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Justice Speeches

Final Oral Arguments of 2022
Retired Chief Justice Maureen O'Connor
August 2, 2022

That was the last case I will hear from this bench as the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Ohio. 

The live stream on Ohio Channel has been available to those of you watching remotely, since 2002 – making Ohio one of the first states to open the courtroom to the public in this way. It is easier to see the Court in action. This kind of openness is important. I have had tremendous admiration and confidence in our American justice system all my life. It works because the people have confidence.

Ohioans know that even if they don’t prevail, justice in Ohio is conducted in the open. It is reliable, and professional, respectful of all parties.

Nearly 7 million people have watched streamed oral arguments since we first began. Originally, we had one camera wheeled into the courtroom to capture justices and then swung around to get the attorneys. From dialup modem to streaming in high definition today, viewership keeps growing.

Together we have seen how the litigants give the pros and cons to their argument. We have heard interesting, challenging, heartbreaking, and yes, disturbing cases.

What you don’t see is the hours upon hours of preparation by the justices and our staff. Reading case briefs, drafting memoranda, researching case law, deliberating, debating, drafting, voting and sometimes voting again on decisions, opinions, and orders to resolve the disputes.

While today is my last oral argument, this Court session is not over.

The Court’s will issue opinions for all cases that have been considered on the merits, by the end of the year, when the makeup of the Court changes. I believe that we have close to 100 opinions to dispose of.

The wheels of justice continue to turn thanks to some very dedicated and professional Ohioans.

It has been an honor and a privilege to serve the people of Ohio alongside my judicial colleagues. Since 2003, I have served with 20 justices on this bench. I was privileged to serve on the Moyer Court for 8 years before I became chief justice in 2011. I've heard over 2500 oral arguments, written 421 majority opinions and 140 separate opinion. 49 concurrences; 14 concur/dissent and then 77 dissents!

I also have called upon many appellate judges to serve in the place of a recused justice over the years. My gratitude to those men and women who were willing to take on extra duty and sit on the Supreme Court for a case.

While justices have not always agreed, that is part of the process, as well. With an open mind and an open heart, we have decided important issues, navigated a global pandemic, and returned to do more.

In these oral arguments, you see seven justices, and a few attorney-advocates. What you don’t see are the hardworking people behind the scenes who support justice in Ohio.

Thank you to the many lawyers – both in appellate practice here, and in the lower courts who represent the parties. The thousands of attorneys I have met over the years exemplify professionalism and passion for justice which makes this system work.

Speaking of making the system work. We'd be nowhere without our IT department and Ohio Government Television (or OGT). You wouldn't even be seeing this or any session. IT is the backbone of the Court. From communication capabilities, to broadcast, to making sure oral arguments were conducted on Zoom throughout the pandemic…We relied on Robert Stuart and the IT team and the broadcast talents of OGT.

Our Attorney Services Division staff serve thousands of attorneys as well as thousands of people preparing to be attorneys. And they provide guidance and direction and monitor compliance with registration of those wishing to practice in Ohio. Overseeing two bar exams a year takes place without a hitch thanks to Gina Palmer and her staff.

One can't talk about attorney services without thinking of the work of the disciplinary counsel office. Joe Caligiuri runs a tight ship and Rick Dove's leadership of the Board of Professional Conduct gives us all confidence.

I have to say John Van Norman and the lawyers in the chief legal counsel's office have also excelled in their duties.

And Janet Green Marbley has managed the Lawyer's Fund for Client protection with her usual grace and dignity.

When it comes to research for myriad things, Erin Waltz and the library staff have come to the rescue by providing information in a swift and accurate way.

Fiscal has done a marvelous job of seeing to it that the bills are paid, the lights stay on, and we don't exceed our budget…which they also create. I've never had a concern with Rhonda Carver crunching the numbers and bringing me back to reality at times.

Speaking of crunching numbers, where would the court be without Brian Farrington supplying us with data and graphs that answer though questions in an understandable format.

I have attorneys in my chambers who research and draft and help us prepare – not just for oral arguments, but for every stage of a filing from intake to a decision. This is often long hours of detailed work. It is where they excel – in their attention to detail. I have been blessed to have employed intelligent thoughtful lawyers to work in my chambers.

Thank you to my current staff attorneys, Amy Ervin, Sarah Stafford, Jon Schelb, and Tori Gooder, as well as those who work for each associate justice. And thank you to Beth Long and our Master Commissioners as well as Doug Nelson and the Assistant Reporters for your expertise, the long hours, and commitment to the Rule of Law. My executive assistant Myla Danison stepped into her position seamlessly earlier this year…she soon found out that I need an organized person to keep me on track for meetings, appointments, and deadlines. She does it all.

The Supreme Court’s Court Services Division lead by Stephanie Nelson provide information and assistance to courts throughout Ohio. Municipal, county, and common pleas courts, and appellate courts are stronger for the tireless commitment of the Court Services Division. The people of Ohio -- particularly those served by the specialty courts -- are on a better path as a result of the passion in these people.

I applaud and recognize the Supreme Court Judicial college and the tireless efforts of Milt Nuzum, Christy Tull, and their teams, well done always! Without them the judges of Ohio would not be as well prepared to do their jobs.

A special thank you to Diane Hayes who not only shepherds visiting appellate judges when they sit at the Supreme Court but manages the visiting judge assignments for Ohio courts on a daily basis. Together we've solved a lot of problems and I shall miss Diane.

The civic education efforts of our court are second to none…and we have a Sandra Day O'Connor Award for Civic Education to prove it…thanks to Sara Stiffler and Mason Farr.

One of the most difficult jobs is done by the small but mighty clerk’s staff led by Sandra Grosko. The clerk's office are the traffic cops for all matters that are filed in the Supreme Court. Accuracy and attention to detail are essential to the role of a clerk. I have to think that since we've gone to efiling not only have thousands of trees have been saved; but the public has access to those filings 24/7.

Some of our staff focus their efforts on work that is essential for any business, public or private. I’m speaking of very important tasks such as our Office of Human Resources’ work lead by Christine Kidd, and the Office of Public Information led by Lyn Tolan.

I'm also looking forward to the work of our newly created Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, led by Adrianne Fletcher. She’s off to a great start.

Each one of our divisions and departments are staffed by professional, competent, and caring people. The beauty and majesty of the Thomas J. Moyer Ohio Judicial Center is maintained due to Director Tony Joyce and our facilities, housekeeping, and grounds staff.  I have to thank Chris Lozan and the staff of meetings and events for their excellent service when the building is the site for meetings, both large and small.

And also the mailroom, we can't forget that we receive a ton of mail and send out a ton of mail too…and sometimes it has to be overnight.

We are safe because of Jim Cappelli and Court Security. Each division and department are led by men and women who are highly regarded because of their professionalism, concern for the institution that is the Court, and genuine concern for our staff.

At the top of that food chain is our interim Admin Director, Stephanie Hess. To say that she is competent is an understatement… there is no one who cares more about our court and the court system in Ohio than Stephanie Hess. On a personal note, I have always been able to trust the advice given me by Stephanie.

When making decisions, I'd invariably say to Stephanie, tell me where I'm wrong on this…and then she would. I will miss that!

And “thank you” to the voice who opens court and calls this court to order: Marshal Bill Crawford. Beyond what you see, there is tireless dedication – to the court, to the cause of justice in Ohio, and to me, personally. He has been a friend and a steady presence in every circumstance even before I became chief. He protects the dignity of the institution and for that, “thank you” seems inadequate.

The Ohio Constitution is telling me it is time to do something new. So, at the end of the year, after twelve years as chief justice and 20 years on this Court, I will be Maureen O’Connor, private citizen. People have already started to ask what I am most proud of in my tenure.

How do I choose?

We've expanded treatment for people suffering from substance abuse disorder and the courts, which can involve veterans with PTSD and others with mental health issues. We convened a collaborative effort, in 2016, called RJOI, that brought together 8 states to collaborate, to share information, and to break down silos when dealing with the opioid epidemic.

Increasing transparency –cameras in the courts – which actually brings the public into the courts I have been a vocal advocate for cameras in courts including the US Supreme Court. What a teaching opportunity that would be.

And here is the most important and crucial current initiative, creating a uniform criminal sentencing database so that we can have transparency in the aggregate sentencing practices for felonies. Sara Andrews is indispensable in this effort.

Advocating for constitutional bail practices and the 'ability to pay hearing' before determining court fines and fees and more.

The bottom line is that I didn’t do any of this alone. You have heard me say, because I say it a lot…I hire people smarter than myself and let them work, innovate, create, and support them in their efforts.

In addition to our roles in the courtroom, judges have the power to address social problems and participate in efforts to develop policies and practices. Whether it be substance abuse treatment, eviction help, data collection, or any other project or problem. Is that judicial activism? Heck no! That’s using the privilege of your office to better the justice system. That is incumbent on every judge and justice.

My feeling has always been a good judge is one who can bring people together to find solutions. We all need to recognize that true justice is not a world of winners and losers. It’s not a game to fight to the death. True justice considers the needs of the participants and finds the common ground.

When possible, everyone walks away with something. For that spirit of finding solutions, I thank all the judges, attorneys, court staff, citizens, everyone who joined a task force, advisory committee, or commission and made a better system of justice in my tenure. Your input modernized justice.

Please make a commitment to continue improving the justice system in Ohio. Let that be the history of the last 20 years in the Ohio judiciary and its path forward.

God bless you and God bless the best system of justice in the world.

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