Friday, December 16, 2016

My Last Hurrah

While most of you will be celebrating this New Year’s Eve, my night will be bittersweet. At midnight Dec. 31, 2016, my time as a justice of the Supreme Court of Ohio comes to an end.  So this is my last post.

The Ohio Constitution says that anyone who reaches age 70 cannot run for a judicial term, and that includes re-elections.  Although I’ll no longer be a full-time judge, the doors are wide open for me in 2017 and beyond.

A retired judge can serve by assignment if appointed by the Chief Justice. As someone who has served at all court levels it is possible that I might be called on to be a “visiting judge.”  And of course I expect to continue my work in education. After all, once a teacher, always a teacher. My blog posts explaining the court system have been a pleasure to write and I hope you have enjoyed reading them.

During 31 years as an active judge, I’ve met wonderful people and dedicated professionals who care very much about our justice system.  No court operates in a vacuum, and it takes many individuals doing their jobs well to assure fairness under the law.  I would like to thank each and every one who worked with me over the years. You all will be missed!

The Court has created a great goodbye video for me. Click the arrow to watch.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Inaugural Civics Essay Contest

The democratic principles on which the U.S. government is built affect everything about the way people live. The Federal Bar Association Civics Essay Contest aims to foster the study and understanding of how the U.S. government works; to provide students with a platform on which to build the knowledge of basic civics; and to prepare every student to be an active, responsible citizen.

Topic: What does an impartial Judicial System mean to me?  

  • - Contest available in both Middle School (Grades 6-8) and High School (Grades 9-12) Divisions
  • - Middle School Word Limit: 500; High School Word Limit: 1,000
  • - Winners awarded in Washington, DC in conjunction with the FBA Midyear Meeting on March 18, 2017. 

Middle School Contest Prizes:

1st Place: $1,000

2nd Place: $500

3rd Place: $250
High School Contest Prizes:

1st Place: $2,000

2nd Place: $1,000

3rd Place: $500


This contest is now open! Please email written essay submissions to by January 13, 2017.

  • Oral submissions also accepted! The time limit for recorded submissions is 3 minutes. Make an account with the StoryCorps app and share it with the Federal Bar Association account, or email a link to your recording to by January 13, 2017. 

Nomination of Teachers for Excellence in Civics Education

Do you have a teacher that has gone above and beyond in teaching civics at your school? Nominate him or her to receive the Excellence in Civics Education award! Winners will receive national recognition by the Federal Bar Association, and a chance to accept this award at the FBA Midyear Meeting in Washington, D.C. on March 18, 2017. A nomination form can be found below.
Essays and nominations should be submitted via email to by January 13, 2017.

Contest Chair: Maria Vathis,
Questions? Contact Josh Albertson at or call 571-481-9118

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Nov. 8 Election Means Two New Justices on Ohio Supreme Court

I hope you realized that besides voting for president, you had the chance to choose many others, including judges, through your Election Day ballot. For the first time since 1992, there were two open seats of the seven on the Ohio Supreme Court. Because I turned 70 this year the constitution says I must retire Dec. 31, at the end of my current term. Justice Paul E. Pfeifer is covered by the same rule and will leave the court on Jan. 1. Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor did not have an opponent, so she will begin serving her second and final six-year term next year.

Judge Pat DeWine from the First Appellate District Court in Cincinnati will replace Justice Pfeifer in January. But my replacement is still uncertain. At this point, Judge Pat Fischer of Cincinnati is leading his opponent, Judge Jack O’Donnell of Cleveland, according to the Secretary of State’s Office. But because there are many ballots to be counted, we will not know the outcome until the end of the month.

Many other common pleas and appellate judges were elected or re-elected this year. The 2016 campaign season has generated much discussion and I imagine that students, in particular, have learned about our democratic process.

The right to vote when we turn 18 is both a privilege and a responsibility. Here’s hoping that, in deciding how government will operate, people now recognize the power of their votes.

Although it’s sometimes easy to forget to vote for the judges, that choice is very important. Please remember them when you cast your next ballot.
(Image courtesy of Thinkstock)

Monday, September 26, 2016

New Graphic Novels Available

Calling all Ohio social studies teachers—the Ohio Supreme Court is providing Ohio educators with a series of graphic novels, “Justice Case Files,” that may be used in civic education. The series includes six novels that may be used individually or as a set:
·        Case File 1:  The Case of Internet Piracy

·        Case File 2: The Case of Stolen Identity

·        Case File 3:  The Case of Jury Duty

·        Case File 4:  The Case of the Broken Controller

·        Case File 5:  The Case of the Cyberbully and

·        Case File 6:  The Case of No Pets Allowed

These illustrated stories take up cases involving young adults, and teach students about the role of the courts, the protections of the U.S. Constitution, and the importance of the rule of law.   For example, Case File 3 follows a new high school graduate’s experience as a juror, Case File 5 describes a young girl’s action in juvenile court for cyber-bullying, and Case File 6 presents the landlord-tenant problem of an immigrant family.   Created through the National Center for State Courts, the short graphic novels present issues vividly for students. 

As Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor says in the introduction:

By reading these graphic novels, you are learning some of the most important things that any American learns: how your government works, how you can protect your rights, and how important it is that you become an active and engaged citizen.

The Supreme Court of Ohio will make these novels available to all educators who request them.  The Court is developing lesson plans to show how the novels align with Ohio’s curriculum standards.  The novels and lesson plans are provided to educators free of charge.   We are also seeking volunteers from the bench and bar to visit in classrooms using the materials.
To receive copies, or more information, please contact Pierce Reed at or in Chief Justice O’Connor’s chambers at

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Poetry, Literature, and Justice for All

Poetry, literature, and law may not seem like they go hand-in-hand, but printed words can actually help ease judges’ stress from their day jobs as well as improve their work/life balance.

Last year I taught a webcast for the National Judicial College called “Poetry as Judicial Medicine.” Poetry can provide a source of inspiration and comfort to the day-to-day routines we have on the bench. It may also involve judges being more empathetic and better serve those who come before them in court.

One of my favorite poems is from Billy Collins, about a teacher talking about students:


Introduction to Poetry

I ask them to take a poem
and hold it up to the light
like a color slide

or press an ear against its hive.

I say drop a mouse into a poem
and watch him probe his way out,

or walk inside the poem's room
and feel the walls for a light switch.

I want them to waterski
across the surface of a poem
waving at the author's name on the shore.

But all they want to do
is tie the poem to a chair with rope
and torture a confession out of it.

They begin beating it with a hose
to find out what it really means.

What poetry “really means” may be something I discuss with my judges next week, when, for the seventh time at the NJC in Ashland, Oregon, I’ll be presenting “Law and Ethics: A Novel Approach.”

This program is an innovative method of considering judicial ethics by using a variety of literary forms. The curriculum is designed to allow judges to discuss and analyze their own life experiences with respect to that of works of literature. While in Ashland, we will be attending several plays at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival and discussing ethical dilemmas posed within the plays and relate them to the judiciary.

As a former English teacher, I’ve always had a love of reading and writing, but I wasn’t too sure about poetry. But poetry is much more than rhyme, rhythm, meter, and metaphor. The feelings that I had before that “poetry makes no sense,” “it has no value,” “I don’t have time to read it,” have changed.

Judges are legal readers and writers; words are their stock-in-trade. They must interpret ambiguous statutes and contracts filled with tedious legal clich├ęs.

It’s too easy to be so finely focused on legal issues that the world is seen only through the limited abstract lens of the law. If nuance, the messy irresolution of life and all of its feelings are forgotten, judges may give up too much and forget how to be human.

My work as a judge for more than 31 years now gives me a different perspective. Poetry is fresh and opens up the mind to experiences in a new way, leading judges to become more empathetic and better able to serve others.

And I see all aspects of literature as an intellectual way to show how the judicial system and the written word can join to bring comfort to those who sit on the bench, while also encouraging the highest ethical behavior.


Monday, July 11, 2016

Happy 40th Birthday, Ohio Judicial College!

This July, we celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Ohio Judicial College. Since 1976, the Judicial College has been instrumental in educating nearly 205,000 people within the Buckeye state through more than 2,350 courses.
Like its counterpart, the National Judicial College, the Ohio Judicial College provides continuing legal and professional education to judges, magistrates, and non-judicial court personnel. All Ohio judges must complete 40 hours of continuing legal education every two years – 10 of those through Ohio Judicial College instruction, which makes the college the primary teaching resource for the nearly 1,200 judges and 800 magistrates throughout our state.
As a teacher for nearly five years before joining the legal profession and eventually becoming a judge and then a justice, I’ve continued to teach judges and lawyers at a national and state level. I was a board member of the Ohio Judicial College for seven years and served as its chair in 2000-2001. I can tell you that the college works exceptionally well and has a fine reputation. Staff takes their duties very seriously and courses are designed to keep the skills of those in the judicial field at a high level.
Ohioans can be sure that its Judicial College has served the public over the last 40 years by educating those who must ensure competent performance of the entire judicial system. And, of course, the public should expect no less from those who run the courts. Happy Birthday, Ohio Judicial College – and many, many more!
You can learn more about the history of the Ohio Judicial College by reading this month’s issue of CNO Review.


Thursday, May 5, 2016

Law Day Theme – Miranda: More than Words

In 1966, in the 5-4 decision of Miranda v. Arizona, the Warren Court fleshed out the Fifth Amendment by requiring warnings to be given before a defendant in custody could be questioned: 

“You have the right to remain silent, anything you say can be used against you in a court of law, you have the right to an attorney, and that if you can’t afford one a lawyer will be appointed for you before questioning.”

Miranda is still vital. In the 12 years that I’ve been on the Ohio Supreme Court, we’ve cited Miranda over 275 times. The case comes up whenever statements have been made in a criminal case or someone’s questioned in custody without counsel. Judges see it in motions to suppress.
For the Ohio Supreme Court’s most recent pronouncement, read State v. Barker, released on April 28, 2016. Just because a juvenile was videotaped, we couldn’t say his confession was automatically voluntary. We held this statutory presumption to be unconstitutional and said that the prosecution must always prove a knowing, intelligent, and voluntary waiver before allowing a statement into evidence.
I would like to broaden the Law Day Theme to include another protection of words. Miranda is based on the Fifth Amendment protection against self-incrimination, meaning the government can’t force speech. Conversely the government usually can’t shut us up, either. The First Amendment doesn’t allow government to squelch the language of a speaker, no matter how coarse, offensive, or repulsive.
The right is relevant during this campaign season. Americans have never been polite political animals. Insults aren’t new. The raw nerves of democracy have been jangling away years ago. 
Campaigns of 19th Century
In 1800, John Adams challenged by his vice president, Thomas Jefferson, was called a "hideous hermaphroditical character, which has neither the force and firmness of a man, nor the gentleness and sensibility of a woman." Jefferson was called a “weakling, atheist, libertine, and coward” and there were rumors of his long-term liaison with Sally Hemings.
John Quincy Adams and Andrew Jackson faced off twice with the first election considered by Jackson’s followers to be a “corrupt bargain” because candidate Henry Clay threw his support to Adams in exchange for the position of Secretary of State.
Their second race in 1828 was ugly. A newspaper wrote “General Jackson’s mother was a common prostitute, brought to this country by British soldiers!” Rumors swirled that Jackson’s wife Rachael was a bigamist because her divorce had not gone through when she married Jackson. Jackson was accused of adultery and living in sin. Adams was labelled a pimp, and it was said his success in Russia was a result of his providing the Czar with the services of an America woman. He was also accused of gambling in the White House. 
Jackson won, but his wife died shortly before his inauguration. Denied a second term, Adams later became a congressman and successfully defended 39 African captives in the famous Amistad case.
In 1884, Grover Cleveland dealt with the revelation that he had fathered a son out of wedlock, that the child had gone to an orphanage, and that the mother had been driven into an asylum. Even though Cleveland eventually admitted his “illicit connection” he denied fatherhood – he said he was only doing his duty in finding a home for the child and giving him his name.
Current Speech Protection
Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes wrote “the best test of truth is the power of the thought to get itself accepted in the competition of the market.” Is the “marketplace of ideas” still a valid idea?
If so, unfortunately, some of the internet’s bread is very stale and some twitter fruit is very rotten. Just look at internet comments – common civility is gone.   Ugly thoughts that may have been hidden away once now have permission to be belched out in public. And those who disagree are crudely insulted and demonized.
When did it happen that anger, grievance, and resentment of others would drown out rational discussion?
The anti-intellectual soundbite needs to be challenged. So does the idea that any opinion, no matter how outright wrong, is just as valid as a considered judgment based in fact. And as the U.S. Supreme Court said in Citizens United, “Government can’t police the line between truth and falsity and between valuable speech and drivel.” Since government can’t distinguish based on content of political speech, who can change the tenor of discourse? Isn’t it our duty to try to encourage free exchange of ideas uninhibited by hate or rage?
We hear “It’s a free country,” and thank God that’s so. Law Day is a time to celebrate protection of “more than words” – the Miranda decision protects silence of one while in custody and the First Amendment protects our ability to speak.  


Friday, April 29, 2016

NOTICE: Free Online Drug Court Training for Court Professionals

The National Association of Drug Court Professionals released a new online course titled “Educating Drug Courts on Medication Assisted Treatment.”

The free course is funded by the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy. It’s designed to give drug and other treatment courts the tools they need to ensure best practices related to medication assisted treatment. The course includes understanding what this treatment is, how it can be used, and its legal ramifications.

The online course is timely as courts across the country will be celebrating National Drug Court Month, which begins on May 1. According to the Association of Drug Court Professionals, there are more than 2,900 drug courts across the nation serving about 150,000 individuals each year.

These courts are crucial to criminal justice reform and are often the most effective strategy to reduce substance abuse, crime, and repeat offenses.

Our current opioid crisis highlights the need for access to new and creative types of treatment of drug addiction. Drug and other treatment courts must ensure every participant has access to the full range of evidence-based treatment when it is determined to be medically needed.


Thursday, April 7, 2016

Thinking of International Cooperation

Just this week, a judge and nine lawyers from Afghanistan were able to watch oral arguments in four cases heard by the Ohio Supreme Court in the Thomas J. Moyer Judicial Center. Afterward, the group spent time with Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor discussing the differences between the U.S. and Afghan court systems.

Both the Ohio Judicial College and National Judicial College have sponsored programs that allow judges from the United States to periodically receive judges and attorneys from other countries and sponsor them in training. Judges from Ukraine, Russia, Libya, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan, Armenia, and Serbia have toured the nation’s court system, including here in Ohio and have marveled at our Supreme Court building. 

Visits have varied and have included more than judges. For example, members of the China International Economic Trade and Arbitration Commission learned about dispute resolution during a visit to Ohio in 2007. A 2009 Korean delegation studied the administration and use of jury trials. The Serbian delegation in 2012 learned about asset forfeiture, and Franklin County judges presented a program on commercial dockets to a Turkmenistan group. 

Twice in 1995, I had the wonderful opportunity to travel to Russia and Ukraine after the breakup of the Soviet Union to teach programs designed to introduce the U.S. legal system and encourage judicial independence. Many students were fascinated to hear that people believed in the rule of law and that American judges had no armies to enforce their opinions. They were surprised that we didn’t have to call party bosses to decide how to rule in a particular case. They were also amazed that someone could actually sue the government. 

So many times we take our system of law for granted. During this primary season, when politics seems to expose the rawer nerves of democracy, it’s not a bad idea to remember that when we are viewed from other places, we appear to be very fortunate and that the sharing of ideas benefits all of us.


Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Judicial Seats on March Primary Election Ballot

One week from today, Ohioans will have the opportunity to exercise their right to vote as they go to the polls on Tuesday, March 15 for the primary election.

In a previous post, I’ve mentioned Judicial Votes Count and the many resources available on the website for voters who’d like to learn more about the candidates for judge and justice. The website includes biographical information about the judicial candidates, including the candidates’ reasons for wanting to serve on the bench.

There are 145 judicial races on next week’s primary ballot, including three on the Ohio Supreme Court.

Twenty-seven court of appeals seats are also up for election this year. Before being elected as a Supreme Court justice, I served as a judge on the Sixth District Court of Appeals, as well as in common pleas and municipal court. I was asked to provide some insight in to the appeals court process in a video produced for the Judicial Votes Count website. That video, along with videos about the Supreme Court and common pleas courts, help voters understand the functions of each court.

Judges play an important role in our society by making decisions that affect our lives every day and in countless ways. Become more informed about these important offices by visiting Then, please vote!

Monday, February 29, 2016

Choosing a Justice – U.S. vs Ohio

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia’s death on Feb. 13 has led to much speculation about who will replace him. Based on the Constitution, justices on the U.S. Supreme Court are nominated by the president and those nomination must be confirmed by the Senate.
There are nine justices on the U.S. Supreme Court who serve lifetime terms. Justice Elena Kagan was the last Supreme Court justice appointed to the bench back in August 2010 by President Barack Obama. The longest serving justice is Justice Anthony Kennedy, who took his seat in 1988, and was nominated by President Ronald Reagan. The newest appointed justice will become the 113th to serve on our nation’s Supreme Court.
The Washington Post recently published a helpful infographic that explains the path of U.S. Supreme Court appointments.
The president also nominates candidates for federal judgeships subject to the Senate’s approval. As of 2014, there are more than 625 active judges who serve federal district courts and nearly 175 judges who serve federal courts of appeals. All federal judges enjoy lifetime terms.
In contrast, the seven justices on Ohio’s highest court are elected in statewide elections. We are not appointed, and we serve six-year terms before standing for re-election. The Ohio governor can appoint a justice for vacancies that occur between elections, such as for a retirement or death. In the rare instance that a justice on the Ohio Supreme Court must be appointed, the governor makes the decision alone – it doesn’t have to be confirmed by the Ohio General Assembly. The same holds true for other state courts.   If a judge leaves in the middle of a term, the governor appoints someone to fill the vacancy until voters decide who will retain the seat in the next election.
Only 21 states have elections, both partisan and nonpartisan. Ohio has nonpartisan general elections. In 12 states, the justices are appointed for life and in the remaining 17 states the justices are elected after an initial appointment.
Voters choose two Ohio Supreme Court justices at the general election in even-numbered years. In the year when the chief justice runs, voters pick three members of the Court. A person must be an attorney with at least six years of experience in the practice of law to be elected or appointed to the Court.
Three justices are up for election this year. Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor has no opponent, and Justice Paul E. Pfeifer and I are no longer eligible to seek re-election due to age restrictions, so our Court will welcome two new members in 2017.
Now we will have to wait and see who will become the next U.S. Supreme Court justice and who will become the new justices on our state’s Supreme Court.
Sources: American Bar Association and United States Courts


Friday, February 19, 2016

Annual Report on Discipline is Released

Do you ever wonder what happens when a lawyer or judge does something illegal or gets into serious trouble?  In most states, there is a disciplinary group that handles complaints against lawyers and judges. Ohio is no exception.

The Board of Professional Conduct, formerly called the Board of Commissioners on Grievances & Discipline, just released its 2015 annual report on Feb. 17, noting a nearly 20 percent decrease in active pending cases.  This board, made up of 28 volunteer commissioners appointed by the Supreme Court of Ohio, includes judges, lawyers, and members of the public. The board hears complaints against attorneys and judges for criminal behavior or for violations of the ethical codes of the Ohio Rules of Professional Responsibility and the Code of Judicial Conduct.

Disciplinary cases can arise in a number of situations ranging from a lawyer’s neglect of client matters to a felony conviction. When a complaint is made and has probable cause, a disputed case will be heard before a hearing panel of three commissioners, who then write an opinion to present to the full board. After consideration by all commissioners, the report is certified to the Supreme Court with both panel and board recommendations.

The justices will hear oral arguments about the case and then decide if the lawyer or judge will receive the recommended sanction, or a greater or lesser penalty, which might include a professional license suspension or a probationary period with conditions. License suspensions may last for six months, one or two years, or for an indefinite period.  A disbarment, which is the most serious penalty available, means that the attorney or judge will never practice law in Ohio again.

According to the 2015 annual report, there were 48 hearings and 61 certified reports and the board disposed of 102 cases, a 21.4 percent increase in dispositions from 2014.

More information can be found here.


Monday, January 11, 2016

2016 Civics Education Essay Contest

The National Center for State Courts (NCSC) is now accepting entries for its free 2016 Civics Education Essay Contest in honor of Law Day, May 1. This year commemorates the 50th anniversary of Miranda v. Arizona, the 1966 U.S. Supreme Court decision that mandates what notifications police must give before questioning a criminal suspect. The statements regarding the right to remain silent and the right to an attorney, among others, are commonly known as Miranda Rights.

Third through 12th graders are being asked to consider, “What are the Miranda rights and why are they important?” Teachers are also encouraged to incorporate the actual opinion of Miranda v. Arizona into their lesson plans. The 1966 case determined that when police take a person into custody, they must be told before they are questioned of their Fifth Amendment right not to make any self-incriminating statements.

The contest is divided into three groups: 3rd-5th graders; 6th-8th graders; and 9th-12th graders. Entries for all grade levels should be typed, 100 words or less, and submitted online at Handwritten submissions will also be accepted and may be sent to:
National Center for State Courts
c/o Deirdre Roesch
300 Newport Ave.
Williamsburg, Va. 23185
It would be great to have an Ohio student as a finalist in this national event.  Good luck to all!
·         First place winners will receive a $100 Amazon gift card.
·         Second place winners will receive a $50 Amazon gift card.
·         Third place winners will receive a $25 Amazon gift card.

All winners will receive a classroom set of NCSC’s graphic novel coloring book series the Justice Case Files.
Complete contest details are available at

Thursday, January 7, 2016

2015 Ohio Supreme Court Case Highlights

As we start a new year, I think it is worthwhile to review the Supreme Court of Ohio’s opinions of the last year. According to our statistics, more than 300 opinions were written. Some related to technical issues of procedure or interpretation of statutes, others covered discipline of attorneys or judges, and many dealt with the constitutional rights of those injured or accused of crime. 

Among cases of particular interest to the public were:
  • An opinion modifying gross-sexual-imposition We ruled that part of Ohio’s gross-sexual imposition law was unconstitutional and struck down the provision that mandated prison terms when evidence other than the alleged victim’s testimony corroborated the offense. State v Bevly, 2015-Ohio-475.

  • An opinion on garbage search We held that evidence from a single trash pull was enough to find probable cause for a search warrant if it corroborates information and tips on drug activity. State v Jones, 2015-Ohio-483.

  • An opinion on a 911 recording In granting the Cincinnati Enquirer’s public-record request, we held that the recording of a 911 dispatcher’s return call to an emergency caller is a public record subject to release. State ex rel. Cincinnati v. Sage, 2015-Ohio-974.

  • An opinion on a traffic stop We held that a traffic stop for a minor misdemeanor made by a township police officer without statutory jurisdiction or authority violates Ohio’s constitutional protection against unreasonable search and seizure. State v. Brown, 2015-Ohio-2438. 

  • An opinion on charter schools In a case stemming from ongoing litigation brought by 10 Cleveland charter schools against the companies that operated and managed them, we held that an entity managing the daily operations of a charter school has a fiduciary relationship with the school it operates. Hope Academy v. White Hat Mgmt. L.L.C., 2015-Ohio-3716.

  • An opinion on the Ohio Dormant Mineral Act In one of a series of cases on the subject of fracking, we held that a lease that grants oil and gas rights to another party and was recorded with the county recorder is a title transaction, but that expiration of the lease by its terms is not. Chesapeake Exploration v. Buell, L.L.C., 2015-Ohio-4551.

  • An opinion upholding sex-registration We held that a 21-year-old man who had a consensual sexual relationship with a 15-year-old girl and who was categorized as a Tier II sex offender and had to verify his home address, place of employment, and school location in person every 180 days for 25 years was not subject to cruel and unusual punishment. State v. Blankenship, 2015-Ohio-4624.

These, and all of our decisions, are a matter of public record on the Supreme Court's website where you may read them in full. Our website also allows you to see and hear actual arguments of the cases online and to read previews and summaries when they are published.