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Justice Speeches

Fayette County Off-Site Court Miami Trace High School
Retired Chief Justice Maureen O'Connor
April 27, 2022


Good morning, students, teachers, staff and guests. And good morning, attorneys and judges.

I’m Maureen O’Connor, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Ohio.

Thank you for inviting the Supreme Court to Fayette County. We have three cases today that I think students and faculty will find very interesting.

We have three high schools represented this morning.

Before we don our robes and begin our Court session, I would like to introduce my colleagues -- in order of seniority. Then, we’ll have a question-and-answer period. I’m looking forward to your questions.

I’m sure you’re ready to ask us a variety of questions, but if you don’t I’ll call on you.  

I will start with myself.            

I am the 10th chief justice to serve in Ohio and the first woman to have this honor. I was elected in 2016 to my second six-year term as chief justice after being elected twice as a Justice. Prior to coming to the Court, I served as a magistrate, a trial judge, and a prosecuting attorney. I then became lieutenant governor and director of the Department of Public Safety. In that job, I have worked with Emergency Management and Homeland Security, in the wake of the September 11th attacks.

Now, I’d like to introduce Justice Sharon Kennedy. 

Justice Kennedy joined the Court in 2012 and was elected to her first full term in 2014. [An elected term on the Supreme Court of Ohio is 6 years.] Justice Kennedy previously served on the Butler County Common Pleas Court and became the administrative judge for the Domestic Relations Division. The Butler county seat is in Hamilton, which is between here and Cincinnati. Before becoming a judge, Justice Kennedy served as a police officer in Hamilton.

Justice Pat Fischer began his 6-year term on the court in 2017. He previously served on the First District Court of Appeals in Cincinnati. Justice Fischer was a trial attorney for many years and had served as president of the Ohio State Bar Association.

Justice Pat DeWine also started his 6-year term in 2017. He also comes from the First District Court of Appeals in Cincinnati. And was a trial court judge in Hamilton County, which is Cincinnati. Justice DeWine had also served as a Hamilton County Commissioner and as a Cincinnati city council member.

Justice Michael Donnelly joined the Supreme Court in 2019. The math students in the room may be seeing a pattern. Two justices are chosen in the state general elections in the even-numbered years. Then they take the bench in January. Justice Donnelly was a judge on the Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court in Cleveland, and before that was an assistant county prosecutor in Cleveland.

Justice Melody Stewart also joined the Supreme Court in 2019. Previously, she served as a judge on the Eighth District Court of Appeals in Cleveland. Justice Stewart has her undergraduate degree in music, a law degree, and a doctorate in social sciences. 

Justice Jennifer Brunner is our newest member of the Court, having joined in 2021. She was a judge on the Tenth District Court of Appeals in Franklin County, that’s Columbus. Justice Brunner was Ohio’s first female Secretary of State.

Now, you know us, it’s your turn.

Who has the first question?   

The Q & A begins



Good morning.

Welcome everyone to this session of the Supreme Court of Ohio. Today, we will hear three cases.

The justices of the Supreme Court are happy to be in Washington Court House for oral arguments. Oral Arguments normally occur in the Courtroom of the Thomas J. Moyer Ohio Judicial Center in Columbus.

If you are watching online or on television, you can see we are in a high school auditorium.

Today marks the 80th session of Off-Site Court. It is a tradition reminiscent of the early days of the Court in the 1800s, when there were only three Justices, and they heard cases where they occurred. It was called “Riding the Circuit” because they traveled the state by horseback.

Today we came (by car), at the invitation of Judge Steven Beathard of the Fayette County Common Pleas Court. Holding oral arguments outside of Columbus allows more Ohioans the opportunity to experience the Supreme Court in person.

When we take our oral arguments on the road, we go to high schools rather than local courthouses so that more members of the public – especially students and faculty -- can take part.

We’re honored to be here at Miami Trace High School in central Ohio with students joining from Washington Court House High School and Fayette Christian High School. We have been extended a sincere welcome by the faculty, staff and students.

For American democracy to function well, it is critical that our citizenry understand how our institutions of government work.

The judiciary has an especially important task in our society.

Citizens, too, have a responsibility. All of us have a duty to educate ourselves about our three branches of government so that our democratic institutions can survive, and function well for everyone.

At this time, I want to thank our hosts:

  • Miami Trace School District Superintendent Kim Pittser.
  • Miami Trace High School Principal Bryan Sheets.

I also want to thank the superintendents, principals, and staff from the other Fayette County high schools in attendance for bringing their students today.

Many people have worked on making this Court session possible.

I would like to recognize:

  • Fayette County Common Pleas Judge Steven Beathard, who issued the formal invitation for the Court to travel here.
  • Fayette County Probate and Juvenile Court Judge David Bender.
  • and Judge Victor Pontious, Junior, of the Washington Court House Municipal Court.

I also want to acknowledge the work and support of:

  • Common Pleas Court Administrator Carmen Baird and the Clerk of the Court, Sandy Wilson.
  • and the Fayette County Bar Association.

Fayette County is served by the Twelfth District Court of Appeals, based in Middletown.

I would like to acknowledge the bench of the Twelfth District:

  • Judge Matthew Byrne
  • Judge Robert Hendrickson
  • Judge Robin Piper
  • Judge Michael Powell
  • and Judge Stephen Powell.

Once again, thank you to the entire Fayette County community.

To our audience and viewers watching on your televisions and computers, welcome to this official session of the Supreme Court of Ohio.

(Oral arguments begin.)


Thank you, Judge Beathard, for your kind introduction.       

And thank you for inviting us here today.  Thanks to the Common Pleas Court staff for all the work that went into making this possible.

I think you’ll agree that the cases we heard were compelling.

Thank you, Emily, Westin, and Tyler, for representing your fellow students at our luncheon today.

Serving the educational needs of students is the main reason we hold these Supreme Court sessions around the state.

When the late Chief Justice Thomas Moyer launched Off-Site Court -- and for many years afterward – these sessions were held in courthouses.

Your courthouse is among the most beautiful in the state. On the National register of Historic Places. Your courthouse functions in a modern way, with electronic filing and following all best practices. Yet, is a showplace for your community with museum quality artwork. When it was built in 1885, an artist was commissioned to paint the interior walls. The artist painted beautiful frescos – that’s where an artist paints in watercolors on wet plaster, which becomes a fixed pigmentation in the plaster. For 75 years, the artist was unknown. Historian later documented it was Ohio-born artist Archibald M. Willard, perhaps best known for his “Spirit of ‘76”. That is the painting which is an iconic symbol of patriotism; a trio of a fife player and two drummers emerging from a civil war battlefield. Willard’s artwork is a point of pride for your community.

The Supreme Court moved from courthouses to high schools to open the Court sessions to many more people and provided an in-person experience that I hope you found valuable. 

Before I go any further I have a few acknowledgements.

I want to thank our hosts from the school this morning:

  • Miami Trace School District Superintendent Kim Pittser.
  • Miami Trace High School Principal Bryan Sheets.

Principal Sheets, your students and those from the other high schools asked great questions. It was obvious that they were prepared today and had studied the cases.

So, please relay to their teachers how much the Justices and I appreciate their contribution to advancing civic education. They are making better citizens.

Thank you for working each day to prepare them for life beyond high school.

A key component of Off-Site Court is safety and coordination by local law enforcement. I would like to recognize ….

  • Fayette County Sheriff Vernon Stanforth, Chief Deputy Andy Bivens, and Captain Ryan McFarland.
  • Miami Trace School Resource Officer and Fayette County Deputy Montana Coe.
  • Washington Courthouse Police Chief Jeff Funari and police lieutenants Mark Pfeifer and Derek Pfeifer.
  • and Ohio State Highway Patrol Lieutenant Chuck O’Bryon, Wilmington Post Commander and Sargeant Jeremy Grillot, Assistant Post Commander.

Three county commissioners are with us today:

  • Tony Anderson
  • Dan Dean
  • and Jim Garland.

I would like to recognize the bench of the Twelfth District Court of Appeals in Middletown:

  • Judge Matthew Byrne
  • Judge Robert Hendrickson
  • Judge Robin Piper
  • Judge Michael Powell
  • and Judge Stephen Powell.

And our staff from the Supreme Court:

  • Civic Education Manager Sara Stiffler and Coordinator Mason Farr.
  • The Marshal of the Court, William Crawford.
  • and Court Security Officer Rodney Tyler.

Our partners at Ohio Government Television arrived here on Monday and created a studio in the school. They deserve recognition for ensuring that the broadcast went so well today.

Each oral argument session, whether from Columbus or an Off-Site Court, is streamed live and archived on

Thanks again to all of you for making today’s event go smoothly.

Off-Site Court is about education and about engaging people in the judicial system.

We are a government OF the people, BY the people and FOR the people. Stop and think about that familiar phrase for a minute. Self-government is an enormous undertaking.

Ukraine, prior to the invasion by Russia had just recently celebrated 30 years of independence from the former Soviet Union.  30 years pales in comparison as the United States approaches its 250th anniversary.

Still, there are lessons for Americans, as we watch the war on the other side of the world. 

Freedom, independence, and self-governance are not automatic. They did not come easily. And they do not come without responsibility. 

Citizens have a responsibility to educate themselves and to vote. 

This right to elect is so familiar to Americans, many do not realize it is not available to everyone. Many take it for granted.

During the Vietnam War, when 18-year-olds were drafted, the slogan, “old enough to fight, old enough to vote” became the mantra for younger Americans fueling the change.

And the 26th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution set the voting age at 18, from the previous age of 21.

It reminds me of the 66th Justice of the Ohio Supreme Court, a former Chief Justice, Marshall Jay Williams. 

Justice Williams was born right here in Fayette County in 1837, which was sparsely settled country back then, so his education was limited. He completed all the studies and qualified to teach at 16 years old. He taught in the country school for a while. But chose law as his profession, so he went up to Delaware to study at Ohio Wesleyan University. He finished legal studies before he was 20 years old.

But he was too young to practice in Ohio, so he went to Iowa, which had no age restrictions. And practiced there until he was old enough to come home to practice.

From the humble country school, Williams was a lawyer, statesman, and a jurist, elected and re-elected to the Supreme Court, for nearly 16 years until his death.

Through our education programs at the Court, we work to make civic education interesting for people of all ages.

The community pride that comes from being engaged in civics, is certainly another bonus.

Fayette County is ripe with fascinating. The first court in Fayette County was held about 6 miles from the present-day courthouse, in the Devault family’s log cabin in Bloomingburg. Chairs were scarce and to accommodate the jury, the judge had jurors sit on the bed of the cabin. Presiding Judge John Thompson had a reputation for long and tedious moral lectures from the bench. But that day, the lady of the home gave him quite a lecture. She was not happy, judge or not, about having strangers sitting on her bed.

The first court held in the town of Washington Courthouse was also in a log cabin, a two-room log cabin at the corner of Court and Main Streets. While all had chairs, the jury retired to the hazel brush nearby to deliberate. 

While the sentence was pronounced in one room, the owner of the cabin sold whiskey in the adjoining room.

These bits of history paint a picture of the times. They also make an important point. A court may be enhanced by the grandeur of its surroundings. But a court is defined by its ability to administer justice fairly, in the open, with an opportunity for consideration by a jury of ones peers.             

At the Supreme Court, we share your goal of keeping young people engaged in their government. Take an interest in the past to increase your understanding of how our justice system works today.  

Another tool that is available to you is called “Under Advisement.”

Teachers can download this lesson plan, developed in conjunction with professional educators, to meet Ohio standards. “Under Advisement” follows previously decided cases and includes videos of oral arguments, documents from the case, complete lesson plans and a teacher’s guide.

Some of your local judges and attorneys can help teach the subject along with the teacher. In fact, I’m encouraging teachers, attorneys and judges to partner on this to make the best experience for the students.

The course can be taught in three or four days. It’s free of charge – and teachers have the freedom to use the materials at any time that fits their schedules.

And you are always welcome in Columbus at the Visitor Education Center at the Supreme Court. It is an excellent place for students – and adults – to learn about the judiciary and important cases.

And finally, to teach your students about judicial elections, use the website to teach about judicial elections.  Most voters who pass up judicial races, say it is because they don’t know enough about the candidates. At Judicial, anyone can learn why it matters to vote for judges, and get non-partisan information about the candidates, in their own words.

Before I turn over the microphone to my fellow justices, I have some acknowledgements to make about your local courts.

Fayette County courts applied for and received technology grant funds from the Supreme Court in 2019 to update case management hardware and software, as well as add e-filing capability.

Again in 2020, at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, Fayette County courts received grant funds to purchase video technology that integrated with their existing recording system. This allowed the courts to hold video hearings and arraignments so that people didn’t have to appear in-person.

I am always thrilled to hear these stories about local courts going the extra mile to bring justice – and access to justice – to its citizens.

Justice Kennedy ….

(Each Justice introduces the next in order of seniority.)

Thank you, Justice Brunner.

And thank you to all my colleagues.

Before we conclude, I would like to make two presentations.

These are “class photos” of our Court.

I would like to present this photo to Miami Trace High School, its staff and students, for their hospitality today.

Superintendent Pittser and Principal Sheets, please come up …

And here is a photo for the Fayette County courts.

Judges Beathard and Bender, I would like to present this photo to you,  to commemorate today’s court session.

This concludes our Off-Site Court program.

Before I turn it over to Judge Beathard, I want to thank you once again for your hospitality.

You are all welcome to come to Columbus to visit our beautiful Court building downtown and our education center, any time.

It really is a marvelous tour – one that you will never forget.

May God Bless.

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