Speeches

Chief Justice Thomas J. Moyer
State of the Judiciary
Sept. 11, 2003

Madam Chair and officers of the Conference, invited guests, my colleagues. I thank the Judicial Conference for once again providing me with the opportunity to share my thoughts regarding the state of the Ohio judiciary. Judge Karner and Executive Director Rohrs, I express the gratitude of all of us at the Supreme Court for the constructive working relationship we have sustained during the past year and pledge to you our continued collaboration with the Conference as we work to improve the administration of justice in Ohio. I join with others in congratulating you on the occasion of the 40th anniversary of the Judicial Conference.

In 1963, America found the Beatles, lost a president, and marched on Washington.

1963 was the year of the first artificial heart, the first liver transplant and the introduction of the tranquilizer, valium.

It was a hectic time; at least that is how it seemed. But from the perspective of today, it was a walk in the park.

Today, we are too busy for jet travel. We teleconference instead.

Laptop computers now have the power once reserved for a Mercury rocket scientist.

And today, medical research has once again placed human design on the drawing board.

As for the next 40 years, researchers are already drawing the blueprints. Work has begun on quantum computers that will far surpass the best technology that enhances and invades our lives.

Scientists predict that within 40 years we will know whether there is extraterrestrial life.

Rodney Brooks, director of the Artificial Intelligence Lab at MIT, predicts a merger of flesh and machine – students with computer chips implanted in their brains. Brooks writes "that in just 20 years the boundary between fantasy and reality will be rent asunder."

A science historian observed that "science stands at the center of every dimension of modern life," his words a perfect echo of Alexander Hamilton, who said that all of society's issues will find their way to the courts. With science pervading our future, it is inevitable that the boundary between courtroom and laboratory will be blurred.

Today clinical trials offer the possibility of gene therapies that could eliminate debilitating diseases; and we are promised that we will not awake from the dream that children will someday be born free of birth defects.

In the environment, bio-remediation of hazardous materials could lead to the reclamation of abandoned industrial sights and chemical spills.

But the promise could be matched by the perils.

Stephen Palumbi writes in the Evolution Explosion that today "we humans can alter the evolution of the species around us, usually making them better competitors, pests and parasites." But, he adds, we do so "at our own expense."

Genetic screening could raise new legal challenges for doctors and insurance companies. Already there have been protests of genetically modified foods, and worries that genetically modified animals could have unintended consequences in the wild.

The conflicts of science and society converge on the courts, challenging the role of judge as gatekeeper.

We need not replace our robes with lab smocks, but we do need to develop an understanding of how to discern the difference between well-researched science and scientific claims.

Much of what you are learning here is a product of the work of Dr. Franklin Zweig. I am personally indebted to Dr. Zweig for the science to which I have been introduced, and I thank him, the staff of EINSHAC and the instructors he has assembled for you this week.

Dr. Zweig has sharpened the focus on the role of the courts at the vanguard of resolving the conflicts of society and science. To quote Dr. Zweig:

Because legislatures are slow to act, those controversies can be expected to be brought to court systems for resolution. Courts will become the first – not the last – resort for both dispute resolution and policy interpretation during the 21st century's early years.

Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer said that he "believes that in this age of science we must build legal foundations that are sound in science as well as in law. In an article titled The Interdependence of Science and Law, Justice Breyer wrote the following:

The practice of science depends on sound law – law that at a minimum supports science by offering the scientist breathing space in which he or she may search freely for the truth on which all knowledge depends. It is equally true that the law itself increasingly requires access to sound science.

The most far-reaching change in the administration of the courts has come with the advent of computer technology. No aspect of the justice system has been unaffected. Examples include the e-filings in Hamilton County, where the Court of Appeals, Common Pleas Court and the Municipal Court accept filings over a secure Internet link. An attorney from anywhere in the world, and at any time of day, is able to file a document and pay fees.

Because entries and duplications are made electronically, there is minimal risk of an error. And because the filings are available to the public over the Internet, a client can easily verify whether an attorney has completed the appropriate filings. In fact, the Web site for the Hamilton County Courts averages 500,000 visits per month.

While technology has promised the cost savings of improved efficiency, one of the greatest savings has come at the end of the court process, with the creation of the historical file. Hundreds of hours are spent preparing a case file for duplication onto microfiche. With e-filing, it can be a simple one-click process.

The Trumbull County Probate Court and the Garfield Heights Municipal Court also are expanding their capabilities to accept electronic filings.

The Supreme Court Advisory Committee on Technology and the Courts is moving forward on several areas of its charge. Working through various subcommittees, the Task Force is preparing proposals on fax filing standards, privacy and a courts network.

Perhaps the next area of progress in court technology will be in case management. The Standards Committee has finalized a draft proposal for public comment, which, if adopted, will simplify the purchase and operation of case management software by all courts. Soon, courts will have the benefit of case management rules, and access to proven, effective software that facilitate the process.

While faced with budget constraints, the Supreme Court has continued to provide technology and case management assistance to all Ohio courts. Demand for these services is so strong that some members of the Supreme Court staff spend more time at the local courts than they do in our offices. As well they should.

One of the great successes in case management has been in the Youngstown Municipal Court, where just a few years ago, there was virtually no system for tracking criminal and civil cases. As one judge described it, there was such a lack of information that they did not know where the problems were.

Today, the court has a proactive approach. After completing a strategic planning process coordinated by the Supreme Court and consultants from American University, the court hired an assignment officer who has improved the level of coordination among judges, bailiffs and court staff. Case tracking is now routine.

A mentoring program also was established between the Youngstown Municipal court and the Tuscarawas County general division. It was such a success that the Ohio Association for Court Administration is now developing it as a model to be used statewide.

On the topic of judicial selection, the four working groups that were formed following the March 6 forum have moved forward on the virtually unanimous conclusion of the 38 participants that changes should be made in the qualifications, terms of office and selection of judges.

In particular, the working groups charged with the responsibility of recommending changes in the terms of office of all Ohio judges and enhancing the qualifications necessary to assume the office of judge are in the final stages of preparing their recommendations.

Of equal significance is the interest expressed by some legislators in moving those issues from the status of interesting concepts to specific legislation.

A recent newspaper article observed that for people in this country who do not speak English, or at a minimum, do not speak it well. "The legal system can be a puzzle compounded by their inability to communicate."

Unfortunately, the problem is often compounded by a patchwork of people who speak more than one language, who serve as unofficial court interpreters but do not know the process or lexicon of court proceedings.

As many of you know, Ohio has experienced a dramatic increase in the number of citizens who do not use English as their primary language. More than 500,000 people in Ohio are estimated to have difficulties understanding what is commonly said in courthouses everyday.

The Supreme Court has implemented the recommendation of the Racial Fairness Implementation Task Force to join the Consortium for State Court Interpreter Certification, an organization of 30 states managed by the National Center for State Courts. The Consortium develops standards of competence, administers testing and certifies interpreters who meet minimum standards.

The following is an example provided by the National Center from a test administered to court interpreters seeking certification:

The interpreters are asked to translate from English to Spanish an attorney's question to a witness, Mrs. Pena, that attempts to confirm her address. The attorney's precise question is, "Now, Mrs. Pena, you indicated that you live in East Orange at 5681 Grand Street?"
Here are the responses of three different interpreters:

"You told me that you lived in west of Orange, at 56 Grand Street."

"You say that you live in East Orange."

"Em, em, I live at 58 on, on, Hunt Street."

And a fourth interpreter translated the question, "You say that you were eating an orange?"

The Consortium will assist Ohio in assessing court needs, establishing standards and developing curriculum and training materials for court interpreters.

By ensuring the complete and accurate interpretation of court proceedings we enshrine the constitutional guarantee of a fair trial for all, no matter what language they speak.

Work led by Justice Evelyn Stratton is changing the way the Ohio justice system approaches mental health issues. The Supreme Court Advisory Committee on the Mentally Ill in the Courts has been working since 2000 to create mental health dockets and Crisis Intervention Teams that seek to divert people with mental illnesses from the court system.

In just three years, the number of Ohio counties with court-related mental health programs has grown from 7 to 26, with more in the planning stages. The Committee is now developing standards for the treatment of the mentally ill who have been incarcerated, and guidelines that would establish the level of assistance that should be provided a person with mental illness upon release from jail.

I am pleased to inform you that this week Steve Hollon executed a renewal of our judges' liability insurance policy for another year. I regret to inform you that obtaining such insurance is becoming more costly and more difficult. Unfortunately, we are not able to dispute the conclusion that the conduct of a small but growing number of judges increases actuarial risk.

The administrative staff of the Supreme Court is examining the feasibility of diverting state tax refunds to pay past-due court costs, fines and penalties of the taxpayer. Successful programs are in place in states such as Michigan, Arizona, Oklahoma and California. The Conference of Chief Justices is supporting legislation to permit state courts to intercept federal tax refunds.

At my direction, court staff have discussed the idea with officials at the Ohio Department of Taxation, who informed us that the court fees would rank below the collection of past-due taxes and child support, as well as money owed the Bureau of Workers' Compensation.

A number of administrative issues are barriers, but we are considering the creation of a pilot project in one or two counties to determine the feasibility of the tax intercept program.

The jury service pilot projects in more than 50 courts across the state are coming to a close, and a final set of recommendations is expected to be issued in coming months by the Task Force on Jury Service. Thank you for your participation.

Some have expressed reservations about questioning of witnesses by jurors, but Task Force Chairman Judge Joe Clark, says most proposed innovations have been well received.

It would not be a state of the judiciary speech if I did not announce the formation of at least one new task force. Believing as I do in following precedent, I will soon appoint a task force composed of all stakeholders that will review the status of indigent representation. The officers of the Conference and others have convinced me that providing indigent representation at all levels of the state court system has become a challenge and needs to be addressed. If you have an interest in serving on the task force, please contact Steve Hollon or me.

The present will intersect with the past and move deep into the future when the Supreme Court and the offices affiliated with the Ohio justice system move to their new home.

In February 2004, the Supreme Court, the Ohio Judicial Conference, the Board of Commissioners on Grievances and Discipline, the Client Security Fund, the Ohio Court of Claims and the Criminal Sentencing Commission will move to 65 South Front Street.

In 1929, during the early days of what became the Great Depression, the Ohio General Assembly authorized construction of a new state office building as part of the developing civic center along the Scioto River in downtown Columbus. The cost was 6.5 million dollars and it was designed to, in the words of the Ohio State Building Commission, "express the dignity and resources of the sovereign state of Ohio." Transformation and restoration of the building will express the dignity and resources of the judicial branch of the sovereign state of Ohio.

It will be a momentous event. After 200 years of conducting business in shared quarters, the court will be housed in a building devoted solely to the judiciary. And what a building it is.

The renovation marks the renewal of a civic landmark, a treasure for all Ohioans to celebrate. When it was constructed 70 years ago, it was known as Ohio's Pride, a modern pyramid. For more than six decades it housed an array of state offices and agencies.

Its design and detail speak of an era when office buildings were meant to be more than floor upon floor of work stations. The building inspires through its marriage of art and architecture. It is not art for art's sake or mere decoration. The features call to mind a great and powerful state, its people, history and ideals.

Carved into the white marble exterior are inscriptions, bas-reliefs and symbols illustrating wisdom, patriotism, integrity and justice. Inside, flourishes from the classic period merge with the streamlined look of Art Deco to provide an account of Ohio history reaching back to the mound builders.

Cincinnati architect Harry Hake employed 10 nationally known artists-six of whom were Ohioans. They produced the sculptures, bronze portraits, mosaics, murals and ornamental metal work displayed throughout the building.

The walls of the first floor Grand Concourse are lined with portraits of Ohioans who served as presidents, U.S. Supreme Court justices and speakers of the U.S. House of Representatives. Also on the first floor are three hearing rooms, each with its own theme and style. The north hearing room portrays early and modern industries. The south hearing room displays large maps of Ohio illustrating the evolution of transportation and commerce.

The courtroom is the most impressive space in the building. It is almost two stories high with full-length windows facing the river. At the far end is a panorama of the settlement of Marietta in 1788. Fourteen mural panels depict significant events in the history of Ohio in chronological order. The courtroom ceiling is divided into five sections, each representing one of the five states that comprised the Northwest Territory. It is fitting that Ohio is in the center featuring the figure of Mercury leading a stallion.

The courtroom is equipped with the technology that will enable us to televise live oral arguments.

The ground floor lobby on the river side of the building pays homage to the first Ohioans, the Native Americans. The mosaic designs on the vaulted ceilings, the bronze and marble wall panels and the decorative light fixtures all derive a decorative theme from American Indian motifs. Bronze plaques honor four of the most celebrated Ohio Indian chiefs - Logan, Tecumseh, Pontiac and Little Turtle.

Every year, approximately 9,000 visitors, most of whom are students, tour the court. We anticipate the number to increase significantly when the building is opened. We are taking advantage of this opportunity and building an education and visitors' center. Through a variety of exhibits the center will tell the story of the men and women who shaped the Ohio court system. The aim is to provide visitors with an understanding and appreciation of the history, role and responsibilities of the judicial branch. Teachers who are assisting us have stated they can incorporate the murals into their teaching of Ohio history.

The Judicial College will be able to offer courses on site or through teleconferencing with state of the art facilities and equipment.

We are also planning to purchase selected pieces of art and to accept appropriate pieces of loaned or gifted art. The wonderful artwork created in the 1930s is historically significant, but does not reflect the purpose or character of the judiciary. The purchased art will help emphasize the new purpose of the building as a courthouse and justice center.

The court is fortunate to have the support of the Ohio State Bar Association and the State Bar Foundation to assist in fundraising for both the education center and the artwork. The Bar Foundation has committed a substantial financial gift to create two pieces of sculpture for the ponds that will reflect the new function of the building.

Buildings housing the institutions of democracy should reflect the powerful belief of our citizens that government by the people is fundamental to the enjoyment of our lives. Our public buildings should inspire, engender respect and enhance our trust. When one enters a court building, she should sense that something very special happens there, the peaceful, fair resolution of disputes. I can assure you, the new home for the Ohio judiciary certainly says that.

Each courthouse in our 88 counties is more than a symbol. They are the embodiment of the civic commitment to the human spirit. The courthouse is the laboratory of our great experiment in democracy.

Each day when we hold a trial, empanel a jury, or mediate a dispute, we reenact our historic commitment to the rule of law. By our work we pay homage to Montesquieu and Locke, Jefferson and Madison.

On a day that calls up images of the frailty of human life, we immerse our senses in the complexity and resilience of the human spirit. There is no greater monument to this spirit than the commitment to justice and freedom indelibly etched in the Constitution.

It is fitting that we pause this week to consider the past, present and future of the judiciary. The triangulation of these time frames gives focus to our meaning of justice. The law values the past, it resolves the conflicts of the present and gives clarity to our future.

In our time-unlike any time before us-our system of justice has turned its gaze to the future-to the technology, to the science and to the various methods of dispute resolution that make the courts fair, efficient and accessible.

In our time, we can enhance society's directive that there be justice for all, no matter the skin color, the native tongue, or mental capacity.

in our time, we can protect the integrity of the judicial selection process by taking bold, imaginative steps that enshrine the independence of the judiciary.

In our time, in my time, in your time, we can give new life to the values that underscore the rule of law.