Speeches

Chief Justice Thomas J. Moyer
State of the Judiciary
Sept. 12, 2002

Judge Rose, conference officers, colleagues... I thank you for the opportunity to once again address you on the State of the Ohio Judiciary. On behalf of all of the justices of the Supreme Court, I commend the conference for its work and its impressive accomplishments during the past year.

I look forward to working with Judge Karner and the new officers as we work to improve the administration of justice and the economic condition of judges.

This week, the second week of September, will forever be a marker in the course of world history. For as long as the mind can ponder, this will be a time of reflection and review; a time to take account of our past... as we search for meaning in the demonic events of a year ago.

Others will heal the wounds of lower Manhattan, but as judges we are well versed in the principles and ideals that bring light to this search. Fairness, honesty and decency... the underlying principles of law…are the same attributes sought by victims in their search for meaning and solace.

Not one of us escapes the teachings of Aristotle and Plato... Locke and Montesquieu... the light of their brilliant writings pierces the haze that shrouds mankind's perpetual search for justice

Their teachings guided our founding fathers when they wrote that certain truths were self-evident. They inspired the preamble to the Constitution... we the people, in order to form a more perfect union... a bold proclamation that the government has only those powers granted it by the people... not a popular notion in the 18th century.

And their presence was felt when Doctor King spoke at the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.

Events that still seem too real to be designated "history" pull us from our comfortable, temporal lives into a furtive search for the constant, the predictable. And that, my friends, is the meaning of your work-- of our work.

Events may change the application of principles of fairness to human conduct, but the fundamental essence of justice remains constant.

A year ago I shared with you on this occasion my thoughts relative to the indispensable, fundamental purpose served by law, courts, and our profession in the dark reflection of America's national tragedy.

Today I will cast those principles over an arbitrary period of recent history--the past ten years--to give precise meaning to the utterances of leaders of the world's democracies.... "We will bring them to justice.

Over the course of the past decade, the courts of Ohio have expanded the concept of justice by instituting programs and procedures designed to improve the administration of justice for all, and to ensure fair and accessible courts.

Today... sentencing includes addiction treatment and counseling. Ten years ago, how many judges required a defendant to obtain a high school diploma?

Today, alternatives to the historically solitary adversary process for the resolution of disputes... replace high cost and delay with early resolution and satisfaction.

Today, court administration has a broader mission than to simply provide for the disposition of cases. Citizens hold higher expectations of safety in the courthouse and access to information…sometimes conflicting demands that we must not ignore.

Simply put, Ohio courts are more effective and more relevant today than at any time in recent history.

Perhaps the most profound advancement in our work has been the computer. Electronic citations have reduced labor intensive paper work. Electronic filing, still in its infancy, shows promise for improved case management. And the increasing number of courts with Internet websites provides citizens with greater access to protection orders, the rules of court, and criminal and civil dockets.

At the Supreme Court, more attorneys and reporters receive the announcement of court decisions on the Internet, than those who come to the court to obtain a paper copy.

The website also contains a searchable database of opinions of the Courts of Appeal and the Supreme Court... providing free access to the full text of opinions from the past ten years.

Developing a cohesive system of technology standards and policies for all Ohio courts has required patience, and we are fortunate to have that attribute in members of the Court Technology Advisory Committee and chairman, Judge John Bessey. While considering the perspectives of courts, vendors and citizens….the broadly representative committee is developing standards for a compatible and productive technology system.

A new sub-committee has begun the task of sorting through the critical decisions regarding what information should be posted on the Internet. Judge Paulette Lilly and the 25 members of the Privacy Sub-Committee have been given the charge of finding the balance between access and privacy. This is an issue that none of us could have foreseen ten years ago, but is of increasing significance today.

The development of technology parameters was a key recommendation of the Ohio Courts Futures Commission, which issued its final report two years ago.

The Commission brought focus and clarity to all of our efforts to improve the administration of justice in Ohio.

A number of Futures Commission recommendations have been instituted, including a review of appellate court district boundaries, and the creation of a jury service task force.

One judge commented that the scope of the Futures Commission was manageable because, as a state, Ohio already had taken-up such issues as campaign finance, the disciplinary process, and racial and gender fairness.

Ohio has made repeated attempts to reduce the role of money in judicial campaigns …with contribution limits and strict reporting requirements.

Repeated national opinion surveys continue to indicate that up to 80 percent of the public continues to believe that judicial candidates are influenced by campaign contributions.

That is why I have asked the leadership of the General Assembly and the Governor to form a commission charged with reviewing the method by which appellate judges are selected.

The commission would also be asked to enhance the minimum requirements of persons seeking judicial office.

I have long supported an appointive system, but short of that, we must take steps to ensure the independence and the perceived impartiality of the judiciary. Campaign fundraising has created the misperception that fairness comes at a price. That is a perception we cannot afford.

All citizens, without regard for their gender, skin color or ethnic origin, must be given reason to believe that they have equal access to the law profession, and that they will receive fair treatment from the courts.

In the past ten years, we have worked to enhance perceptions of fair treatment through the work of the Gender Fairness Commission and the combined efforts of the Racial Fairness Commission, and Implementation Task Force. The various committees have shared the goal of ensuring that all citizens have a court system worthy of their respect and confidence.

Within the past few days U.S. District Judge Algenon Marbley has informed that the task force he chairs, the Racial Fairness Implementation Task Force, has completed its work.

I will soon join the task force in announcing recommendations to put in place programs and policies designed to promote the fair treatment of all Ohioans... whether African-American, Hispanic, Caucasian, Native American or Asian.

In these lean times for government budgets, the Supreme Court has attempted to reduce the budgetary shortfall of the Ohio Legal Assistance Foundation. The Court has contributed an additional 500-thousand dollars to the Foundation from the attorney registration fund, in recognition of our responsibility to assure access to the courts regardless of economic means.

The bench and bar also have restored confidence in the way we investigate and discipline lawyers and judges in Ohio….thanks in part to the work of the Bell Commission.

Attorney registration fees now make investigators available to all certified grievance committees, local certified grievance committees; are required to retain bar counsel, and a lawyer or judge whose conduct poses an imminent threat to the public can be quickly suspended.

It is my view, and the view of others, that these, and other changes enhance order in our own house.

Tomorrow, some of you will join me in marking the tenth anniversary of the Supreme Court Commission on Professionalism, created in July 1992.

The Commission developed and the court approved the Aspirational Ideals, The Lawyers Creed and The Judicial Creed. The work of the committee serves as a permanent reminder that we should expect to be held to the highest standards of ethics and civility.

The Court also has taken steps to ensure that the newest members of the legal profession know what is expected of them. The Bridge The Gap program requires first and second year attorneys be initiated to our professional standards, and the practical, day-to-day skills needed to be an attorney.

Ten years ago, the Court, at the request of the bar, created a Commission on the Certification of Attorneys as Specialists. This commission was created in part to regulate attorney advertisement.

This year, the Commission came full-circle when it produced a public service announcement that informs citizens with specialized needs of the availability of attorneys certified as specialists.

Our courts have faced no more daunting challenge the past decade than the ability to respond to the changes in American society and culture. The face of the challenge is portrayed graphically in the expression of satisfaction as a drug court graduate relates her personal journey to successful treatment.

That success, not realized in other rehabilitation attempts is produced by requiring the person to be accountable to a court that has the authority to order other sanctions.

It is commonplace now, but ten years ago judges, law enforcement and treatment providers did not even come together at the same table. In 1992, we held the first Ohio Conference on Substance Abuse and the Courts, a multidisciplinary effort to bring together those contending with the reality of a pernicious drug culture. A number of you here were part of that initiative.

You are painfully aware of the close correlation between drug abuse and criminal activity. Sixty-seven percent of arrested males and 63 percent of arrested females were under the influence of at least one illicit drug at the time of the arrest.

Studies indicate that 70 percent of drug court graduates are free of arrest the first few years after treatment…..a success rate that is nearly 25 percent higher than drug offenders who do not participate in court sponsored rehabilitation.

And let us make this clear... very few first time possessors of drugs are sentenced to prison unless they are also guilty of a prior felony, prior prison or jail sentence or violate a community sanction. Current Ohio law presumes that an F-5 drug possessor will receive treatment rather than incarceration… while preserving judicial discretion to incarcerate where protection of the public is required.

Any attempt to dilute the discretion and authority of judges to create successful rehabilitation options should be rejected.

The challenge of addressing the needs of a community has also produced systemic change in our approach to issues created by families and children. Many of you have participated in our search for creative, comprehensive responses to violence and neglect within families….and various programs have positioned the courts to continue these efforts.

Over the past ten years, no single concept has changed the texture of the justice system as dramatically as mediation. Expanding from a handful of pilot projects, mediation is now available in a majority of Ohio counties, including staff mediators in the Common Pleas Courts of 14 of the 20 largest counties in the state.

The General Assembly has been a necessary partner in its appropriation of training and grant funds.

Dispute resolution has matured to the point that it is now offered in specialized areas... such as child protection, truancy prevention and victim offender mediation.

The Supreme Court offers mediation in tax, workers compensation and original action cases.

Mediation is changing how attorneys relate to one another, and how citizens view the courts.

During the past decade, we have not only changed how we conduct court but also where we conduct court.

Judges working with county commissioners and city council members have led the way in renovating or building new court facilities. Whether it has been ambitious renovation in Stark or Union counties or new facilities in Butler County or Bowling Green, all enhance public spirit by placing priority on both function and access.

And we cannot forget the efforts of Judge Phil Rose who personally built a new bench, counsel tables and jury railing for his courtroom. During his off-hours over the course of two years, he transformed the courtroom into a public showcase.

In a little more than a year construction should be completed on the permanent home for the Supreme Court and related offices. Restoration is on time and on budget…meaning the first oral arguments should be held in the new building sometime in the first quarter of 2004.

It is a building that, for the first time in Ohio will symbolize the Judiciary as a separate, independent branch of government. The strength and style of its art deco design leaves one with the impression that the original architects intended it be used by a court.

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy justly received considerable praise for his efforts in launching Dialogue on Freedom. The program enlists judges and attorneys to visit high school classrooms to help students appreciate the values of democracy and the rule of law.

Justice Kennedy initiated the program earlier this year in the wake of the attacks last September.

In Ohio we have been at it far longer. Many of you here should take great pride, as I do, for your efforts in hosting and facilitating the Off-Site Court program that has been operating successfully for 15 years.

We have conducted court sessions in 43 counties and provided more than 19,000 students with a greater awareness and understanding of the judicial system.

Our support of law relation education, through teacher training and the most successful high school mock trial program in the country, demonstrate our commitment to the development of good citizens.

The past decade has also been a time of widespread revision of laws pertaining to felonies, misdemeanors, traffic and juvenile offenses.

The work of the Ohio Sentencing Commission, and the judges who have given their time and wisdom to these efforts, has resulted in criminal laws that are comprehensive, balanced and effective.

James Madison said when we stop learning we stop living. The Ohio Judicial College has helped keep us alive.

Whether it has been course work regarding capital cases, the new traffic code, or developing the educational program for this conference-- the college has been vital to the challenge to improve the skills of judges and court personnel.

The assistance provided new judges has been greatly enhanced the past ten years. In 1992, the college provided one and half days of training to new judges. It is now ten days; five before judges take the bench, and five more after they have had a few months experience.

One thing has not changed. The tuition fee in 1992 was 50 dollars... the same as it is today, but more courses are offered free of charge today than at any time in the history of the college.

All of this is a record of your accomplishment. Your work is a journal of events that give meaning to the vision of those who gave birth to our nation. And what you do each day makes real the promise in the 21st century that ours is a system of equal justice that makes no distinction for race, gender, ethnicity, economic status or degree of alleged crime. In an age of uncertainty, there can be no more important work.

I am grateful for the privilege of serving as your Chief Justice.

May God continue to bless America.