Grand Opening Celebration of new College of Law Building University of CincinnatiRetired Chief Justice Maureen O'Connor
September 13, 2022
Thank you, Dean [Verna] Williams.
You have led the completion of this new home for legal education and action. Congratulations.
And greetings to President Pinto, Provost Ferme, Mayor Pureval, Hamilton County Clerk of Courts Pvan Parikh, and Hamilton County judges.
And Judge Sandra S. Beckwith.
Distinguished alumni, honored guests, students, and faculty of the University of Cincinnati College of Law, this is a proud day. It is an honor to be with you as you dedicate this new facility.
With the opening of this beautiful building, you enter a new era in the teaching, learning, and practice of law.
I encourage you to consider how you will LEAN IN to the opportunities it provides.
You can show up every day, soak in the natural light, move through the lovely space, take in the experience and wisdom your professors are sharing.
and while taking full advantage of the well-considered design of your new academic home, become an exceptional lawyer.
I have traveled the state, the country, the world – and there are not nearly enough exceptional lawyers.
So, what will it take?
- Build a strong academic foundation.
- Collaborate and respect differing opinions.
- Connect with your community.
- Embrace technology.
- Protect the Rule of Law.
I find it instructive to look back – in order to look forward.
When Supreme Court Justice John Crafts Wright, Legal Scholar Timothy Walker, and Politician Edward King organized the law school here on the Ohio River, they understood its significance. They were establishing the organized training of law in the nation’s interior, The West, as Ohio was known.
We are the beneficiaries of the oldest continually operating law school in Ohio and in a state that was not one of the original colonies. The tenants and vision of your founders in 1833 -- form the strong foundation upon which you build today and going forward.
Many distinguished alumni contributed to the school’s heritage – including one U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice and 13 Ohio Supreme Court justices.
The faculty are among the finest in the country. There are community leaders across the tri-state -- who value this institution and have committed time, talent, and financial resources. And the facility is A-plus rated by Pre-law Magazine.
So, How can we best use these resources to grow legal minds?
Build on the strong foundation.
Justice John Crafts Wright gained a reputation as an excellent debater when he served in the U.S. Congress in the 1820s – before he became a justice. Quality, CIVIL debate is as important today as then.
Timothy Walker was a legal scholar who prized debate, too. He joined many literary societies that brought people together to discuss important issues. His “Semi-Colon Club” enjoyed a fine reputation among some.
It was also called, “smug, opinionated, snobbish Whigism with a contempt for the people.”
Well, you can’t please everybody…
Judge Walker is a testament to the fact that sometimes lessons come late in life, from much exchange of information. On his deathbed, Walker insisted on changing his writings on slavery. He felt he got it wrong. He did of course, but he was willing to change his view, to adapt with the times. He died 5 years before the beginning of the Civil War.
It is a lesson to keep an open mind. Even if you don’t get it right at first, you can adjust as you learn and grow. And we can expedite the growth process by building advisors from people with a wide range of ideas and opinions – different from our own.
And the third founder, Edward King, after a successful career as an attorney and member of the Ohio General Assembly, moved to Cincinnati from Ross County, help to found the law school and became one of its first professors. He passed away in 1836… however his son went on to be dean of the law school and then the 5th President of the University of Cincinnati.
This collaboration space here is so valuable. The natural light inside is uplifting. And the space outside provides a completely different place to work together. The local design firm, architect and construction professionals seem to have thought of everything to encourage discussion and collaboration. Take advantage of it.
Collaboration is an investment in others. And investment in your shared future. And it is a better way of approaching a topic.
Along with collaboration comes the ability to listen to others when tackling a problem and at times modify or even reverse your approach or decision.
It is an honor and a privilege to serve the people of Ohio alongside my judicial colleagues. Since 2003, I have served with 20 justices on the Supreme Court 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 422 majority opinions and 140 separate opinions of concurrence and 77 dissents.
What most people don’t see is the hours upon hours of preparation by the justices and our staff… Reading, drafting, researching, deliberating, debating, drafting, voting, and sometimes voting again on decisions, opinions, and orders to resolve the disputes.
Justices do not always agree, that is part of the process. We debate. Sometimes we read a draft opinion and are swayed to join that position. With an open mind and an open heart, we have decided important issues. I myself have on more than a few occasions has seen the light and adopted the position I may have originally rejected. And the process among the justices sometimes involves collaboration to get to the right answer.
The smartest people do not have to know it all. They hear the ideas of others. They rely on a broad discussion and all information. Nobody can or should do it alone.
Connect with the community.
Here in Cincinnati, there is even greater opportunity for collaboration.
The precedent is set to bring the legal community, medicine, research scientists, the business community, social service organizations, local and state government, and others together.
A law school is a place to think, to debate, to develop creative solutions. In Cincinnati, it’s in your D-N-A. The University of Cincinnati has made that commitment. You have Fortune 500 companies which lead innovation. You have a thriving startup culture. Everyone working together to make a vibrant city to live, work, learn, and play. And the College of Law can be instrumental in making sure no one is left behind.
Dean Williams has led this institution since 2017. Dean Williams arrived as a professor at the law school in 2001 with a wealth of experience -- practicing and teaching constitutional law, gender discrimination, feminist legal theory, and more. Whether at the Department of Justice, the National Women’s Law Center, or here at the University of Cincinnati, she has lit a fire and set the standard for public interest law. She has built on this region’s sense of social justice that goes back as far as the founding of this school.
Equal Justice Works is fortunate to have someone with her experience at the helm.
Now you must take up the mantle. You must challenge yourselves to look at old community problems in new ways. The need is out there. Don’t be afraid to be unconventional. Your community is counting on you. And you won’t have to do it alone.
I marvel at this place for its state-of-the-art technology. Do not take it for granted.
Technology has enabled us to go fast, and we will go even faster still.
Technology kept this state, and its businesses and institutions open during the Covid pandemic.
The pandemic took us from being technology-driven to technology-dependent.
Technology equips us all to practice smarter – in law, in business, and in a national and global society.
At the Supreme Court of Ohio, Justice John Crafts Wright’s most notable case is well-remembered for laying out best practices for operation of the courts – and specifically the operations of clerk of the Court. Attention to detail was as important then as it is now.
How we administer justice is important to improve the quality of justice.
Technology is at the core of access to justice. It enables parties to attend a hearing without have to worry about time off of work, transportation, child-care, and all of the other barriers that confront the less affluent.
Technology allows everyone to access dockets 24/7. It reminds people of court appearances and other obligations and has significantly reduced ‘failure to appear’ rates.
And here is another thing…and I mention it because without the University of Cincinnati, we wouldn’t be able to do this project.
Recognizing that felony sentencing in Ohio is a complex, intricate process, and ensuring clear, comprehendible sentences is of the utmost import for the administration of justice and promoting confidence in the system in September 2019, the Commission convened a Uniform Sentencing Entry Ad Hoc Committee to develop a model, uniform felony sentencing entry.
A uniform entry minimizes any mistakes that may occur in the sentencing and that will need to be reversed on the appellate level and it will ease the burden of court staff.
In addition to providing a method of minimizing appealable errors or omissions in entries, the development of a uniform entry template offers a solution for collecting criminal sentencing data in a way that is efficient, reduces duplication and does not fiscally burden local government.
The Commission conducted extensive research to identify a partner with the definitive knowledge, skills, and expertise to complete the numerous tasks required for the creation of the Ohio Sentencing Data Platform. It was determined the University of Cincinnati School of Information Technology Solutions Center (ITSC) was by far the best suited partner for this project. Dr Hazen Said and his ITSC staff assigned to the project are equipped with the experience, subject matter expertise, and demonstrated ability to scale a complex statewide project needed to accomplish the goal at hand.
Thus, the Commission contracted with the University of Cincinnati ITSC to create a web-based application of the uniform entry template and establish a pilot project – the Ohio Sentencing Data Platform (OSDP). The project began in 2020 and continues to be an “iterative” model – we adjust as we learn.
The systemic approach to data collection is designed to build public trust in the justice system and will serve the citizens of Ohio by allowing the Commission to achieve its mission to “analyze” the impact of “current criminal statues and law in Ohio,” “study sentencing patterns and outcomes,” “researching and recommending evidence-based approaches to reducing recidivism,” and “recommending reasonable and specific criminal justice reforms
Thank you, Dr. Pinto for UC’s, commitment to the project.
Support the rule of law.
Citizens have confidence because the law is reliable.
The United States Constitution is the world's longest surviving written charter of government. Its first three words – “We The People” – affirm that the government of the United States exists to serve its citizens.
The Rule of Law and the -- non-arbitrary government where all citizens and institutions are accountable to the same laws.
Precedent guides us.
The judicial branch has been maligned a bit lately. But Pew Research confirms, most Americans still have a favorable opinion of the judiciary.
When asked, “If the Supreme Court started making a lot of rulings most people disagreed with, would it be better to do away with the court altogether?”
The judiciary is at the core of this great American trust. And the legal professionals are there right along with them. I’m not going to trot out examples of magnificent acts and advancements that judges and lawyers and the legal system have done to protect the rights of individuals, the advancement of the law, and the formation of a society which is a beacon to people of every nation, nationality, creed, and culture.
But what I will say, is that without institutions such as this venerable law school, those examples, which loom so large when discussing the Rule of Law, could not possibly have taken place. Legal minds of students and law professors in the crucible of law schools, give rise to the magnificence of the law. Few things are more exciting.
And now, we have this elegant, imposing, modern structure to remind us of the important function of the law in our society – in this community.
I do hope that you have all had the chance to visit the Hon. Sandra S. Beckwith Courtroom which is the primary mock trial courtroom for the law school. Judge Beckwith, a UC graduate in 1968, has blazed a trail in public service using her law degree. She was the first woman to serve on the Hamilton County municipal court and the Common Peas, Domestic relations Division. First woman to serve on the Hamilton County Board of Commissioners and first woman Chief Judge of the United States District Court for the Southern District of Ohio…that’s a lot of firsts and you’ll notice that first is always followed by ‘woman’! Well done Judge Beckwith.
We both know that while its important to be a first…what you don’t want to be is the ‘only’ or the ‘last.
I will close by wishing Dean Williams all of the very best.
And Interim Dean [Michael] Whiteman, feel free to call upon the resources of the Supreme Court as you move forward in this new era.