Speeches

Chief Justice Thomas J. Moyer
Ohio Judicial Conference Annual Meeting
Sept. 6, 2007

Judge Adkins, Judge Farmer thank you for inviting me to present my 20th annual address to the Ohio Judicial Conference.

I also extend my gratitude to the officers and members of the Judicial Conference Executive Committee … for another year of collaboration as we move forward to address the needs of the judiciary.

And to Mark Schweikert and the Conference staff, thank you for your continued work to ensure the strength and vitality of our courts.

Judge Adkins, I speak for all of us here today in saying that we are very pleased to see you. You are a friend to many and a leader among us.

You have demonstrated that the human spirit overcomes adversity.

Judge, you are missed.

Seeing all of you … reminds me of the reason we meet here each year. The friendships, the informal discussions, remind us that the human element is irreplaceable in our profession in an age of e-mails, faxes and text messages.

We also come here each year to renew our vision, to refocus our intellect.

By stepping out of our courtrooms, leaving behind the daily demands of our dockets, we have the opportunity to reflect on the bigger picture, the issues that define the scope of our work.

When we come together the challenges fall from sight and the solutions rise to meet us.

The Pursuit of Justice, the theme of this conference, encourages each of us to ask new questions, to place, in a new light, old problems.

The pursuit of justice requires us to seek answers when others have only questions.

The pursuit of justice calls on us to see the broad horizon when others see only a narrow perspective.

The pursuit of justice requires us to use our wisdom more than our authority.

The pursuit of justice is made real by each of you … by the 721 Ohio judges … each time you render a decision that resolves a dispute, administer an estate, sentence a criminal.

Each time the winners and losers acknowledge the fairness of the proceeding in which their dispute was resolved … the justice pursued is justice served.

From Greenville to Woodsfield, from Painesville to Portsmouth … the pursuit of justice is more than an aspiration.

It is the judges' daily work; it is the citizens' expectation.

That is why when I talk about the state of the judiciary it is appropriate to look in on the county, district and municipal courtrooms across the state.

For it is there that judicial leadership is defined; creative solutions are forged.

SPECIALIZED DOCKETS

To make the point, this morning I will take you on a rhetorical tour of a few representative courts across the state.

The first stop is the Akron Municipal Court ... not because of its docket of traffic and misdemeanor cases … but because of the people you will meet, the men and women who participate in the Akron Mental Health Docket, the first of its kind in the state.

Judge Elinore Marsh Stormer initiated the specialized docket a few years ago after she noticed that many of the people who repeatedly came to court suffered from mental health disorders.

Judge Stormer's successor, Judge Annalisa Stubbs Williams meets each week with parties who have been diagnosed with severe psychological disorders and now receive treatment and prescribed medication.

A study by the Kent State University Department of Sociology concludes that graduates of the program spend far fewer days in jails and area hospitals than those not in the program … saving the state and the community hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Ohio has 31 courts with mental health dockets, more than a quarter of all the mental health dockets in the country.

Ohio is a leader in other specialized dockets, with 75 drug courts.

This year the Council of State Governments awarded grants to seven states to model Ohio's experience. It is just one indication that Ohio courts are at the forefront of efforts to stop the costly revolving door of justice.

CHILDREN, FAMILIES AND THE COURTS

Before I take you to the next courthouse I want to draw in your mind's eye the face of a most perplexing challenge. A challenge for both the courts and all of society.

Picture a small child perhaps four, five or six years old.

There is a father and a mother.

Things were fine until money got tight and the drinking got out of control.

First came the late night shouting, followed by a bruise here and a small cut there.

A visit to the emergency room, the parents told the doctors, was the result of a fall down the basement stairs.

The doctors knew better. So did the social workers, and the investigator from Children Services.

And yes, the judge knew better too.

That's why the judge ordered the child removed from the home and placed in foster care.

That was the response until a few years ago. The child protection system would slow to a crawl as authorities struggled to develop a permanent solution … either returning the child to the home … or terminating parental rights.

Weeks would turn into months, months into years … as psychological evaluations were delayed and court appearances were missed … either because the parents were not served with the proper notices or the lawyers needed more time to prepare.

Case workers were often overburdened and the lines of communication not always open.

If not carefully monitored, the entire process could easily take three or four years.

Three or four years, that in the eyes of a six year old, is seemingly a lifetime.

To say that a child could languish in foster care is not an overstatement.

Now shift your attention to a converted storefront in downtown Marion, an open, well-lighted complex of offices that is now the home of the Marion County Family Court. It is an inauspicious store front that frames the site of remarkable progress—progress in reducing the time children spend in foster care.

The judges, clerks, and court administrators conduct regular meetings with child welfare officials, lawyers and guardians ad litem. They identify problems … and develop solutions. They set goals for themselves and measure their successes and failures. And most importantly, they have produced results.

Since 2003, the collaborative approach in Marion County has reduced the time a child spends in a foster home waiting for adoption by more than one thousand, one hundred days.

That's three years a child does not spend in a foster home.

That's three fewer years that the county pays for foster care.

And it is three years sooner a child is living in a safe and supporting permanent home.

Here is one simple idea they implemented: a paralegal for Marion County Children Services now has an office at the Family Court, reducing the time it takes to serve notices on the parties and improving the scheduling of hearings.

The collaboration in Marion County is the out-growth of Beyond the Numbers, an intensive day-and-a-half training program sponsored by the Supreme Court that draws together all the affected parties in a county. Trained facilitators have already trained personnel in 44 counties.

In Franklin County, the Juvenile and Domestic Relations judges report a 50 percent reduction in the number of cases re-filed each month for missing time guidelines.

Probate and Juvenile Judge Robert Stewart reports that currently in Athens County there are no abuse, neglect and dependency cases pending beyond the time guidelines. Just two years ago … 38 percent of the cases were outside the deadline.

We have made significant progress, but these examples of collaboration do not yet create a statewide pattern. To help ensure the continued progress, Governor Strickland and I will co-chair the Ohio Summit on Children to be held in Columbus in May 2008.

We will invite five-member teams from each Ohio county … with the local juvenile court judge and the director of the county children services or jobs and family services board serving as the team leaders for each county.

Each county will be required to submit an action plan within 90 days after the summit. A follow-up conference will be held in 2009 to report on progress made by the counties.

ASTAR

In the Putnam County Courthouse, Common Pleas Judge Randall Basinger approved a settlement that resolved a dispute among a number of parties regarding the alleged deleterious effects of hydrogen sulfide, a byproduct of manure lagoons, and barns.

Neighbors close to a mega farm alleged that the hydrogen sulfide produced neurological harm.

Judge Basinger is one of 20 Ohio judges who have completed 120 hours of advanced training in a wide range of scientific knowledge in medicine, and the bio and life sciences.

One of the courses attended by Judge Basinger was created at the request, and with the assistance of the Ohio Judicial College. The College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences, the College of Veterinary Medicine, and The Ohio State University Extension developed and presented the science curriculum for the judges.

Judge Basinger used the information from that seminar to conduct hearings and write opinions with respect to the science presented by the parties to the lawsuit.

The Advanced Science and Technology Adjudication Resource Center is a national program supported with federal funds and spearheaded by the states of Ohio and Maryland.

The program exposes a selected number of state and federal judges to basic science—the knowledge necessary for judges to understand the science that is increasingly critical to a myriad of legal issues with economic, social and moral consequences. ASTAR gives judges new tools to be used in their role as gatekeepers of the flow of reliable evidence to juries.

The 15 Ohio judges in the current ASTAR class will participate in a program next month on the neuro-sciences conducted at Johns Hopkins University.

They will be joined by over 200 judges from 30 states and will be exposed to technologies adapted by biomedical science to understand the function of the human brain, its impact on addiction, behavior and highlighting of legal sufficiency of evidence proffers made in criminal and civil cases derived from neuro-technologies.

I urge you to request the assistance of an ASTAR judge for consultation or for assignment. The 20 judges who have been certified as resource judges are:

Randall Basinger

Charles Brown

Janet Burnside

Joe Clark

Dan Favreau

William Finnegan

Fred Inderlied

Jan Michael Long

Gene Lucci

Thomas Marcelain

Melba Marsh

David Matia

Elizabeth Mattingly

John Milligan

Carla Moore

Robert Pollex

Robert Ringland

Joseph Schmenk

Lee Sinclair

Lynn Slaby

Thomas Zachman

COURTS NETWORK

For the sake of demonstration the next stop on our tour could be any Juvenile Court in the state.

The young boy appearing before the judge faces charges for fighting with one of the neighbor boys.

Unknown to the judge, the boy has moved three times in four years.

Not even the prosecutor knows the boy has an arrest record in each of his former communities … with each arrest for a crime more serious than the one before.

Without the child's juvenile court history, the judge will not be able to fashion an appropriate rehabilitation program.

Currently in the state of Ohio a system does not exist that ensures that the courts and law enforcement officers have instant access to complete information.

This information gap is detrimental to efforts to combat a broad range of problems including domestic violence, drunk driving and sexual offenses.

In response, the Supreme Court budget adopted by the General Assembly appropriates funds for the Ohio Courts Network, a secure, Internet-based system that will link the courts and law enforcement community.

The network will identify information that is critical to investigations, dispositions, and sentencing.

The goal is to gather specific information to share, and by doing so, enhance and streamline the legal process. A Web portal will allow all Ohio courts to access Internet resources, share new application technologies and provide a single point of contact.

It will also give justice system partners access to critical court information, and improve public access to appropriate court information.

Currently, 23 courts … a mixture of all levels of the judiciary in both rural and urban areas … are participating in the first stage of the Ohio Courts Network … in what the technology department refers to as the proof-of-concept phase.

This stage will test if the network is technologically feasible and also ensure that the network provides value to the courts.

Today, court information is used to make critical decisions regarding background checks, handgun purchases, issuance of commercial driver and pilot licenses, immigration, Amber Alerts, domestic violence protections and child support compliance.

These are vital to the safety of Ohio communities. Information contained in the court system is critical to this effort.

The courts network will build a statewide infrastructure for the judicial branch of Ohio to enable the discreet sharing of critical information.

COURT INTERPRETERS

The next stop on our tour is Cincinnati … where the broad marble hallways of the Hamilton County Courthouse now echo with languages such as Wolof, Farsi and Punjabi.

Mike Walton, the Court Administrator for the Hamilton County Common Pleas Court, says it is a “tsunami, an explosion of people coming before the courts who do not speak English.”

The Hamilton County Municipal Court now has a full-time Spanish speaking interpreter. The cost of providing interpreter services in both the Common Pleas and Municipal Courts in Hamilton County rose to more than $235,000 in 2005.

Rural counties are not exempt from the need for qualified sign and language interpreters. A Supreme Court survey identified 60 languages spoken in Ohio courts each year.

So when the need arises in Ashland or Scioto Counties, or elsewhere in Ohio … how can a judge be certain that parties and witnesses understand the spoken word?

The Supreme Court Advisory Committee on Interpreter Services has developed Bench Cards, quick reference guides for judges that take a judge through the steps for determining if a court situation requires a trained interpreter, whether an interpreter has the requisite skills needed in a court setting and how to properly monitor the proceedings.

Separate bench books have been developed for language interpreters and sign language interpreters.

The Supreme Court provides training for judges, clerks and court administrators at no cost to the local courts.

We have trained approximately 450 interpreters on the Code of Ethics, Legal Procedure and Terminology, and on how to identify cases of domestic violence.

MEDIATION

The last courthouse on our tour is in your county. It is your courthouse.

You can envision the scene in your mind's eye … divorced parents disagree on how to raise their child … or a local manufacturer is suing a supplier who was late with a delivery.

Those disputes you have seen before.

Growing in number are lawsuits involving eminent domain, governmental immunity, and requests for public records.

Twenty to thirty years ago … litigation was the only means for disputing parties to resolve the dispute. After great expense and a prolonged confrontation the litigants relied on a judge to craft a solution that they themselves could not create.

Today disputing parties will likely craft their own solution with the guidance of a court-provided mediator. Every county now has access to a mediation program for at least one type of case in their jurisdiction. 

The goal is access for all case types in all counties.

These are a few of the many examples one could report that demonstrate an important reality; the pursuit of justice in 2007 requires adherence to fundamental principles and creative leadership that responds to changing expectations.

COMMITTEES

Any tour of Ohio courts would necessitate a visit to the conference rooms at the Ohio Judicial Center … where committees and commissions develop recommendations and policy guidelines. It is here that ideas and consensus are developed.

Judge Adkins you know the scene well, through your work as chair of the Task Force on Pro Se and Indigent Litigants.

CODE OF JUDICIAL CONDUCT

Retired Judge Tom Bryant now leads a 20-member task force that is reviewing the ABA's Model Code of Judicial Conduct.

He was a logical choice to chair the effort in light of the fact that he recently finished his term as chair of the Board of Commissioners on Grievances & Discipline.

Judges constitute a majority of the task force, including Judge Colleen Cooney who also chairs the Judicial Conference committee on Judicial Ethics and Professionalism.

Judge Bryant has scheduled monthly meetings of the Task Force and expects to circulate a draft of the amendments before they are presented to the Supreme Court in the first half of next year.

COURT REPORTERS

A recently adopted set of recommendations will establish a certification process for court reporters.

The Task Force on the Certification of Court Reporters was formed at the request of the Ohio Court Reporters Association and was chaired by Judge Mary Donovan of the 2nd District Court of Appeals.

The recommendations represent a logical continuation of our goal to ensure that every position in the court system is served by a person who is competent to discharge their responsibility: the judge, the clerk, the administrators, the bailiffs and security personnel.

COMMERCIAL DOCKETS

A task force co-chaired by Judge John Bessey and Pat Fischer, President of the Cincinnati Bar Association, expects to complete recommendations early next year to establish specialized dockets for complex, business-to-business litigation.

Most business-to-business litigation is different from other litigation in the number of documents and witnesses, the extent of the motion practice, discovery disputes, and increasingly, knowledge of technology.

The project will determine the best means of adopting commercial dockets in some of our common pleas courts.

The task force has identified five Common Pleas courts as most desirable pilots.

COURT COSTS AND FILING FEES

The leaders of the General Assembly and I recently appointed our designees to constitute a new Joint Committee to Study Court Costs and Filing Fees. It is chaired by Representative Matt Huffman and Supreme Court Administrative Director Steve Hollon.

Our research reveals 308 references in the Revised Code to the authority of a judge to assess court costs and fines.

The addition of a court cost has been viewed as an easy means of funding programs not directly related to the operation of the courts.

That practice has produced court costs in a number of counties that exceed the fine assessed by the judge. Many persons pay only the court costs and not the fine.

This joint committee is carefully reviewing the assessment of court costs and fees.

With few exceptions, such user fees should be assessed for the operation and maintenance of the courts, and not as a source of revenue for purposes unrelated to the administration of justice.

LEGISLATION

We expect action in the General Assembly this fall on two bills of high importance.

House Bill 154 would transform mayors' courts into community courts, thereby bringing the adjudication of all misdemeanors into the judicial system.

We expect that bill to be voted out of the House Committee this month.

House Bill 173, the so-called judicial reform bill, has been modified to reflect concerns of some judges and is also expected to be approved by the House Judiciary Committee.

Although adjustments to judicial compensation are part of House Bill 173, it is expected that those provisions will be removed.

We continue to be frustrated in our perpetual efforts to cause the General Assembly to simply do what is fair—recognize the value of judges to their communities and recognize the striking disparity in Ohio's judicial compensation compared to the compensation provided judges in other states.

Some of you, Mark Schweikert, and Steve and I have met with all of the appropriate leaders. In June, in an attempt to diminish the political considerations bearing on the issue, I requested a meeting with the Governor, the Speaker, and the President of the Senate.

In the meeting we did not discuss the inadequacy of judicial compensation—that is no longer disputed.

We offered an attractive alternative source of funding.

We compared judges' compensation to the compensation of others who serve in publicly funded positions.

We discussed the importance to every community in Ohio of attracting and retaining highly competent lawyers to the judiciary.

To date, our considerable expenditure of time and energy has not carried us over the political hurdles.

I am disappointed but not discouraged.

We continue to develop funding alternatives and new strategies. I assure you that all of us will continue our efforts until an equitable compensation bill is adopted by the General Assembly and approved by the Governor.

We are judges. We are not averse to new challenges.

These include vexing issues that modern technology brings into our courtrooms, such as the use and availability of DNA, leading to our creation of the ASTAR program; challenges presented by changing social dynamics leading to our organizing the statewide Summit on Children next spring; and challenges presented by specialized litigation, such as asbestos cases, leading to our creation of a specialized docket program and the creative use of retired judges.

The questions for us all become:

What are the emerging trends?

How do we identify them?

How do we address them?

How do they affect the way we do business?

I am suspect of the notion that the future will be an extension of the past. Society's growing complexity does not travel a linear path.

In the near future we will be challenged by new issues, complex issues—some that only appear now on a distant horizon.

The pursuit of justice will bring us an endless array of questions; some scientific, some political, some social in nature.

All this as we seek to protect the integrity of the judicial selection process.

No one person, no one group can set the future course of an institution that is as fundamental to society as the judiciary.

As judges we must resist the urge to “paddle our own canoes,” as William Howard Taft once warned.

We need a systematic, on-going effort to move forward together.

The various judicial associations, the Conference and related entities all pursue the effective administration of justice with their particularized agendas. Collaboration and coordination of effort is desirable but not always achieved.

In the next few days I will be addressing these questions and the larger issue of judicial leadership as I invite judicial leaders, and the leaders of our justice system partners, such as the various bar associations and court personnel associations, to the first of a series of meetings to discuss issues of common concern.

Our office of public trust places upon us a special responsibility to lead. To meet that responsibility I anticipate our meetings will lead to ongoing efforts to coordinate our collective activities and provide strategic direction in the governance of the judicial branch of Ohio.

That is my responsibility as Chief Justice, to fulfill my role as the leader of the judicial branch. It is also our collective responsibility, to work together as we pursue justice in our daily work. I want you to know how privileged I am to be with you in that pursuit.