Justice Sharon L. Kennedy
Ohio Association of Magistrates Fall Conference: Report on the Judiciary
Sept. 29, 2016

Good morning. Thank you for that wonderful introduction.

Thank you Magistrates Mark Huberman and Gregory Clifford for serving as this year’s Fall Conference Chairs and for asking me to participate.

Being here today is an especially great honor because, not so long ago, I too served as a magistrate in the Butler County Area Courts. In fact, being here today was like coming home. As I walked down the hallway it was great to see so many friends and have the opportunity to catch up with them.

I know, as well as all of you, just how accurate the Second District Court of Appeals conclusion was in Quick v. Kwiatowski, 2001-Ohio-1498, when they said that magistrates across Ohio serve a vital purpose in our system of justice and "truly do the heavy lifting on which we all depend."

I would be remiss if I did not also take this opportunity to thank the staff of the Ohio Judicial College, Phil Schopick and Jennifer Whetstone for all of your supportive organizational work to help facilitate the conference. Thank you for all of your efforts on behalf of the court.

Since its founding in 1989, the Ohio Association of Magistrates has led the way to improve educational opportunities and provide a vital resource for magistrates. Today there are 805 magistrates serving in courts across Ohio of which 699 are members of this organization. The membership participation rate speaks volumes about the invaluable service the OAM provides. Thank you for all that you do.

In thinking about the current state of the judiciary and its future, I would like to focus on three topics: the Rules of Superintendence, specialized docket populations, and access to justice.

Update - Rules of Superintendence

In May 2016, the court published for public comment Superintendence Rule 39, Case Time Standards. The old time guidelines anticipated resolution of all cases within an allotted period of time. As a former administrative judge who used the old time guidelines as a monthly measurement tool to ensure cases were being heard on a timely basis, the new proposed case time standards provides a more realistic approach which considers the fluidity of a case when dealing with lawyers’ and litigants’ schedules.

The new rule establishes a "reasonable set of expectations" measured in percentages. Appendix K to Case Time Standards provides a chart of the case types and the clearance rates measured in 75 percent and 95 percent of all cases pending. Public comment closed on May 16, 2016. The rule is pending finalization.

As many of you know in 2015, the court also began working on an amendment to the Rules of Superintendence (Rules 4.01, 19 and 19.01), specifically regarding the Magistrate Notification, Registration, and Oath of Office.

A new provision in Rule 4.01 requires the administrative judge of each court to notify the Office of Attorney Services of the appointment or termination of appointment of an magistrate.

Of importance to you is proposed Rule 19 which requires a magistrate to annually register with the Office of Attorney Services.  The rule also formalizes the Oath of Office of a magistrate and requires a magistrate to file the oath of office with the clerk of court in which the magistrate serves within 30 days of appointment.

A draft of these rules has been published on the Ohio Supreme Court website for public comment and that comment period ends on October 26. Go online and add your voice to the conversation.

Specialized Dockets

Since 1999, with the advent of the first drug court program in Hamilton County, communities have turned to the court system to solve societal problems.

In 2013, there were more than 130 specialized dockets across Ohio, from SAMI Courts, to Drug Courts, Mental Health Courts, OVI courts, Domestic Violence Courts, Child Support Courts, Veterans Courts, and The CATCH court.

While evidence shows that these programs are succeeding, Veterans Courts are particularly promising. A recent study by the Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services and other studies conducted in courts across Ohio demonstrated that this population has a low recidivism rate when they receive the treatment they deserve. But there is always more that we can do.

While Superintendence Rule 36 now controls the certification requirements of formalized specialized dockets, every day you—each and every one of you— have the opportunity to engage in therapeutic judicial intervention.

While traditional resources like AA, NA, Al-Anon, NAMI, and local treatment providers are invaluable resources, there are innumerable services available for veterans. Unlocking that door begins with one simple question: Have you served in any branch of the military?

If they have, then Operation Legal Help may provide that service member with free legal services and one of several Veterans Affairs partners may provide systematic treatment from housing to employment outreach. If you want more information about these programs please see me this morning so I can mail you these informational brochures.

Access to Justice

Hand in hand with serving specialized populations is our duty to ensure that all Ohioans have access to our court system. In 2015, the Task Force on Access to Justice released its final report.

While some recommendations of the final report were readily addressed, like opening a pathway to donate toward legal services through a donation in conjunction with your biennium dues and amending the emeritus rule to permit senior attorneys who are no longer engaged in the practice of law to provide pro bono legal services, other objectives will take further work.

Perhaps the solutions on how to best fill the gaps and reduce the obstacles to accessing the civil justice system will be found amongst the conversations that you and your peers have during the conference—ingenuity on how to create self-help centers and how to achieve a pathway to civil redress for every member of society regardless of their ability to pay.

While these are just a few of the topics that have been addressed over the past year, there is always one constant: engaging the public in the conversation about the third branch of government.

Everyone here today is a steward of the American justice system and our state's judicial system. In the year to come I ask all of you to forge one opportunity to speak to one civic organization—perhaps a Rotary, Lion’s or Kiwanis Club—and speak about the judicial branch of government.

Tell them how you are applying the law as written and making a difference in your communities one life at a time, multiple lives a day, every day. With that, all Ohioans will come to know what I already know—that each and every one of you truly do make a difference.

May God bless each and every one of you. Enjoy the conference.