Speeches

Chief Justice Maureen O'Connor
Ohio Association of Magistrates Fall Conference
October 1, 2015

Thank you Nancy for that introduction, for your leadership of the association, and for the invitation to speak at OAM’s annual fall conference.

Last year I was pleased to join you to offer my congratulations on the association’s 25th anniversary.

As the association has moved past its silver anniversary, there’s little doubt that magistrates’ duties will change and magistrates’ impact will grow over the next 25 years.

Today I plan to share an annual report on the judiciary just like in past years. Part of today’s message is to acknowledge your work in courts across the state every day and how that work intersects with the work of the Supreme Court.

In order to properly acknowledge all the magistrates working in the judicial system, it’s beneficial to know how many of you there are and where you are working.

To that end, during the attorney services biennial registration period that just closed on September 1, we added a new section on the form for magistrates to self-report.

We thought obtaining this information was necessary in order to determine whether it is feasible to bring magistrates into the judges self-insurance liability program.

The current insurance program for judges only is set to remain in place as-is through June 30, 2016.

New plan terms will be developed by the Supreme Court in the spring of 2016. At that time a decision will be made whether to include magistrates in the coverage going forward. Please stay tuned for developments in this area.

There was another reason for a magistrates census.

Last year I mentioned that a special subcommittee had been formed within the Commission on the Rules of Superintendence solely focused on magistrates.

The subcommittee presented recommendations to the Supreme Court in May.

But before considering any of the recommendations, my colleagues and I who serve on the Court wanted a better idea about the number of magistrates in Ohio.

With a more accurate accounting of the number of magistrates in Ohio, our Court will be able to consider those subcommittee recommendations with a clearer understanding of their impact – if adopted – on those of you who serve as magistrates, on our operations at the Supreme Court, and the judicial system as a whole.

Where the Supreme Court and your association most often work hand-in-hand is through the Judicial College.

We have supported magistrates in your professional advancement since 1988, when the Judicial College first offered Continuing Legal Education courses designed specifically for magistrates.

We partner on delivering the New Magistrate Orientation that provides valuable training and resources to aid in transitioning from practicing attorney to judicial officer over the three-day course.

We also partner on developing and delivering educational aspects for this conference as well as your annual spring conference.

Among other duties, the Judicial College has pledged to design and develop the education program in coordination with association representatives, to identify and obtain course faculty, and to provide staffing support for educational conferences.

The association, meanwhile, has pledged to provide staff support, prepare registration materials, and receive and process all conference registration fees.

The Supreme Court/association partnership is outlined in detail in a Memorandum of Understanding entered into in 2010 between our organizations.

As part of that MOU, our Office of Judicial Services is able to provide secretariat support to your association.

We offer that support because the success of this association is critical to enable all of us to fulfill our responsibility to serve those who have entrusted us with the responsibility of dispensing justice in a fair and timely manner.

We have just begun the process of updating our MOU. Please consult with your leadership should you have any thoughts on improving our partnership for consideration for inclusion in the MOU.

Outside of our formal MOU, however, there exists more synergy.

Many of you serve in various roles on Supreme Court committees, boards, and commissions.

Magistrates are often the ones who step up and provide the heavy lifting necessary to draft reports, vet concepts, and provide insight.

Your efforts in this area are beneficial to say the least and oftentimes critical in getting the work done, on time, and done right.

In fact, tomorrow the Commission on Technology and the Courts – of which Allen County Juvenile Court Magistrate Brandie Swickrath is a member – will meet to hear the results of the feasibility study conducted over the past year by the Gartner Group regarding a statewide case management solution.

Many other magistrates volunteer as faculty members for courses offered by the Judicial College.

Your time spent planning the curriculum and passing along your experience and expertise by serving as an instructor is invaluable in achieving the desired outcomes of the course for those taking it.

Licking County Domestic Relations Court Magistrate Bill Rickrich immediately comes to mind, having served as an instructor for the Judicial College for more than 20 years. Bill’s second term as a Judicial College trustee is coming to close, but I know from his two decades-plus of dedicated service that we can still rely on him to serve as an instructor and as a contributor to the success of judicial branch education in Ohio.

Still other magistrates present to the Justices from time to time at our administrative conferences about proposed rule amendments.

Past OAM Chair Mark Huberman recently spoke on behalf of the Commission on the Rules of Practice & Procedure.

Your willingness to present rules, answer Justices’ questions, and share your inside/out knowledge of everything that needs to be considered concerning rule amendments results in better, more comprehensive rules that effectively and efficiently govern the judiciary.

Before I mention a few aspects of the State of the Judiciary address I delivered to Ohio’s judges, I want to express a personal note of thanks.

As a former magistrate, please know that the leader of the judicial branch knows and appreciates what you do day in and day out to further the cause of justice in our state.

The training I received and the experience I gained as a magistrate in Summit County Common Pleas Probate Court led me straight to where I am today.

Those eight years in probate court absolutely prepared me to handle whatever came my way.

Whether you intend to run for judge some day or continue to serve in your current capacity, please know that you have chosen a great career. Thank you for your service.

I won’t spend as much time on the topics from the State of the Judiciary as I did with the judges, but there are a few items germane for this audience.

As I told the judges, the people of Ohio expect their judicial officers to display three characteristics more than any others.

That includes doing your sworn duty even when it’s a personal challenge.

I appreciate your commitment in these areas. I also appreciate those of you who volunteer to serve in leadership/officer positions in this association and in other professional associations like the Ohio Association for Court Administration and the Ohio State Bar Association, among many others.

Clearly, you take on more work in these roles, but the contributions you make are invaluable to the work these associations perform. Please consider serving if you haven’t already.

The market adjustments for judges approved by the General Assembly via the budget bill made up a big portion of my remarks on September 3.

After the longest dry spell ever for judges to NOT receive a pay raise, judges realized the first of four 5 percent increases on September 29.

The last market increase for judges was approved in 2000. Incremental annual cost-of-living adjustments occurred over the course of that legislation. However, the judicial compensation cost-of-living adjustments expired at the end of 2007 and had not been adjusted in Ohio since Jan. 1, 2008.

In addition to the September 29 increase, three more 5 percent market adjustments will occur on New Year’s Day in 2017, 2018, and 2019. Happy New Year indeed.

It’s possible that this good news could spread to your front door.

While raising pay for magistrates is a local decision, it would not be unreasonable for you to expect that, in due time, some ancillary benefits from the judicial pay increase by the lifting of any ceiling on your pay that might exist.

I also asked the judges to consider an important fact regarding the market adjustments. While we secured in statutory language four 5 percent increases, only the first two years of this is actually funded.

I will be requesting appropriations for the second installment of funding in my 2017 budget request to ensure that we have the money to complete the market adjustments.

Therefore, none of us should assume that everything will just operate on automatic pilot going forward, so please be mindful that we still have to secure funding for the last two years.

I spent some time during the State of Judiciary speech discussing the changing face of the judiciary.

Father time creeps up on all of us and because of our discriminatory constitutional provision, judges are forced to leave the bench, often in their prime.

Turnover will impact the Supreme Court after 2016 when we will replace 2 out of 7 members.

Two years after that, we will do it all over again and replace 2 out of the 7 members on our court.

Stay tuned as to what the makeup of our court will look like after those two election cycles.

In the next six years, 108 judges will be barred from seeking new terms due to their age ... that’s 15 percent of our judiciary. For this audience, that statistic could present an opportunity.

It matters who replaces those men and women which brings me to another point.

I have what I think is a fresh approach to an old problem. Educating voters about the judiciary and candidates for the judiciary.

On September 1, the first statewide judicial voter education website launched.

For those of you who are contemplating being on the ballot in the future, please take note.

judicialvotescount.org is the first ever statewide voter education initiative to give Ohioans information on all candidates for judge in all Ohio counties.

The Bliss Institute of Applied Politics at the University of Akron houses the website. I have partnered with Bliss and the Ohio State Bar Association, the League of Women Voters of Ohio, the Ohio Newspaper Association, and the Ohio Association of Broadcasters on this initiative.

Through this effort, it is envisioned that the website will better educate voters about what judges do and why it is important to all citizens. The website provides a centralized repository so voters can gain easy access to more information about judges and judicial candidates.

The ultimate goal is to elevate meaningful voter participation levels in judicial elections.

Please check it out at judicialvotescount.org and share it on every social media platform you maintain.

I have one final bit of recognition to offer, and it concerns another new website.

Congratulations on the launch of the revamped ohiomagistrates.org.

I know this was a long time in the making, but it was worth the wait.

It has loads of valuable information on it, most especially the fact that users can search for magistrates by location and practice area. Without a doubt, this is a feature that will be used a lot. You have built a useful, attractive resource that recognizes your critical role in the administration of justice in the state.

Keep up the good work. Thank you for allowing me to share an update with you, and thank you for meeting the demands of our ever-evolving court system. God bless.