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.