New Magistrate OrientationRetired Chief Justice Maureen O'Connor
March 23, 2022
This is a big step in your professional journey.
You have become a magistrate because a judge has confidence in your knowledge of the law and your ability to apply the rule of law.
Over the next three days, you will receive the tools you need to start you on the path to successful courtroom and case management.
But this is just the beginning.
I want you to leave here with a healthy respect for the position you assume. To leave with an understanding of the great responsibility you have taken on.
And I want you to have names and numbers to connect you with resources to make you one of the best arbiters in the best judicial system in the world.
Your new position is simple and noble. Serve the public and treat those who come before you, fairly.
Ohio is counting on you.
Be the ideal.
The judiciary is the anchor in American society.
Citizens have confidence because the law is reliable. Precedent guides us. And the Rule of Law must reign supreme.
As a magistrate, you must now set your views: whether they be political, religious, economic, or otherwise, at the door when you put on the robe.
You must seek to understand. You must be patient and kind and impartial.
In that way, you will need to step out of yourself a bit.
At the risk of sounding a bit dramatic, as you step to the bench, picture yourself in the place of Justicia – Lady Justice. You have seen her, all through your career as an attorney.
Now you must BE her – blindfolded, with scales, and sword.
The blindfold represents impartiality.
The scales represent balance, measuring the strength of a case through support and opposition.
The sword, to remind us that justice is swift and final.
Lady Justice represents the ideal. And yes, sometimes the symbol is overused…but here it is not.
I know from experience as a magistrate and as a common pleas judge that treating all people with respect and impartiality, professionally and impartially can be hard.
The party that is disrespectful…of the other party and of you, the Court, is probably the time the attributes I just spoke of are most important to be on display.
You must not take the words or actions of a party personally…that can be a problem.
Unfortunately, there is many a magistrate and many a judge who do react in a knee-jerk manner and the outcome is never good for anyone.
Guess what the ‘excuse’ is most given by the judge…I lost my temper, and anyone would have done the same. That’s just it, you’re not just anyone when you put on the robe. You don’t lose your temper, period. Maintain your dignity and the dignity of the Court.
You will be responsible for managing cases and the courtroom.
The presence you need to project is that of professionalism, of fairness, honesty and frankly, some humility.
You don’t automatically attain the attributes when you ascend to the bench. You have them in you, and you must work every day to enhance them.
Even as you are called upon for your knowledge of the law, you need to work to continue to deepen that knowledge. Keep learning and keep growing. Do not be an island. The good news is that you are not alone in this.
And this is where I get to tell you about the resource that is the Supreme Court and its staff.
Overview of the Supreme Court of Ohio
Until now, you probably thought of the Supreme Court of Ohio as the court of last resort in the state, adjudicating unresolved questions of law that come up through the trial and appeals courts. It is.
And the Supreme Court has authority over the rules governing practice and procedure in all courts of the state and of course the Supreme Court, by virtue of the Ohio Constitution is responsible for the regulation of the bar.
The Court also has superintendence to set the minimum standards for court administration.
Today – and over the next few days - you are going to learn so much more about how the Court, in its administrative function, can be of service to you in your new role.
At the Supreme Court, we have a lot of resources at your disposal. I want to share a few important ones with you now.
The Judicial College is here to assist you. Last year, the Judicial College had more course offerings, educated more people, than any prior year in the college’s 45-year history. With online learning, it, will come to you.
There’s no reason not to set aside time to sharpen your skillset.
The bench will be very different than your work at the bar.
The College is a resource that can guide you and one you’ll learn to rely on as a new magistrate and all throughout your career.
Your relationship with the College begins today with all the administrative information you will need to do the job. Believe me when I say that today is the beginning of a beautiful friendship…
The Law Library of the Supreme Court is also here to assist. You may call on them at any time. There is a wealth of knowledge including Ohio legal history, historical documents, finer points of research, and more. The staff is second to none and probably would win the congeniality award, if this Court had one. They are a great group of professionals.
Access to Colleagues is an important resource. One of the best support systems will be your mentor. Take full advantage of that relationship.
The Court’s Office of Judicial Services and Office of Court Services can connect you with tools like bench cards and guides built around best practices. Use the wisdom of those who came before you.
It has been a number of years since I served as a magistrate. But I still know the challenging world you face. Society and its problems are becoming more complex. What comes from that complexity is great challenge.
And you cannot always tackle it alone.
These two offices are here to make you better. To make justice better.
Reach out for them to connect you with other magistrates, additional mentor judges, and more.
One of the smartest things you can do as a new magistrate is join the Ohio Magistrates Association.
There, you will find a welcome, a group that is genuinely happy to see you and to make you comfortable. They are also a great resource. The Association has meetings, puts on CLE, and lends a hand to any magistrate.
Being active is a great way to stay current on the law and to contribute to the culture of the organization.
Join the Association,
join one of its committees,
and meet as many people as you can in the Association…you’ll be making lifelong friends with fellow magistrates.
Building your toolkit
Access to all the resources starts today. You will hear from judges, attorneys, and fellow magistrates from across Ohio.
They will help you build your magistrate tool kit. They will share information about how to write a reasoned and thoughtful decision and how to understand the research behind the writing.
You will learn about standard operations, including case flow management.
As you begin to apply these tools, don’t be afraid to look for a better solution in the unconventional.
Don’t let your courtroom become a fight to the finish. Very often after listening to the parties, you might come up with a solution…one that just involves compromise and not necessarily a legal solution.
Compromise is an important skill. Everyone can’t walk away with everything. Sometimes the solution comes from everyone walking away with something.
They call it the “art” of compromise for a reason. Commit to becoming an artist!
Over these days, there are going to be some uncomfortable conversations. Because it is not comforting to talk about substance abuse and dependency, alcohol dependency, and mental health problems that contribute to criminal behavior.
My recommendation is to become comfortable, even talking about the uncomfortable topics.
You will be called on to examine your inherent bias and be aware of how you treat people. That can be uncomfortable and make you wince.
But we must have these conversations.
Bad things happen in the world, and they could likely wind up in your courtroom.
When they do, it is then when people are at their lowest moment that they are most in need of respect, humanity, and compassion.
The tools you receive over these three days and sharpen over time may yield the most valuable contribution you can make in service of your fellow man.
You have been entrusted with a weighty assignment, but you have what it takes!
Others have found you trustworthy to make fair decisions. You have embraced the journey from bar to bench. You have the potential to be of tremendous service to your community. You can save lives.
Remember that most people do not know a judge, have never met a judge. Same with a magistrate.
But when they do find themselves in your presence, And you are wearing the black robe, they are ready to listen to what you have to say
You represent an ideal in America. Demonstrate for each citizen you encounter, why they should have faith and confidence in you and all the judiciary.
Take care how you engage with every litigant that comes before you.
At all times, remember that the power in the position is not yours to abuse.
You are a public servant judicial officer. You set the reputation for us all. And we are here for you.
I am so glad to see you have come to invest in our collective reputation.