Thursday, April 10, 2014

Off-Site Court in My Own Backyard

On April 9, I had the rare opportunity to bring my colleagues to my hometown, Toledo, for a formal session of the Ohio Supreme Court.  Twice a year we justices leave the Thomas J. Moyer Ohio Judicial Center in Columbus to bring oral arguments to high school students, allowing them to personally hear real cases.  We held our 2014 spring Off-Site Program at the University of Toledo College of Law.

More than 350 high school students from 11 high schools in the Toledo area and dozens of law students from the university observed two civil cases and one criminal case. Local attorneys and teachers prepared the students well. After hearing the cases, the students met with the attorneys who argued the cases to ask questions and discuss the legal issues.  Many students mentioned that this was the most interesting part of their day.

Former Chief Justice Thomas J. Moyer started the Off-Site Court Program in 1987 in Toledo as part of his efforts to explain the work of our court.   When we returned for the 68th session this year, oral arguments were held for the first time in the College of Law’s McQuade auditorium.   That happens to be the same place where I gave the valedictory speech for my law school class. Holy Toledo! Who knew I would end up on the Supreme Court 37 years later?  It’s just possible that someone who attended the Off-Site Program might be one of our future justices – it very well could be. 

Monday, March 10, 2014

Ohio Mock Trial March Madness XXXI

The NCAA is not the only game in town. Ohio high schools had their own version of March Madness this past week when in the span of three days, 30 teams from across the state competed in the Ohio Center for Law-Related Education’s 31st High School Mock Trial Competition.

Preliminaries had been conducted throughout the state, and winners advanced to the regional competitions. The state semi-finals began on Thursday, March 6 at the Franklin County Courthouse in Columbus with two teams advancing to the finals held Saturday at the Ohio Statehouse. Sylvania Southview High School in Lucas County and Orange High School in Cuyahoga County each won four consecutive trials to advance to the championship.
The mock trials this year focused on the First Amendment freedom of expression and Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable search and seizure. The case pitted the school district against students who protested the district’s signing the high school field’s naming rights to a large corporation. The competing teams, coached by their volunteer legal advisors, presented their cases before a panel of two judges and two attorneys in a case written by a committee of volunteer attorneys.
2014 Ohio High School Mock Trial champions
Sylvania Southview
with the panel of judges after the competition.
The panel that presided over the championship after lengthy deliberations chose Sylvania Southview as the winner. Team member Yuran Chen was singled out for his outstanding performance as a plaintiff’s attorney. This is the first time in 10 years that a Southview team has won the championship.

Beginning in 1983, The Mock Trial Program is Ohio’s largest high school academic competition with more than 3,000 students participating each year. The case materials show students what a case is like and how it progresses throughout a trial and allow them to become attorneys and witnesses. We now have attorneys and at least one judge who actually got their first taste of law through by experiencing the mock trial program.

The Madness continues into May, when competition goes national in Madison, Wisconsin. Stay tuned, and we will update you on the outcome.

Good luck, Sylvania Southview! You carry the best wishes of your state. Do us proud!

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Happy Birthday, Ohio!

Two hundred eleven years ago Ohio became the 17th state in our nation. President Thomas Jefferson allowed Ohio to apply for statehood in April 1802 when he signed the Enabling Act into law. Later that year a state constitutional convention was held, and on February 19, 1803, President Jefferson approved and signed the first Ohio Constitution.

We officially celebrate Ohio’s birth as a state on March 1, 1803, when the General Assembly gathered for the first time to meet in Chillicothe, the new state capital. Statehood Day is a good time to reflect on our history and the founders who established our governing principles. These principles developed over time, and often were determined by the judiciary.

For example, in an early case, the Supreme Court of Ohio was called upon in 1807 to decide the extent of the authority given by the constitution to the state’s legislature. In Rutherford v. McFadden, the Court asserted its right to nullify an unconstitutional act of the General Assembly.

The Ohio Historical Society will hold its annual Statehood Day event at the Ohio Statehouse on Thursday, February 27. The keynote luncheon speaker is Erin Moriarty, an Ohio native and reporter for CBS News.

On whatever day we remember Ohio’s birth, let us strive to ensure that it will stay healthy to celebrate many, many more.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

The Civics Challenge – A National Essay Contest

Attention, teachers in the 3rd, 4th and 5thgrades:

You have an opportunity to let your students become civics champions. How? By having them join the national civics essay competition.

The National Center for State Courts invites third-to fifth-graders to submit a 100-word essay on “What is Civics Education and Why Is It Important?“ The winner will receive a $100 Amazon gift card and copies of the educational graphic novel, Justice Case Files: The Case of the Broken Controller,for his or her grade. The winning entry will also be featured in future NCSC publications.

Entries can be hand-written or typed. Find out how to enter at Come on students. Let’s show the nation that Ohio knows its stuff!

Essays are due by February 20.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Martin Luther King’s Dream of Justice

State and federal government offices, including the Ohio Supreme Court, will be closed on Monday to observe Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

More than 50 years ago,  Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech inspired our nation. And today, students still learn about the meaning of the speech that continues to inspire.  Each February as part of the Supreme Court’s recognition of Black History Month we hear from the local junior division winner of the Martin Luther King Jr. Oratorical Contest.

It’s wholly appropriate that the Supreme Court hosts this celebration. The ideals that Dr. King outlined in 1963 are those of legal justice and equality. These are the hopes not just of one person, but are the ideals on which our country was founded and those that are to be upheld by our state and federal courts.

State law requires  each judge in Ohio to take an oath of office that promises to strive for justice and equal protection under law.  After swearing or affirming to support the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of Ohio,  the judge promises to  “administer justice without respect to persons,”  and to faithfully and impartially discharge and perform all of the duties of the office according to the best of his or her ability and understanding.
These words regarding administering justice “without respect to persons” echo the portion of Dr. King’s speech that said: “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”

The U.S. Supreme Court building has the words “Equal Justice Under Law” prominently displayed.  We in the legal profession must continue to work toward equality and justice. And as a nation we can hope Dr. King’s words become more than a dream.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

All in the Family

On December 30, I had the pleasure of administering the oath of office to my son, Josh, as he began a six-year term as a Toledo Municipal Court judge. It was a very proud moment for me to hear him report that he would “faithfully and impartially discharge and perform” his duties “so help me God.”

The Lanzinger family attends swearing-in ceremony
for Toledo Municipal Court Judge Joshua W. Lanzinger.
More than 28 years ago, I began my judicial career in the same court. Now, for the first time, a mother and son are serving together on judicial benches in Ohio.

But other duos of parents and children also exist throughout the state.

My colleague, Justice Terrence O’Donnell and his daughter, Colleen, now a common pleas judge, are among them.

What makes a child follow a parent as a judge? A new video featuring Justice O’Donnell’s daughter and my son has been produced for Court News Ohio. It can be viewed at

Monday, December 30, 2013

What Has the Court Done This Year?

Part of my interest in this blog is being able to explain what justices do. I like to say that our job in a nutshell is to listen, read, think, argue, and write.

As usual, this year we issued over 200 written opinions.  You might wonder what those cases were about. Some cases dealt with court procedure, interesting mainly to lawyers and judges. Other opinions interpreted laws as they were applied to particular situations.

We had disciplinary cases where we decided how those who violated rules that govern the legal profession should be punished. And most important, we wrote on capital cases. Because Ohio has the death penalty, life and death hangs in the balance.

A few cases can be singled out this year. First Amendment cases based on freedom of speech often have media as a party.  But this year, we reviewed rules relating to a union’s informational picketing and the rights of a middle-school teacher to use religious materials in science class.  Not the typical issues.

Of course we had election issues and other cases with political overtones. We found one sheriff to be unqualified to serve his county, and we upheld the Ohio Controlling Board’s appropriation of money for expanded Medicaid after the governor had vetoed part of the state’s budget legislation. 

In 2013, we looked at what happens when someone is released from prison because of a mistake in procedure and answered when that person may be eligible for money from the state for wrongful imprisonment. We discussed when and how convictions should be sealed from public view, and if they should be expunged (wiped out completely) upon a governor’s pardon.

Because the U. S. Supreme Court has ruled that certain witnesses can’t testify without violating a defendant’s confrontation rights, a majority of our court decided that in certain situations teachers cannot testify about what children had told them about suspected child abuse.

Because of a new law, we decided unanimously that a doctor’s statement of apology and sympathy could not be used against him at trial. We handled two cases that explained the law and procedure relating to mortgage lenders and foreclosures, and we wrestled with the law on DNA testing requirements after someone is convicted. 

And in a criminal case where the state had to prove the alcohol content in a sale to a minor, we said the court could not use “judicial notice” by telling the jury that Bud Light was beer and that it was a fact it was an alcoholic beverage.  When the court of appeals reversed the conviction, the defendant could not be retried because the prosecution had not presented enough evidence to convict the first time.

These, and all our decisions, are a matter of public record. The Supreme Court’s website will help you see and hear online the cases that are argued. You can also read the opinions or summaries when they are published.