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.