Faces of Mentoring - Justice Terrence O'Donnell

Justice Terrence O'DonnellIn 1971, I had the privilege of serving as a law clerk for Justice J.J.P. Corrigan of the Ohio Supreme Court. At that time, the Supreme Court was working on the newly adopted Ohio Rules of Civil Procedure preparing staff notes for the then fledgling rules. I learned early on about dedication to judicial duties while simultaneously improving the legal profession by engaging in more than just case decision-making and opinion writing.

Curiously, the Chairman of the Rules Committee, Judge John V. Corrigan, asked me to serve as his law clerk on the Ohio Court of Appeals the following year, and I quickly accepted his offer recognizing the enormous respect he commanded for his leadership and his desire to better the quality of the legal community in Ohio.

Back then, we had no professionalism commission, and no classes on being a professional. As Justice Stewart said about obscenity, while it is difficult to define “professionalism,” we knew it when we saw it. Justice Corrigan always articulated that each case be judged on its own merits; and that as case decision-makers, we should have no pre-conceived ideas about outcomes of cases; in like manner, Judge John V. Corrigan advocated deciding cases based on the facts and the law, nothing more. Later, after I became a judge of the Common Pleas Court, I discussed an appellate court opinion reversing a decision I had made in which I dismissed a case filed by a penitentiary inmate against a female whom he had attacked and for which he was incarcerated. In stating that I thought I had done substantial justice in handling the matter, John V. agreed, “Oh you did justice, all right, but our job over at the appellate court is to follow the law.”

What a lesson!

After all, the inscription above the bench at the Eighth District Court of Appeals reads, “We are a Government of Laws, not of Men.”

In a kind of professional irony, my career has retread the path taken by not only John V. Corrigan because I had the chance to serve there, but also that of Justice J.J.P. Corrigan in that I now have the privilege of serving, as he did, on the Ohio Supreme Court.

I often think of those who have preceded me, their counsel and guidance, and consider that, like them, I only occupy the bench for a short time; in their tradition, my objective is to add a bit more to being a jurist than mere careful decision making. What we sew in our mentoring efforts we will reap in the future of our profession. I know. I was mentored. I had superior professional guidance. Now it's our time to fill the role as a mentor. Please join me.