.

Education is a constant theme in all our endeavors.

This summer, our Civic Education Section released a program aimed to teach high school students what we do as appellate judges.

It's called "Under Advisement."

All of you know about Off-Site Court and how our justices travel to all corners of the state for oral arguments.

The Civic Education Section of the Court introduced to our high schools just weeks ago a version of Off-Site Court that teachers can download from a web site and use in the classroom.

Teachers are using it already. More than five dozen schools have downloaded "Under Advisement" since the school year started.

"Under Advisement" follows two previously decided cases and employs videos of oral arguments, complete lesson plans and a teacher's guide.

The course also provides for participation by local judges and attorneys.

You are written into the script!

Take advantage of that. Help your local teachers enhance their program by being a resource. Local participation is a major plus, so I would love to see every judge and attorney in this room get involved.

Teachers have the freedom to use the materials at any time that fits their schedules, so that should help you take part.

It's so important for students to learn about the law — and the judiciary.

Ohio citizens need to level up their knowledge of our government, especially the judiciary. Survey after survey show it's the branch of government they know the least about.

For us to do our jobs, we need to be students, too.

We need to develop new ideas.

That will allow us to be strategic about finding answers to the problems that society brings us.

Keep your mind open to new ideas.

Remember to elicit the thoughts of your judicial colleagues, and offer your insights as well.

Thank you for listening.

May God Bless.

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