Speeches

Chief Justice Maureen O'Connor
Common Pleas Mental Health Docket Inaugural Event
Jan. 18, 2018

Thank you, Judge Singer.

Good morning, everyone.

I’m happy to have been invited to take part in the inaugural of your new Mental Health Docket, which was certified just last month.

I know this new court will be in good hands.

Judge Singer worked diligently for three years on another specialized docket, the Montgomery County Women’s Court.

He is in tune with what I would call the “deep diving” necessary these days to get at the complicated facts of each case – as our society, our shared problems and our judiciary become more complex.

This is what specialized dockets are all about – getting closer to the root causes of society’s problems as they expand.

It often feels as if these problems are growing exponentially.

Specialized dockets are set up to develop pathways out of trouble that are tailored to the individual or family members who are before the court.

In the case of this docket, the goal is a pathway toward personal peace and stability which leads to an improved lifestyle; one engaged with support systems.

Specialized dockets are a growing phenomenon – and a necessary one.

Earlier this week we celebrated the life and work of Dr. Martin Luther King Junior. Employing his rich baritone, Doctor King popularized this famous and hopeful observation:

“The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”

Today, in Ohio and in America, we’re making the work of justice into a many-faceted arc. Perhaps it’s like the arc of a rainbow, having different colors, but bending in the same direction.

The colors of this arc represent drug courts, mental health courts, and a host of others designed to fine-tune the response of our legal system to a society crying out for help and answers.

 It wasn’t so many years ago that a specialized docket meant a juvenile court. That was the original specialized docket – and for decades the only one existing in many places.

Then, in 1989, in Miami-Dade County, Florida, a drug court was established – the nation’s first.

Ohio followed with a drug court in 1995. At that point our state embarked on a path to become a national leader in the specialized docket movement.

Today, Montgomery County’s Mental Health Court joins more than 230 other specialized docket courts in Ohio alone. Of our 88 counties, 56 have at least one specialized docket.

We have:

102 Drug Courts. Second to Drug Courts are Mental Health Courts. We now have 40.

Additionally, we have 29 Family Dependency Treatment Courts and:

Also worth noting is that Ohio has the second-largest number of juvenile-specific specialized dockets in America.

The Specialized Dockets Section of the Supreme Court of Ohio is charged with certifying these courts. It was this section of our staff that led the creation of the Regional Judicial Opioid Initiative in 2016. The RJOI is coordinating a fight against the opioid epidemic in eight states – judicial leaders partnering with law enforcement, medical and behavioral health providers, child welfare staffs and policy makers.

You know Ohio’s grim statistics: opioid-related deaths due to poisonings and overdoses came to 4,050 last year in our state, an increase of 1,000 from just one year before. This explains our proliferation of specialized drug courts and our interstate cooperation.

As you have witnessed already here in Montgomery County, our Specialized Docket Section is dynamic.  It provides technical and program support to trial courts and engages in best practices with them.

Ohio is one of only 19 states with a process for certification and accreditation of special dockets.

The Supreme Court administers a Commission on Specialized Dockets that is at work right now on amending Ohio’s rules and certification processes to be more in line with best practice standards for each type of docket.

These dockets offer a vast and diverse spectrum of programs to Ohio’s communities.

Certification is granted when the written materials submitted by each court — and observations made during site reviews — demonstrate compliance with standards.

So, how will the story of your Mental Health Court unfold?

Mental Health Courts focus on the treatment and rehabilitation of offenders who have a history of serious mental illness.

Often, this mental illness is the root cause of the person’s criminal involvement.

Among the many goals of mental health court dockets are these:

These measures are designed to reduce recidivism – which improves public safety.

There are other benefits as well, such as reducing overcrowding in jails and prisons.

As you might expect, specialized docket courts aren’t silos with problems neatly placed in order.

For many families, battles with drugs, mental illness and other problems become intertwined.

For example, the Ohio Bureau of Jobs & Family Services reports that of the people who come into contact with the Ohio child welfare system, nearly 43 percent have been identified as having a substance abuse problem.

50 percent of the children entering custody in Ohio have parents who were abusing drugs.

Veterans return from combat with PTSD, addictions, brain injuries and other trauma, and many come in contact with the criminal justice system.

Situations full of peril confront individuals, families, schools, communities, and employers. And the judicial system connects them all.

It sounds daunting. It is.

But with Mental Health Courts and other specialized courts we can bring together greater resources to solve problems.

Professionals engaged in the criminal justice system, in public health, in social services, and in academia can help – and they do.

Our outreach is broad – as it must be.

And this trend has brought big changes in the work of our courts.

Judges and court staff are increasingly required to be care managers and not just case managers. They must look deeply to address not only symptoms but the cause of the problem.

Innovation is a must.

Here in Dayton, Judge Anthony Capizzi of the Montgomery County Juvenile Court implemented three dockets: a family drug court, juvenile drug court, and most recently, a juvenile mental health court.

Judge Capizzi’s juvenile drug court is part of a pilot project with IBM that would put the lightning-fast, artificial intelligence system of Watson into the hands of judges across the country to manage cases.

Ohio’s judiciary is innovating. We are being met with new challenges and we’re tackling them.

Your new court is an example of our determination and inventiveness. This is what gives me hope.

We care.

We know that caring for each other helps bind our society together – that caring is essential to the existence of our nation and our way of life and government.

Congratulations once again on your new court.

I know I speak on behalf of our Specialized Dockets Section and our entire Supreme Court staff when I say we look forward to working with you and helping you help your community.

God Bless.