Speeches

Chief Justice Thomas J. Moyer
State of the Judiciary
Jan. 16, 2002

Thank you Judge Rose, members of the Executive Committee, Anne Larrison and your staff. We have had another productive year working together to achieve shared goals. The forum and the audience are different than they would have been in September-so too, the message.

I know I am working against the deadline of 9 p.m. when West Wing begins. I suppose some of you saw Hollywood's most recent attempt to portray the judicial branch in First Monday. Trial judges who have had to bear Judge Wapner, Judge Judy and The People's Court would rightly receive some satisfaction from the fact that unlike West Wing, First Monday apparently did not hire a consultant to make the show resemble real life. Can you imagine the seven justices of the Ohio Supreme Court in a huddle prior to oral argument with the Chief Justice proclaiming, "Let's go make history?" We don't huddle- but I guess we have made some remarkable history.

A special welcome to the legislators who have joined us this evening. This is a record number. It reflects what we have accomplished together in the past and what we hope to accomplish in the future.

We come together as we have in years past…in a spirit of friendship, scholarship and respect for our chosen profession. But this annual gathering has new meaning…. because we are not supposed to be here tonight.

The reasons are clear. As American icons collapsed under the evil acts of our enemies, it seemed inappropriate to hold this conference four months ago.

Through the ash and smoke, poets and pundits told us the world had changed. And at first it did. We were more frightened, more angry, and more confused than anytime since December 1941.

Through it all….Americans rediscovered what has always been right and good about our way of life: we rolled up our sleeves, dusted off our sense of charity, and saluted firefighters as heroes.

The past few months clearly demonstrate the instability of steel and concrete and the permanence of our beliefs;

-the same beliefs that led our founding fathers to adopt the rule of law as the cornerstone of our nation;

-the same beliefs that reunited north and south after the Civil War.

These beliefs….more than two and a quarter centuries in the making…are a central fiber of our public discussion and military action since September 11th.

Time and again, the President and leaders of other western democracies have proclaimed: "We will bring them to justice."

Is there a bolder statement of confidence in America's courts than to suggest that we will expose, to the American justice system, most of those suspected of committing terrorist acts?

Why can an American president promise the world that we are prepared to determine the fate of a suspected terrorist in the same forum, by the same rules as we determine the fate of a suspected thief?

We know that in a democracy, the justice system draws its strength from constant principles and consistent practice; everyone is subject to and protected by the same rules. In America, a person accused of committing a terrorist act and a person arrested for exceeding a speed limit have the same expectation-due process of law, an impartial fact-finder, independent judgment and a penalty that is appropriate to a finding of guilt.

We talk of justice in times of trouble because it is in justice that we find comfort, even solace. Predictability and consistency are basic elements of the rule of law.

Citizens of New York, their judges and court administrators have provided a living monument to our system of justice. One New York Court was within the damage zone of the collapsed World Trade Center. Court operations were moved and reopened in a matter of days. With no phone service in lower Manhattan, court administrators put in place an internet-based phone system.

Like all New Yorkers, Chief Judge Judith Kaye has been deeply touched by the attacks. As she recalls the events of that day and those that followed, she talks movingly about the dedication of those who were scheduled to serve jury duty.

With lower Manhattan in shambles, it was impossible to reach the courts by phone or public transportation. Still, jurors appeared by the hundreds. They were eager to serve. Many even declined offers to be excused. Their dedication was truly outstanding.

Years ago, Judge Kaye won national attention for her efforts in jury reform. She focused on the basics-making service more convenient and meaningful. What the New York experience teaches us is that when people are inspired to accept jury service as a mark of good citizenship, they will serve. And they will serve enthusiastically.

In 1998, we took an important step toward reform when the General Assembly responded to our request and enacted legislation eliminating most occupational and age exemptions from jury service and increasing the stipend courts are authorized to pay jurors…We can do more.

The Futures Commission recommended several proposals to increase public respect for jury service, increase the role of jurors in trials and enhance the value of jury trials as a means of resolving disputes. The commission suggested providing adequate orientation, making efficient use of jurors' time, permitting jurors to take notes and ask questions, and present jury instructions in clear, understandable language.

Judges Jim Jensen of Lucas County, Steve Shuff in Seneca County and Richard Reinbold in Stark county are among a number of judges in Ohio who continue to explore ways to enhance jury panels in their courtrooms.

Today, I have appointed Judge Joe Clark of the Fairfield County Common Pleas Court to chair the Jury Service Task Force that will be responsible for reviewing innovations in jury service and to recommend those that should be adopted. In addition to his experience and commitment to innovation, Judge Clark is a trustee of the Ohio Association for Jury Management.

The theme of this conference …. Connections: Building Relationships …is both timely and necessary…..especially in the era of term limits. Today, we as leaders must be cognizant and dedicated to continuing and strengthening our working relations across the branches of government.

For that reason, I am pleased with the success of the Judicial-Legislative Exchange Program established by the Ohio Judicial Conference…whereby judges and lawmakers gain important insight into each other's work.

Six exchanges were conducted last year, and already 21 have been scheduled in the coming months.

The understanding and knowledge gained through such programs prove their value when difficult choices must be made…such as the budget decisions made in the past year.

We know the story line too well…The economic downturn that began a year ago, led to declining tax revenues and reduced budgets.

The General Assembly has a long history of providing the necessary funds for Ohio's courts. But the judiciary budget was reduced first by voluntary reductions and then, for the first time anyone can recall, through the legislative process.

Current funding for the Supreme Court for this fiscal year is, in fact, 10.3 percent less than what was actually spent in the last fiscal year. We responded with unprecedented actions including:

Virtually all courts have felt the impact of additional reductions. Courts of appeals reduced their operating budgets. We cancelled $600,000 in funding for seven mediation programs….a necessary, but still unfortunate setback, for a program that is considered one of the best in the nation.

We also have substantially reduced the assignment of retired judges to assist in managing caseloads. A number of you have responded to our request for elected judges to fill that gap. Your help and the cooperation of administrative judges in producing a new balance between the assignment of retired and elected judges has enabled us to reduce our expenditures for retired visiting judges by 15%.

This month, the compensation for all Ohio judges increases…not substantially and not commensurate with our responsibilities…. but equal to the increase in the Consumer Price Index in 2001.

We appreciate the action of the General Assembly that adopted a six-year plan for annual increases. Left unfinished is the effort to change certain requirements of the public retirement system.

To continue to make best use of taxpayer resources, I am announcing a new effort to draw together the divergent expertise of the various interests devoted to issues related to children and families.

A recent study in Ohio conducted by the National Center of Juvenile Justice reveals the need for a coordinated approach to children and family issues. The study, the first of its kind in the nation, documented that up to 75% of the people involved in juvenile and family cases have had previous contact with the courts.

These are some of the most difficult, yet most important cases we are required to resolve. But oversight by the Supreme Court has not been centralized.

The Advisory Committee on Children, Families and the Courts will bring together all of the administrative activities of the Supreme Court relating to family law issues. It will have broad responsibilities….ranging from matters related to domestic violence and domestic relations to the Juvenile Data Network… and the implementation of a revised family code. The Committee will be charged with assisting the courts in the coordination of programs designed to include all family related issues.

Often overlooked is the fact that our own families….spouses and children of judges…. have unique concerns, many related to the pressures of living in the public eye. Security issues, limitations on speech, application of our ethics rules all bear on the judicial family.

One example-the husband of a judge wishes to hold a fundraiser at his home for a charitable organization of which he is an active member. May the invitation letter include the name of his wife? Being a member of a judicial family is not easy.

That is why my wife, Mary, acting from the perspective of a judicial spouse, initiated The Ohio Judicial Family Network. In its short existence the Network has helped families of judges identify their needs and concerns… while providing a supportive network and educational opportunities to the spouses and children of judges.

John Burke, Judge Nancy Fuerst's husband, chairs the Steering Committee.

To those of you who have served or are serving on the Ohio Judicial Family Network Steering Committee, thank you! And, thank you to the 28 mentors who offer support to the partners of the new judges.

Tomorrow the Court's Administrative Director Steve Hollon, Judge Michael Watson and I will leave for an intense two-day conference entitled, Bioterrorism in the Courts. The conference is sponsored by the Einstein Institute for Science, Health and the Courts, the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and the Conference of Chief Justices.

The conference will provide scientific, legal and security information to state and federal judges and administrators. The conference will provide scientific basics about biological attack agents and cover a number of topics:

We could never have speculated even a couple of years ago that judges would be attending seminars on a topic so horrendous.

Even before the attack on America we knew the events of our time would bring new challenges to our courts. The prodigious expansion of scientific developments, and the Orwellian-reach of the information age…will test the resilience of American jurisprudence.

These issues will appear on our dockets…side by side with questions inspired by terrorist activity regarding civil liberties, due process and personal expression.

But these seemingly new issues will be resolved in the oldest of traditions: by interpreting and applying our laws, consistent with our constitutions and remaining faithful to the Bill of Rights.

So it is in the twenty-first century, as it has been since the first courts were established in the 13 colonies, that the third branch of government will continue to exercise its moral authority first identified in the Federalist Papers.

With such high expectations expressed in the words, "bring them to justice" is a message to us: that we conduct our professional lives pursuant to the highest standards of our profession. If we do that, our national leaders can say and the citizens of the world can believe that those words have real meaning.

We are the ones, the only ones, who can be sure that the law remains the bond that holds together our great nation. But to do so, we ourselves must respect the courts, respect the process and respect one another.

For us as Americans, the rule of law is made real in courtrooms everyday all across this country. That is the constant. The rule of law gives us stability in a time of uncertainty because it is founded on principles that we as a people embrace.

There is no more important work in a civil society than the work you perform each day. For when citizens leave a court proceeding believing the process was fair, we do more than act out the words of our oath of office. We enable the leaders of our great country to say to the world, with conviction and determination, "We will bring them to justice."

Thank you for your work. I continue to be grateful for the privilege of serving as your Chief Justice.