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.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Continuing Legal Education – The 2014 Version

It’s true when they say that professionals are never done learning.  And when those professionals are attorneys and judges, the learning is mandatory and tied to keeping a law license.

New continuing legal education (CLE) changes will soon apply to Ohio’s judges and attorneys.  The Ohio Supreme Court updated the CLE rules last year to take effect on January 1, 2014.

For attorneys:
Attorneys must continue to complete 24 CLE hours every two years. But now they may double the credit hours they earn online, earn a portion of those hours with approved pro bono activities, and even eat during educational presentations.  

Self-study hours are increasing from 6 to 12 hours each biennial period and attorneys will be able to receive 1 CLE credit for every 6 hours of pro bono service for a maximum of 6 credit hours.

Other changes include:

·         A lower range of recommended fines (upper limit reduced from $500 to $300) for noncompliant attorneys for hour deficiencies.   

·         More flexibility to choose courses within a “professional conduct” category to allow attendance at programs that will more closely meet individual professional and practice needs.          

For judges:
Judges still must complete 40 hours of CLE every two years. The category of “judicial conduct” has also been unbundled so that 3 hours of mandatory instruction through courses offered by the Ohio Judicial College will be more helpful. Judge will be able to choose from among programs in judicial ethics, professionalism, and access to justice and fairness in the courts, along with instruction on alcoholism, substance abuse, and mental health issues.

View the complete text of the upcoming CLE changes.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

An Eagle Lands in the Supreme Court's Courtroom

There are some very innovative teaching tools being used to help educate students about government. Recently, fourth graders from New Albany 2-5 Elementary School in Franklin County wrote to Ohio Supreme Court Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor. They were learning about Ohio history and government, and they sent a colorful picture of their school’s eagle mascot. They asked her to take a picture with the eagle and then describe where the eagle had “landed” and why it was important. The Chief Justice was more than happy to accommodate the request and posed with the eagle on the bench of the Supreme Court’s courtroom. Her letter back included information about the court. This 
Ohio Supreme Court Chief Justice Maureen O'Connor
Ohio Supreme Court Chief Justice Maureen O'Connor

is just one example of an entertaining project to spark students’ curiosity about a branch of government and involve students in the learning process.

There are some great resources available to teachers who are looking for ways to engage students, including the Supreme Court’s Visitor Education Center and the Ohio Center for Law-Related Education. A question for teachers in our state: What programs do you find useful in civics education?

Saturday, November 9, 2013

The U.S. Military Veterans of the Ohio Supreme Court

On November 11, 1918, an armistice took effect during World War I on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, and Veterans Day was born. We continue to observe that day each year to give thanks to those who have fought for our country.

Forty-six of the 156 Ohio Supreme Court justices have military service in their backgrounds. The first chief judge, Return Jonathan Meigs, won distinction during the Revolutionary War, and eight other justices fought in the War of 1812: Jessup Couch, Samuel Huntington, Peter Hitchcock, Charles Sherman, Henry Brush, Reuben Wood, George Tod, and Gustave Swan.

Five justices volunteered for the Union cause during the Civil War: John Corwin, Thaddeus Minshall, Joseph Bradbury, John Shauk, and William Davis.

One justice, Edward Matthias, served in the Spanish-American War of 1898.

The 11 World War I veterans are Coleman Avery, Benson Hough, Charles Zimmerman, Roy Williams, Robert Gorman, Gilbert Bettman, Robert Sohngen, Henry Middleton, Howard Bevis, Thomas Herbert, and Paul Herbert.

Twelve justices served in World War II: Kingsley Taft, John Peck, C. William O’Neill, Paul Brown, James J.P. Corrigan, Robert Leach, Frank Celebrezze, Asher Sweeney, Robert Holmes, Lloyd Brown, Louis Schneider Jr., and Clifford Brown.

Seven justices served in the military in the decades since World War II: Robert Duncan, David Dowd Jr., James Celebrezze, Andy Douglas, Craig Wright, Herbert Brown, and Francis Sweeney. 

The latest edition of CNO Review features an interview with current Justice William O’Neill, who served in the Army during the Vietnam War. You can read the article and see his video interview at

All U.S. military veterans who have served and sacrificed for their country will be honored on November 11 as the nation observes Veterans Day. We are proud to include our justices among them.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Women of the Court

Female Justices of the U.S. Supreme Court
A new portrait was unveiled this week in Washington D.C. that depicts the four women who have served on the U.S. Supreme Court: former Justice Sandra Day O’Connor and current Justices Ruth Bader Ginsberg, Sonia Sotomayor, and Elena Kagan. The portrait is located at the National Portrait gallery and was painted by artist Nelson Shanks.

The Ohio Supreme Court has had 10 women serve as justices. The first was Florence Allen, who served on the court from 1923 until 1934. It would be another 47 years before the second woman served on the bench. Blanche Krupansky was appointed to the bench in 1981. Since then, there have been eight more women either elected or appointed to the Supreme Court, including the state’s first female Chief Justice, Maureen O’Connor, who was elected in 2010. When I was elected as the 150th justice in 2004, Alice Robie Resnick, Deborah Cook, and Evelyn Lundberg Stratton had already been serving on the court. Yvette McGee Brown began her term in 2011.

It’s also important to note that since January 2011, the Ohio Supreme Court has had a continuous female majority. Here’s a picture taken last year in the Eighth District Courtroom under the historic phrase “This is a Government of Law Not of Men.”

Female Ohio Supreme Court Justices in 2012
Pictured left to right: Former Justice Yvette McGee Brown,
who lost in last year’s election; Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor;
Justice Judith Ann Lanzinger; and Former Justice Evelyn Lundberg Stratton,
who retired last year.
Since that picture was taken, two new justices, Sharon Kennedy and Judith French, have joined the court to continue the 4-3 female majority.

I’m honored to have served with all of my colleagues, women and men, who are dedicated to the law.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Justice Robert M. Duncan: Legal Trailblazer

Justice Robert M. Duncan
Portrait of the late Ohio Supreme Court
Justice Robert M. Duncan
Occasionally we are able to celebrate someone who has made a tremendous difference in the lives of many. Justice Robert M. Duncan was such a man. On October 10, in an official session of the Supreme Court of Ohio at the Thomas J. Moyer Ohio Judicial Center, the late justice’s family presented to the court his life-like portrait by Toledo artist Leslie Adams.  

The dedication ceremony was very personal and inspiring and can be seen here in our video archive. Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor noted that Justice Duncan was a man of many “firsts.” He was the first African American to serve on the Ohio Supreme Court, the first to win a seat in a statewide Ohio election and the first to be appointed to the federal bench in Ohio. He presided over the case that, in a legal first, ordered the desegregation of Columbus schools. He was a true legal pioneer, blazing a trail for others.

The speakers at the portrait dedication noted Justice Duncan’s illustrious public service career, his generosity, and his love of life. And his family spoke of him with moving devotion.  

Although he ended his judicial career in 1985, Justice Duncan continued to contribute to the legal profession and his community until his death in November of last year. Through his service on the bench and in the community, Justice Duncan was a model for all who aspire to public service. We will be reminded of him by his portrait, which will hang in the Moyer Judicial Center.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

On the Road Again

In just a few weeks, the seven justices of the Ohio Supreme Court will travel for the fall session of our Off-Site Court Program, where twice per year we convene in official session at a location outside Columbus. This will be our 67th trip since the program was started by the late Chief Justice Thomas J. Moyer in 1987.

Crawford County will be our host on October 23 when we hear oral arguments in three cases beginning at 9 a.m. at Bucyrus High School. This is a chance for students to discover how different appellate cases are from the typical TV court portrayals of justice in action.

Students and teachers from Bucyrus, Buckeye Central, Colonel Crawford, Crestline, Galion, and Wynford high schools received curriculum material beforehand, including summaries of the cases that will be argued. Volunteer local attorneys worked with the educators at each participating school to explain Ohio’s judicial system and help review the case materials. The preparation for the event is truly a team effort! 

On Wednesday morning, we justices will meet with the students for a question-and-answer session before the first scheduled argument. First, Chief Justice O’Connor introduces each justice who then has a moment to talk. I usually mention the 5 important skills that we need to properly do our jobs as judges: the ability to listen, read, think, write and speak – skills that continue to be developed in high school and beyond. Then at question time these young men and women can show their curiosity about their state court system. 

After attending oral arguments, students will meet with the case attorneys for a debriefing and discussion of the legal issues in the case they just heard. Generally, this is the favorite portion of the event for all involved.

You can find more information online about the Supreme Court Off-Site Court Program as well as a video showing footage from past sessions. We are looking forward to being in Crawford County.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

iCivics Teachers Council Needs You

How would you like to be a part of a national effort to create free, innovative educational materials to reverse our young peoples’ declining civic knowledge and participation?

Former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor’s iCivics program is accepting applicants for its Teachers Council, to help with teacher engagement and product development.

In four years, iCivics has produced many educational video games as well as vibrant teaching materials that have been used in classrooms in all 50 states. It offers the nation’s most comprehensive, standards-aligned civics curriculum that is available freely on the Web.

By becoming a member of the council, you’ll receive many benefits, including:
  • A letter of commendation from Justice O'Connor sent directly to your administration.
  • A press release in your local community upon acceptance to the Council. 
  • Access to an all expenses paid meeting in Washington, D.C. with fellow Council Members, iCivics staff, education and technology leaders, and Justice O'Connor as her schedule permits.
  • And much, much more.
  • Read the instructions / FAQs, then download the fillable PDF application.
  • Attach the completed application and the 3 other required documents (outlined in the instructions) to by October 18 at 5 p.m. EST. 
  • Share this link with your teacher friends!
Teachers and anyone passionate about serving teachers may apply, including nonprofit directors, library and media specialists, and curriculum specialists. Instructions and the application are available online, with the application due by October 18 at 5 p.m. EST.

Monday, September 30, 2013

A Dead Language Helps Keep Law Alive

When I was in high school, I studied Latin for four years, never realizing that it would be a help to me when I later studied law. If you follow the Ohio Supreme Court on our website, you may occasionally encounter phrases that come from this “dead language.” Here are just a few examples:
  • amicus curiae = “friend of the court,” a person or entity who is not party to a court case ut who petitions the court or is requested by the court to file a brief because of a special interest in the subject of the case.
  • et al. = “and others,” an abbreviation usually used after the first  name, “Smith et al. v. Jones, et al.” used when there are many parties on one side of the case or another. 
  • ex post facto = “after the fact,” referring  to a law that makes punishable an act that was not illegal at the time it was committed.
  • habeas corpus = “you have the body,” a petition by a prisoner challenging an illegal commitment and seeking a writ that will order release from custody. 
  • nolle prosequi = “unwilling to proceed,” a decision by a prosecutor to dismiss a criminal case.
  • per curiam = ”through the court,” an opinion of the court not signed by a particular justice as an author.
  • pro se = “for oneself,” meaning a person is acting on his or her own behalf without a lawyer.
  • res judicata = “a matter judged,” an issue that already has been settled by judicial decision.
  • stare decisis = “to stand by that which is decided,” principle that precedent is to be followed in later cases.
Even though some would abolish all Latin in court documents, calling for “plain English,” certain phrases are well-established in the American legal system and will continue to be used within the profession by lawyers and judges as a kind of “shorthand” to describe legal concepts and principles. Latin still lives.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

September 17 is a Special Day for Our Country

On this day in 1787, the U.S. Constitution was adopted by 39 delegates to the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia.

U.S. Constitution (National Archives Website)
The U.S. Courts’ website has resources for teachers and the general public to learn more about the Constitution. The site includes a quiz to test your knowledge about this vital document that established the foundation of our government. For example, when was the last time the Constitution was amended? I won’t give away the answer. See for yourself and then let me know how you did.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Once Again, An Open Invitation

I have the distinct pleasure of working in one of Ohio’s most stunningly beautiful buildings. With its architectural and artistic details, the Thomas J. Moyer Ohio Judicial Center, nestled along the banks of the Scioto River in downtown Columbus, is truly a gem.

Every year, we have thousands of visitors who tour the building and discover interesting facts about its 80-year history. Part of the tour includes a stop in the Visitor Education Center, where interactive exhibits explain the role of our courts and illustrate important cases and issues. One of my favorite stops is the mock trial courtroom where visitors can place themselves in the roles of judge, jury, plaintiff, and defendant.

We welcome those that we serve, this is your Supreme Court, after all. You can schedule your visit Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., by calling 614.387.9223 or e-mailing

Hundreds of students expected to visit the Thomas J. Moyer Ohio Judicial CenterWatch this new video to get an idea of what you’ll see during the tour and how one school in Cincinnati is always the first to visit each school year.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Summer Recess is Over

For many Ohio schools, a new year has begun, or will soon. The Supreme Court of Ohio also has been on its summer recess — its break from hearing new cases. But the recess ends next week when we justices are to hear oral arguments in eight cases.
Courtroom of the Supreme Court of Ohio
Courtroom of the Supreme Court of Ohio
at the Thomas J. Moyer
Ohio Judicial Center

We hear a variety of cases. Some come to us automatically and some are accepted as cases of  general or public interest.  Some have questions arising under the Ohio or U.S. Constitutions.  Others are cases in which two or more courts of appeals have issued conflicting opinions. From late August every year until June, oral arguments are scheduled for Tuesday and Wednesday mornings on the cases that the lawyers have briefed.

The lawyers for each side have 15 minutes to argue their positions. Each of the seven justices may ask questions at any time, and often a dynamic exchange occurs about the facts or law of the case being argued. The attorneys are signaled when they’re getting low on time: a yellow light signals that there are two minutes left, and a red light signals stop. The same morning after a case is argued, we deliberate and a justice is assigned to write the decision, in the form of an opinion, for the court. On average, an opinion is published within four to five months. 
I encourage you to watch streaming video of the arguments available through the Ohio Channel. It’s a great way to see your judicial system in action. You can then read the published opinion on our website,

Friday, August 9, 2013

FLASH - for OHIO Teachers!

We were given this information on short notice, but the iCivics program is looking for teachers to give input to help design a new product. The curriculum team and developers from Filament Games are hosting an asynchronous focus group via Google Docs. The feedback would be a written-form focus group that gives you a new set of questions to ponder each day and engage with other teachers. Instead of a video conference, you would just comment on the questions throughout the week.

The goal of the questions is to look at how you overcome classroom challenges, and how iCivics can help you with those problem areas. Teachers would only spend about 15 minutes a day from August 13-16.

Please RSVP to Carrie Ray-Hill at by Monday, August 12 with your preferred email address if interested. And feel free to share with other teachers who you think might be interested.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Back to (Law) School

Ohio students at all levels will be heading back to their classrooms this month, and law students are no exception. 

Some people may like to know what it takes to become a lawyer in our state.  First, of course, a person needs to have a high school diploma, and then a college bachelor’s degree before being eligible to enter law school.  But unlike doctors who might have to take pre-med studies in college, “pre-law” courses are not required.  Instead, before being accepted into law school, applicants must take the Law School Aptitude Test, known as the LSAT. A good score and good undergraduate grades make it more likely that a law school will accept someone.
Ohio has nine law schools and soon deans and professors will tell their incoming 2013 class members what to expect.  At most law schools, students will complete the program in at least three years of full-time study.  Upon graduation they receive a Juris Doctor (JD) degree. But that isn’t the end of their studies.
The final hurdle to practice as an attorney is a three-day bar exam administered twice a year in Columbus by the Ohio Supreme Court.  This year, on July 30, 31, and August 1, more than 1,000 aspiring lawyers took the exam.  Now they are waiting for the results and will find out on October 25 if they have passed the bar.  Then, assuming all the other requirements are met, they will be sworn in as attorneys-at-law in the state of Ohio during a special session of our court. 
And active lawyers continue their studies afterwards.  To keep their licenses, they must complete 20 hours of continuing legal education every two years to keep up-to-date in legal practice. 
So you see that the study that law school begins never really ends.  The requirement for life-long learning is just one of the reasons law is a profession.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

John Marshall’s Legacy of Independence

On every Fourth of July, Independence Day,  we celebrate what makes the United States of America different from other countries.  200 years ago the fourth Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme court, John Marshall, was appointed by President John Adams.   For 34 years he headed the nation’s federal judiciary, which helps insure our independence.

Marshall was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives and was Secretary of State before being appointed Chief Justice.  He served during seven different presidential terms, dying in 1835 during Andrew Jackson’s second term.  He still holds the record for longest serving Chief Justice.

Before Chief Justice Marshall’s term , the Supreme Court was considered a minor part of the government.  Marshall not only made the judicial branch co-equal to the two other branches , as it is today, but he also presided over a case that announced the Supreme Court’s  authority to overrule the executive branch, legislative branch, states, and lower courts, when necessary.

In the significant case of  Marbury v. Madison, decided in 1803, the Supreme Court said that the U.S. Constitution is the supreme law of the land and that conflicting laws cannot be enforced. The Marshall court clarified that federal law supersedes state law, and that the Supreme Court is the federal court of last resort.  Marshall wrote opinions about the meaning of  ‘commerce’ in the Constitution, the protection  of private institutions from state interference, and explained that the Bill of Rights applied to states as well as the federal government.  These cases remain some of the most important in the court’s history.

So, as we watch the fireworks around the country this year, take time to think about those who contributed to today’s independent nation.  Although the judicial branch is sometimes overlooked, 200 years ago John Marshall’s influence changed the government, and gave federal courts power to enforce constitutional law.  Marshall is a giant of the judiciary and one of the many who have allowed our nation to flourish  and  to celebrate Independence Day for years to come.

Monday, July 1, 2013

The U.S. Supreme Court and Federal Cases

From time to time I blog about opinions of the Supreme Court of Ohio that explain the law that applies within our state. But as you know, we have a dual system of law. The U.S. Supreme Court announces federal law that applies to the entire country. 

That court was busy this last week, finishing its current term that began in October. The Supreme Court released opinions on the Voting Rights Act, marital status for same-sex couples, and land use regulations, among others. And although some Americans may disagree with a controversial court ruling, everyone must understand that our Constitution gives the U.S. Supreme Court the final word governing legal matters across all 50 states.

Not every case can reach the supreme court level.  Some state cases may wend their way to the Ohio Supreme Court, but even fewer state cases are heard by the U.S. Supreme Court. Even so, federal law affects everyone, whether we have a pending case or not. Part of our duties as American citizens and as voters is to understand the operation of each branch of government.

To get a better handle on the judicial branch and recent U.S. Supreme Court rulings, you may visit SCOTUSblog and click on the “plain English” posts on the decisions. There you will find a good summary of recent U.S. Supreme Court cases.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Red, White, and Blue and a Burning U.S. Supreme Court Case

Nearly 100 years ago, President Woodrow Wilson issued a proclamation to establish June 14 as Flag Day. As we mark the day today to honor the United States flag, I’d like to point out a federal case involving the flag and the protection of constitutional rights.

Landmark cases have far-reaching impacts. Texas v. Johnson is one of them.

In 1989, to protest the policies of the Reagan administration, Gregory Lee Johnson burned an American flag outside of the Dallas City Hall. He was arrested, but argued that his act was protected by the First Amendment because he was engaging in symbolic speech. The Supreme Court agreed and held that the constitution protects symbolic speech even when it is offensive.

Many of us have fond memories of reciting the Pledge of Allegiance when we began our school day. Because the flag is such a recognized symbol of the United States and is honored as dear to patriotic Americans, its desecration is a controversial means of political expression. Many would disagree with flag burning.  
What would you think if you saw such an act? What should government do?

Our Constitution grants us rights that may not be granted to people in other countries. One is freedom of speech – even speech that may be considered wrong or even hateful. Our country is strong enough to allow different opinions to be expressed, including criticism of the government. We should be glad to be uncensored and unmuzzled .   
We should be proud to honor a flag that stands for the right to freely speak. It is a flag that deserves our respect and protection.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Baby Falcons Living at Wood County Courthouse

It seems a couple of peregrine falcons decided they wanted to learn more about the rule of law when they picked the Wood County Courthouse as their home. They’ve lived there for the past three years, and each year they’ve nested in the clock tower on the north side of the courthouse and hatched baby falcons.

While they are moving around a lot, you can try to get a glimpse of the baby falcons on this webcam, and there are photos at the bottom of the page.

A couple of weeks ago, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources Wildlife Division banded the baby falcons so they can be tracked and monitored when they move into a home of their own in August or September. ODNR employees said their parents chose the courthouse because of its height. They said falcons hunt while in flight, so the tall courthouse was a perfect place for them to make their home.

Andrew Kalmar is the court’s administrator. He said the falcons have become a mascot for Wood County court employees. He said the webcam helps them watch the falcons grow up.

There are currently 26 nesting pairs in Ohio.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Students for Justice

You are never too young to think about justice.  Have you ever heard someone bullying another?  Seen an animal being abused?  Watched property being trashed?  If you aren’t an adult yet, can you do anything about things that are wrong?  Sometimes it takes only a little suggestion to help make the world a better place.

Take a look at Ohio middle school students in these pictures. These activists are trying to tackle tough-to-talk-about problems such as bullying, pregnancy, homelessness, and domestic violence. They, along with more than 150 other students, had the chance to showcase their solutions at the 19th annual Youth for Justice Summit in Columbus sponsored by the Ohio Center for Law-Related Education.

Youth for Justice is designed to empower young people to be actively engaged citizens  working together to make a positive difference in their communities. Students identify a problem relevant to them, then develop and implement solutions.  This idea can be useful at your school, too.

Let’s give congratulations to the four teams who received the Outstanding Project Award:

“Fighting Bullying,” Greensview Elementary School
(Upper Arlington)                                       
“Relax, Refresh, Respect,” Pleasant Street Elementary
(Mt. Vernon)                        
“Domestic Violence,” St. Francis School (Cleveland)                                                   
“Positive Role Models,” Heritage Middle School (East Cleveland)

And, ‘Good Job!’ to the students from Collinwood High School and Botkins Elementary School.  They received the Youth for Justice Implementation Grant.  This was the first time schools were awarded money to help start up their projects at their own schools.

Botkins students will spread awareness of bullying by distributing “no bullying” frisbees at their school track and field day. Collinwood students plan to design team shirts to wear when they give presentations about the important issue of teen pregnancy prevention. As all these students tell us, it’s never too early to advocate for justice.

                Students from Collinwood High School in Cleveland whose project was titled: “RAP: Railroaders Against Teen Pregnancy.”
Botkins Elementary students whose project was titled: “Botkins Bully Busters.”

Monday, April 29, 2013

In Boston-- A Second Test of Justice

Once again, Boston, Massachusetts will test American principles of criminal justice in its response to a public crime involving many victims. The public wants answers to important questions: Why should someone accused of a horrific crime be allowed the presumption of innocence and a defense attorney. When guilt is “obvious?” Why should there even be a trial? 

Although we remember the recent tragedy involving the Boston Marathon, the city was the site of another case, one in which the National Archives has captioned in a lithograph as “the bloody massacre perpetrated in King Street, Boston, on Mar. 5, 1770.” Eight British soldiers stood trial for killing five civilians and wounding six others by firing on a crowd in the so-called “Boston Massacre.” 

Five years before the American Revolution and nearly 30 years before he served as our nation’s second president, John Adams, as a lawyer in private practice , was the defense attorney for the soldiers. Although emotions ran high due to the tension between the colonists and British, the government was insistent on a fair trial for the accused. 

Fundamental to a fair trial was the idea that an accused is innocent until proven guilty. To hold the government to proving its case ensures that the innocent are protected, potentially allowing some guilty to go free; rather than ensuring the guilty are punished, with some of those who are innocent unjustly convicted. As Benjamin Franklin expressed the thought, “it is better 100 guilty Persons should escape than that one innocent Person should suffer”. 

Adams’ law practice suffered from his defense of the British soldiers, but later he was to remark that despite the anxiety he suffered it was “one of the most gallant, generous, manly and disinterested Actions of my whole Life, and one of the best Pieces of Service I ever rendered my Country.” The jury acquitted six of those accused and two were convicted of manslaughter, a verdict Adams thought “exactly right.” 

The attorney who decides to defend the surviving brother accused of bombing the 2013 Boston Marathon may face misunderstanding and even hostility. But he or she will be in the company of John Adams in upholding a principle that protects us all.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Justice Judy on Jury Duty

Did you know that even a justice or judge can be called to serve jury duty? During the first week in April, I was called to the Lucas County Courthouse to report for jury duty.  In Ohio, citizens are randomly selected for jury service from a list of registered voters or licensed drivers.

I’ve already served once as a juror while a judge. And because it’s my civic duty, when I received the summons this time as a justice, I didn’t hesitate to follow through.  I also wanted to see if the process had changed for jurors in the 14 years or so since I had last served.

Indeed it had, but for the better! The process was much better at respecting our time.  Instead of waiting for hours only to be sent home at the end of the day, our summons told us to call in after 5 p.m. the day before to see if we had to actually report.  My phone call said those in my group who lived in the area covered by Toledo Municipal Court had to appear. 

We also got more information ahead of time. The map on the summons showed where to park (but did not say the amount needed), though the summons could have explained exactly where to enter the courthouse (two of four doors were closed for security). We were told that jurors are able to keep electronic devices, and that the magnetometer is much like airport security. 

When we reported to the jury room at 8:45 a.m., we were given badges and were shown an orientation film sponsored by the Supreme Court for use throughout the state.  The film explained what could be expected if you were selected as a juror.

Our jury manager, Juanita, kept us aware of the progress of the case that might go to trial. We were told that it was a municipal case, which meant 8 jurors would be selected from the 22 of us waiting.  Although the jury room was relatively comfortable with books and TV, no one was required to stay there as long as we wore badges and didn’t talk about jury duty.  Most everyone sat quietly, though.

At 10 a.m. a deputy and manager took us to the municipal court where we met the judge who would try the case. He put the first-timers at ease and let us knows it was a one-day trial, and he expected that a jury would be selected by noon.

In fact it took only until 11:30 a.m. when we were sworn in.  Eight people were randomly selected for questioning on “voir dire.”  The judge told us the defendant had been charged with improper handling of firearms while intoxicated.  He then asked those in the jury box about their employment, and the employment of their spouses and adult children.  He asked what part of town they lived in, whether they had been convicted of a felony, and whether any close friends or family were police officers.  They were asked whether they could consider the testimony of an officer just as any other witness—with no greater or lesser weight.  The judge wanted to know if they had any time or employment concerns, health problems, or any reason why they could not be fair and impartial.  The prosecutor asked questions about gun ownership, and the defense counsel questioned them on the meaning of the presumption of innocence.  Only three people were excused on peremptory challenges – one by the state and two by defense, and it felt like a lottery when a new person was chosen to replace someone.

When the jury was finally selected, we breathed a collective sigh of relief and gladly returned to common pleas to be signed out.  Some people asked for and were given letters for work.  We turned in paperwork and were told to call in again after 5 p.m., but that we would probably not be needed.  She was right—my jury service of two days or one trial was over.

This past week, the Ohio Judicial College and Ohio Jury Management Association held their annual jury management course.  This year, four people who served on a jury were asked to comment on their experiences.  I wish I was one of them.

Statistics show that the United States holds 95% of the jury trials in the world that 5 million citizen’s report and approximately 1 million serve each year.  Unless you’re a judge, lawyer, court employee, party to a civil case, or a criminal defendant, this is the one chance you have to be a participant in the court process.

But as my experience shows, it is very possible that even if you show up, you will not be seated.  No one is automatically excused anymore because of having a certain occupation. So many people wonder — shouldn’t I try to get out of it?  Isn’t it just a waste of my time?  Before you answer, ask yourself:

If I ever need a jury, wouldn’t I want someone like me to be judging my case??

Friday, April 5, 2013

How are Judges Like Umpires?

With spring training recently concluded -- are you ready for another analogy, sports fans?

Ohio’s Major League Baseball teams opened their seasons this week.  I have often thought that judges, especially those on the trial courts, are very like umpires who call the balls and strikes in ballparks across the nation.

Just like the umpire, the judge is a decider.  Trial judges decide all the time.  When parties are competing in court, one or the other may make a motion.  The judge decides whether to grant or overrule the motion.  At trial, a party can object to evidence.  The judge decides whether to admit or exclude it.  If a jury trial was waived, the judge may have to decide if a defendant is guilty or not guilty. There are many line calls for judges.

Even on the Supreme Court, we make calls as appellate judges.  For parties that ask us to review a case, we decide if it is the type of case that we should take in for review.  We decide if it has public or great general interest.  And after briefs and oral argument, we vote whether to affirm or reverse the earlier court’s judgment.

And just like an umpire, the judge must operate by the rule book.  Sometimes a decision has to be made quickly, like most of those made on the ball diamond.  And like the best umpires, the best judges try to be fair and impartial making their important decisions every day.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Happy 210th Birthday, Supreme Court Judges!

Today we celebrate the beginning of the first terms of the first three men to serve on the Supreme Court of Ohio. Return Jonathan Meigs Jr., William Sprigg and Samuel Huntington were appointed by the General Assembly in 1803. The three, all in their thirties were well-connected lawyers at the time of their appointment. Meigs and Huntington were Yale men from Connecticut and Sprigg was born in Maryland. Each man served for a time as a territorial judge: Meigs in the Northwest, Louisiana and Michigan, Huntington and Sprigg in the Orleans territory, and Sprigg also in Illinois and Missouri. Although none was an Ohio native, two of the judges had eventual namesakes in their adopted state: Meigs County in southeastern Ohio and Sprigg township in Adams County.

Here is a bit more about each. 

Return Jonathan Meigs Jr. 

Meigs was the first chief judge (the term justice was not used until the Modern Courts Amendment in 1968). A revolutionary hero, he served only one and one-half years of his first term before resigning to be a commandant and judge in the Louisiana Territory at the request of President Jefferson. Meigs was elected governor of Ohio twice, but his first victory was set aside because he failed to show the required number of years for Ohio residency. Instead, the General Assembly appointed him again to the supreme court, where he served another 10 months until he was chosen to fill an unexpired U.S. Senate term. Meigs finally became Ohio’s fourth governor in 1810 and was re-elected two years later when he was instrumental in supplying the troops during the War of 1812.  For his service, President James Madison appointed him U.S. Postmaster General, a position he held for nine years. Meigs died at age 61 and was buried in Marietta, the settlement founded in 1788 by his father. 

William Spriggs 

Spriggs served his first term on the Ohio Supreme Court from 1803 until 1806 when he moved to New Orleans to be a territorial judge. In 1808 he returned to Ohio after the General Assembly elected him again to the supreme court. During this time the court was embroiled over a controversy over whether judges could determine constitutionality of statutes passed by the legislature. Eventually, the General Assembly enacted a law that effectively swept all judges out of office in 1810.  Sprigg then was elected to the Ohio House of Representatives and worked successfully to repeal the law. In 1812 President Madison appointed him as a territorial judge and Sprigg worked in this capacity until 1818.  He returned to Maryland and died in 1827 at age 57. 

Samuel Huntington 

Huntington’s uncle and adopted father was a signer of the Declaration of Independence and governor of Connecticut. Huntington himself was a delegate to the Ohio 1802 Constitutional Convention, having come to the Ohio Territory in 1800. He was elected to the first session of the Ohio Senate and helped draft legislation that established Ohio’s court system. One of the original judges named to the Supreme Court, he succeeded Meigs as chief judge in 1804. Huntington wrote the 1807 case that stated “the courts of law possess the power of inquiring into the constitutionality of legislative acts.” Rutherford v. M’Faddon. Two judges, Calvin Pease, the presiding judge in the circuit where the Rutherford case originated and George Tod of the supreme court were impeached by the Ohio General Assembly; their convictions failed by one vote. Huntington was not impeached, because in October 1808, he campaigned successfully for election as Ohio’s third governor. Three years later, Huntington was elected to the Ohio House of Representatives. He chose not to seek a second term. In 1817, Huntington died at his home at age 51 and was buried in Painesville, Ohio. 

For more information on the biographies of former justices, go to

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

How is the Supreme Court Like Basketball?

The NCAA Division I men’s basketball tournament pairings were announced this week. There will be excitement on the court as the games get under way. You might not know, but there is a way the Ohio Supreme Court is like a basketball court. We have our own version of a shot clock.

Every case argued before the seven justices has a time limit. Normally, each side has 15 minutes for oral argument, while in death penalty cases, the time limit is 30 minutes per side.

Watch the oral arguments on our website, You may notice that the appellant’s attorney asks to reserve a few minutes of argument time for rebuttal. That way, after the appellee’s attorney makes a critical point, he or she can respond adequately.  Sometimes, of course, questions by the justices eat up the time and the arguments are then over. Only the Chief Justice can extend the time.
Attorneys are told to keep track of time by watching a digital clock at their lectern. Although no buzzer sounds as it does when 35-seconds elapses on the basketball court, the attorneys who argue do receive a times-up notice:  the red light flashes on the lectern. They need to wrap up their thoughts quickly when that red light appears, and as the words over the courtroom doorway state in Latin—“While I speak, time flies.”
And so the legal contest of an appellate argument has at least one thing in common with sports—strict timing. Enjoy the March Madness on the basketball court, and may your team win!

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

2013 Ohio Mock Trial State Champions

Congratulations to Indian Hill High School students for winning the 30th Annual Ohio Mock Trial State Competition on March 9.

The school won the 2013 state championship round for the second year in a row and for the fourth time in five years. What an accomplishment for these students! Orange High School of Pepper Pike placed second in the event hosted by the Ohio Center for Law Related Education (OCLRE).

Mock Trial is a statewide educational program that simulates a court trial. High school students learn firsthand about law, court procedures, and the judicial system by competing against other teams in a real courtroom setting.

Since September, the students have worked alongside volunteer attorneys and judges to learn the ropes about their mock trial case titled, “State of Ohio vs. Dakota Allen.” Through this case the students analyzed an individual’s rights under the Fifth Amendment regarding improper confessions.

This is Indian Hill High School’s fourth state championship. The school also won in 2009 and 2010. Indian Hill will represent Ohio at the national level in May in Indianapolis.

You can watch the 2013 state championship round of Indian Hill High School verses Orange High School online.


Thursday, February 28, 2013

Supreme Court Justices’ Athletic Feats Recounted on First Day of Arnold Sports Festival

The 25th Arnold Sports Festival kicks off today in Columbus. The festival will feature more than 18,000 athletes from 80 nations competing in 45 sports and events, including 12 Olympic sports.

Normally associated with bodybuilding, the festival’s other sports bring to mind the athletic feats of two former Justices on the Ohio Supreme Court.
Justice Francis Sweeney played professional football in the Canadian Football League for the Ottawa Rough Riders as a defensive tackle from 1956 to 1958. Justice Sweeney served on the Supreme Court from January 1993 to December 2004. Perhaps his most significant contribution while a member of the court was his majority opinion in DeRolph v. State (1997), the first school funding decision.
Justice Arthur H. Day set an unofficial world record in the 40-yard dash as a varsity sprinter at Ohio Wesleyan University in 1909. After his graduation from Ohio Wesleyan, he was appointed to the Cleveland Boxing Commission in 1914. Justice Day served on the court from January 1935 to December 1940.


Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Classroom Resources Available to Learn About Historic Case

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Gideon v. Wainwright, a landmark case that recognized the responsibility of state courts to provide counsel for indigent defendants.

The U.S. Courts website has unveiled a series of courtroom-ready and classroom-ready activities to provide a teen-age perspective on the case, which was decided on March 18, 1963.

Students can read a summary about the case, reenact the story of Clarence Gideon, and put themselves in a similar situation through a realistic scenario where they might need a public defender.
The activities provide a great opportunity to learn about the Sixth and Fourteenth Amendments. Enjoy!

Monday, February 11, 2013

Comparing Notes with a Judge from China

A few days ago Judge Caiyan Yan from China visited the Ohio Supreme Court. Judge Yan is a member of the Higher People’s Court in Changsha, the capital of Hunan Province approximately 915 miles southwest of Beijing.

Judge Yan observed three oral arguments at the Thomas J. Moyer Judicial Center on February 5. Two days later, I welcomed her in my chambers for an informal conversation about the similarities and differences in our judicial systems. She had many questions about what she observed here at the Supreme Court of Ohio and the other courts she had visited throughout her stay in the United States.

We talked for about an hour through the help of an interpreter. Both of us had questions for the other about what it was like to serve as a judge in our country.

Judge Yan has served on the Higher People’s Court since 2005, after she received her master’s degree in law from Wuhan University. Her primary judicial role is to review administrative law and procedural matters for the court.

Judge Yan was very interested in discussing dispute resolution because she oversees the resolution of disputes between bureaucracies. She said that in China, officials encourage judges to use mediation and other similar means to resolve civil disputes. I expressed my view: Mediation is successful when both parties leave the table equally unhappy with an agreement because that means they each had to compromise on strongly held positions.

Judge Yan also was interested in hearing about cases when public figures were involved. I stressed that officials here in the states do not receive special consideration: judges use the same rules for litigants whether they are rich or poor. We strive for equal justice under the law.

I enjoyed spending time with Judge Yan, having the opportunity to exchange ideas. Perhaps we will have the chance to meet again.  She, her husband, and their 8-year-old daughter will return to China at the end of the month.

Friday, January 18, 2013

High Schools to Try and Unseat Findlay in State Civics Competition

One week from today, Findlay High School will try to make it 12 titles in a row at the annual We the People: the Citizen and the Constitution competition. Findlay has represented the Buckeye State at the We the People National Finals for 11 consecutive years.

Nearly 150 students will participate in the January 25 event at the Thomas J. Moyer Ohio Judicial Center, home to the Ohio Supreme Court, in Columbus. Besides Findlay, the competing schools are: Archbold, Bishop Hartley, Fostoria, Northmont, St. Henry, Van Wert, and West Carrollton.
Judges, attorneys, state legislators, college professors, and other community leaders from across Ohio will judge the competition by evaluating the students’ knowledge and understanding of the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights and their importance, impact, and underpinnings.
We the People is a nationally acclaimed civic education program, helping students understand the history, philosophies, and evolution of our constitutional government. Upon completion of the classroom study, the students participate in a competition taking the form of simulated Congressional hearings.
Good luck to all involved!