Speeches

Chief Justice Maureen O'Connor
Swearing-in Ceremony
Jan. 7, 2011

Thank you very much. Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen. Bishop Campbell, colleagues, family, and friends, thank you very much for coming this afternoon. I want to thank Justice Pfeifer for the introduction and the administration of the oath. I also would like to thank Judge Bill Klatt, Valoria Hoover, and Ben Espy for their remarks. And Carm thank you, for making the trip, to preside as MC for this event. I’d like to take the opportunity right now to acknowledge some really important people to me who are here today. The first and foremost, I would not be standing in front of you or been successful without a good staff. And my personal staff at the court is no exception. I’d like them to stand and I’m going to introduce them, much to their dismay:

Pierce Reed senior judicial attorney, Amy Ervin judicial attorney, Lindsey Ellis judicial attorney, Jennifer Cordle judicial attorney, and Jill Winn my Executive Assistant who has been with me since my days in the Lieutenant Governor’s Office. Thank you staff, you do a great job.

I also have my campaign staff here:

Amy Sabath my manager, for three campaigns Amy if you’ll stand.  Hailey Andrews, Suzanne Whisler, Jason Molihan, Andrew Anderson, and Sarah Sofia Knepp if you’d all stand and take a bow.

You’ve seen my sons Alex and Ed Kip who are up here, and I have my daughter-in-law Sarah Kip, and Ed’s fiancée is also in the front row there, very important people to me. I also have in attendance about 50 family members and friends who quote “Knew me when.” Long before I entered public service. In some cases from my college days, you will recognize these people by the duct tape that is stretched across their mouth. I would also be remiss if I did not recognize former Chief Justice Eric Brown and thank him for his service to the court.

I would be remiss if I did not also recognize former Chief Justice Eric Brown and thank him for his service on the Court.

I want to offer special, heartfelt gratitude to the Cleveland Pipe and Drums for participating in the presentation of the colors. The other members of the Cleveland Pipe and Drums could not be here today because they are performing a much more important and somber duty. They are at the funeral for Clark County Deputy Suzanne Hopper, who was killed in the line of duty on New Year’s Day.

Before we continue, please bow your heads and join me in a moment of silence for Deputy Hopper. May her family find some comfort in this very difficult time.

I have had the honor and privilege of taking the oath of office for the Supreme Court three times since 2003. Today is similar, but somehow different.

Similar in that I recited the same words for my first and second terms as a Justice, different in that I realize the historical significance of this moment.

Never before in the 207-year history of the Ohio Supreme Court has a woman served as Chief Justice. While I  am humbled to be the first, I certainly hope that I won’t be the first and only

I follow in the footsteps of those women that have come before, on this Court and elsewhere in state government:

I also want to recognize another very special woman who is with us today.

Mary Moyer, wife of the late Chief Justice Thomas J. Moyer is with us today. Mary, thank you for being here and for sharing the Chief with us these past 24 years.

We have spent much of this past year mourning the loss of our dear friend and colleague, in many ways 2010 can be labeled annus horibilis ... and I for one am happy to begin 2011 as we do today ... in celebration and gratitude.

This very Courtroom we stand in is a reason to celebrate and is monument to the Chief’s legacy. We would not be here today were it not for his efforts in acquiring and restoring the Ohio Judicial Center.

I am inspired by the Chief’s spirit as I take on the immense responsibilities that he handled so capably for so many years.

But the great thing about this job is that I won’t be doing this alone: I have six wonderful colleagues with which to collaborate on leading Ohio’s judiciary in these particularly difficult financial circumstances. And each one of them brings a unique perspective to our work and our mission.

Two years ago, I described being a member of the Court as a blessing and the job as fascinating, intellectually challenging and full of personal satisfaction. My six colleagues on the bench are a big part of the reason why.

Justice Pfeifer ... a delightful colleague who did a wonderful job of shepherding the court after the loss of Tom Moyer. You know  two years ago PEP spoke at my swearing in…it was a risk on my part & some would  expect payback ... don’t  worry Paul, I will not return the favor today ... but soon, just not today. 

Justice Stratton ... a very special person who has used her position of justice to summon attention and resources to help to deliver legal services services to troubled members of society.

Justice O’Donnell ... a very  energetic justice who is devoted to professionalism and helping to  improve the bench and bar.

Justice Lanzinger, my campaign trail BFF ... we kept each other going throughout the campaign with lots of laughs, mutual support and total optimism for a positive outcome ...

Justice Cupp ... the reflective colleague who often seems able to build consensus in a quite deliberative way that proves to be most effective.

Justice McGee Brown, the newest addition to the Court ... who I am proud to call a colleague and who is off to a great start on Ohio’s Supreme Court.

And while we Justices are busy hearing and deciding cases, the day-to-day administrative operations of the Court are left to the professional staff headed by Steven Hollon as administrative director. He ensures not only that the trains run on time but that they are on the right track as well. We are grateful to Steve and to all the staff for their day-in, day-out dedication. 

I would also like to take the opportunity to recognize the staff of the supreme court commanded by Rick Dove, who worked so diligently to make this event happen today ... please stand to be recognized.

In partnership with my fellow Justices, the leadership on the Court and our colleagues throughout the judiciary, I hope to articulate and execute a vision for the Ohio judicial branch that builds on and expands upon the legacy of Chief Justice Moyer with one purpose in mind ... to make the greatest system of justice even better

That is what I want to briefly talk to you about today: How I intend to work with you, with the Ohio Judicial Conference, with all of our judges and with our partners in state and local government to strengthen our courts and improve the administration of Justice.

I see four areas of challenge for us as we work to carry Chief Moyer’s legacy forward:

    The budget,

    Supporting diversity and access to justice,

    Supporting impartial courts free from political influence, and

    Supporting collaboration and community involvement by judges.

Let me start with our biggest challenge: the budget.

Ohio faces by some estimates a more than $8 billion deficit. While the judiciary and Supreme Court budget represents a tiny fraction of the total, we must do our part.

The judiciary can begin to meet its obligation to help ease the state’s financial burden by reducing the Supreme Court’s discretionary biennial budget by 10 percent while ensuring the continued fair and efficient administration of justice.

But this is just a start.

We also must look beyond the immediate crisis and examine long-term solutions that will strengthen the financial picture for Ohio’s courts.

We need to pursue systemic change and further cost savings through a collaborative process involving Ohio’s judges, bar associations and all stakeholders in the legal community.

To take this longer view, I will establish a bi partisan Task Force on the Judicial Budget to examine the current structure and funding of the judicial branch.

I will soon appoint the task force members that will consist of representatives of the Judicial Conference, all the judges associations, the Ohio State Bar Association, and associations representing other major constituencies of the judicial branch.

The panel will be charged with meeting throughout 2011 and issuing a report by the end of the year with specific recommendations for further costs savings.

I hope members of the bench and bar will join me in identifying cost savings and efficiencies within the judiciary.

Additionally, this past Monday I met with all staff at the Supreme Court to enlist their assistance.

We have people who have worked in the judicial system for decades. Their collective knowledge will be immensely valuable as we tackle the budgetary issues facing Ohio’s courts.

I solicited every staff member for their ideas for saving money and improving the financial picture of the judicial system. I have already received suggestions and welcome more.

This is a cause that requires our immediate and focused attention.

The second area we need to focus is in supporting diversity in the legal profession and on the bench and supporting access to justice for all Ohioans.

Chief Moyer understood the importance of a diverse bench and bar, and he knew that we could do better.

In the next six years, we will do better in this area.

This starts with continuing with the good work we have already begun in this area.

From the Law and Leadership program that prepares the next generation of urban students to consider a career in the law, to implementing a new education component to train judges to recognize and eliminate bias in the courtroom, to making more court forms accessible in many languages, to requiring that court foreign language interpreters become certified, there are numerous ways that the Supreme Court supports greater diversity throughout the legal system.

I hope to build on those efforts by hiring an attorney to specifically focus on access and fairness issues, develop a diversity curriculum for judges, and work with local courts and the affinity bar associations to further this mission.

We have made progress in supporting diversity on the bench and bar, but we clearly have more work to do.

Let me just share a few discouraging statistics to make the point:

Today, as we swear in the first woman Chief Justice in Ohio history and achieve a female majority on the Supreme Court bench, less than one in four judges in Ohio are women even though Ohio’s population is 50 percent women.

African Americans make up about 12 percent of the Ohio population, but less than 7 percent of judges in Ohio are African American.

On the bar, in some categories, the numbers are worse, and I will give just one example:

We can do better.

Until we have a bench and a bar in Ohio that is truly representative of our diverse population, we have much more work to do in this area.

But fiscal reforms and improved diversity and access to justice are not our only challenges.

We must carry forward efforts supporting independent courts that are free from even the perception of political influence.

Much discussion has been devoted over the last several years to judicial elections and improving the way we elect judges, with most of it focused on whether voters would approve an appointed system.

Instead of waiting until that debate is resolved there are ways we can improve our current system that supports fair and impartial courts and keeps partisan special interests out of Ohio’s courthouses.

By holding non-partisan primaries that remove party affiliations from the names of judicial candidates on the primary ballot. Ohio is the only state in the country that elects judges in partisan judicial primaries, followed by a non-partisan general election. History teaches us that less partisan politics – not more – supports fair and impartial courts.

Ohio should join the other states that hold nonpartisan primary elections to select the two candidates who face off in a general election in November. Party affiliation would not appear on the ballot in either election because party affiliation is irrelevant to judging.

Codifying judicial appointment panels should be investigated.  Nearly half of Ohio judges first take the bench by gubernatorial appointment to fill a vacancy, making this a critical piece of the process. By establishing an objective process for screening candidates and making recommendations to the governor, these panels involve more members of the community in this important process and strengthen the public’s confidence in the process and thereby the judiciary. Requiring the advice and consent of the Senate in filling Supreme Court vacancies also inspires public confidence. By adding this sensible check on gubernatorial power, Ohio would make it less likely that these important appointments are made on an overtly political basis.

Increasing qualifications and training for judges and judicial candidates. Under this proposal, the basic qualifications for judicial office would increase including the required years of experience for common pleas judges from six to 10 years, from six to 12 years for appeals court judges and from six to 15 years for Supreme Court justices. The Supreme Court would also establish a judicial candidate education program for candidates preparing to seek judicial office. These are sensible reforms that only enhance the judiciary in Ohio.

My vision for the Court and the judicial branch as a whole also includes another critical ingredient: Constant communication and collaboration. Only by embracing these concepts will we have a thriving and successful judiciary in Ohio.

Local courts’ and judges’ challenges and concerns vary across this large and diverse state, and I am looking forward to collaborating with them on the important work of supporting and improving the administration of justice.

I intend to schedule trips across the state to meet and listen to courts and bar associations on a regular basis. I envision these informal visits – whether it’s lunch or simply coffee – as a chance to get to know better the bench, bar and court personnel in every county in Ohio. Administrative Director Hollon will join me on these visits.

As we make the rounds to Ohio’s 88 counties, I expect to hear plenty – the good, the bad, and the ugly – about local and statewide issues that impact the work we do on a daily basis.

I will encourage judges to be active members in their communities within the boundaries of the judicial canons.

Ohioans benefit from a judiciary that is not apart from but a part of the community.

I will work to support collaboration and involvement.

Other areas of focus on the horizon include educating the public about the role of the Supreme Court and its impact on their daily lives; reviewing and selecting for implementation the appropriate recommendations contained in the recent report on Ohio’s compliance with the ABA death penalty review; and reviewing upcoming recommendations regarding judicial recusal and conflict of interest.

And we need to take a fresh look at how we provide legal education in Ohio in the 21st Century. I look forward to my first bench-bar conference as Chief Justice this March, where I hope we can begin a dialogue on how we can improve the way we train new students to become lawyers.

Following through on each of these initiatives we surely will confront as yet unforeseen obstacles that will require the collective wisdom of all stakeholders within the judicial branch. I intend to make use of that wisdom. I hope you will take me up on that offer.

As difficult as these challenges will be to face, an even greater discussion was occurring in Ohio almost 100 years ago.

In the early 20th century, many Ohioans believed that the then current state constitution was outdated. In 1910 Ohio voters approved the calling of a Constitutional Convention, which began in January 1912.

Delegates from all over the state gathered in Columbus to consider whether to create a new Constitution or simply enact amendments to the current version. Part of their discussion centered on the women’s suffrage movement and whether it was even appropriate to have a woman in government.

Some of the exchanges on this topic are quite revealing about how far we have come in how women are viewed.

In the notes to the convention, it is recorded that one Mr. Bowdle incredulously asks a fellow delegate if he believes it is a natural right for a woman to be – “for illustration” – president of the United States or chief justice of the Supreme Court of Ohio. He voiced a concern about their ability to reason by asking the delegate to whom he was speaking “who would consent to try a case before a jury or judge who was ruled by “intuition.”

Mr. Read responds with: “I don’t know but that I would. Intuition sometimes is a good deal better than the reasoning of some men.”

Another delegate, a Mr. Fitzsimons, also comments on  this foreign concept by agreeing that while it might be incongruous to have women sitting in the presidential chair or on the supreme bench it might be a ‘welcome change to the specimens of officials that they were then compelled to view.”

What would they say to not only a woman chief justice but to a bench, the majority of whom are women??

It’s amazing how times have changed and it only took about 100 years.

During the campaign, the gender issue was important to some audiences and irrelevant to others. I spoke with students about the Court and the fact that I would be the first woman Chief Justice.

I came to realize that for the students, ‘gender barrier’ was a foreign concept ... especially when talking about the law.

That attitude serves us well.

 I hope to be judged not on my gender but on how well I get the job done. That shows progress and how far as a society we’ve come.

I close with the words of my dear friend and colleague, the late Chief Justice Moyer:

“Let us leave here with a renewed spirit and hope for the American ideal of justice for all. Let us recommit, let us rededicate ourselves to the expectations that justice is achieved through the virtuous acts of judges bound by the principles of impartiality and fairness.”

I am humbled and honored to serve as your Chief Justice.

Thank you and God bless you.