Court News Ohio
Court News Ohio
Court News Ohio

Chief Justice Says Proposed Issue 1 Amendment ‘Disturbing,’ Calls on Judges to ‘Save Lives’ in State of the Judiciary

The Ohio Judicial Conference’s annual meeting is a time when judges can reflect on the state of Ohio’s courts. But before they can look ahead to what needs done, it helps to acknowledge what’s been done and those who’ve done it.

“Give yourselves a round of applause because you’re what make it work. So, I would really compliment you,” said Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor.

During her State of the Judiciary address in Columbus, she specifically highlighted longtime colleague and fellow justice, Terrence O’Donnell. His tenure on the court concludes at the end of the year due to the state’s constitutional age limitation, which prevents judges from taking office after they’ve turned 70.

“We’re going to miss you on the bench Justice O'Donnell, in the conference room as well, but we wish you all the luck and we expect to see you back in some capacity,” Chief Justice O’Connor said.

Much of the chief justice’s focus was directed to Issue 1. The proposal to amend the state’s constitution would mitigate drug charges and reduce sentences to mandatory probation for first- and second-time offenders accused of possessing less than 20 grams of a substance, including the lethal opioid fentanyl.

“It goes on to say ‘and further find that prison spending should be focused on violent and serious offenses.’ What is not serious about 19 grams of fentanyl that can kill 10,000 people? I do not know, but that’s the preface for this amendment and I find that to be disturbing,” Chief Justice O’Connor said.

She and others, such as retired Hamilton County Juvenile Court Judge Thomas Lipps, are concerned that along with lighter sentencing, the lack of jail time will diminish an addict’s desire to get help.

“If you take away that stick and there's no possibility of them going into custody, then they’re not as enthused about getting into treatment,” he said.

“You have to allow people to know that their behavior must change, and the only way you can do that is to be able to give them choices,” added Akron Municipal Court Judge Annalisa Williams, who along with Chief Justice O’Connor, was honored at the event by the Ohio State Bar Association for judicial excellence and innovation.

On top of sharing her perspective with her peers, the chief justice emboldened them to increase awareness of the issue, which will be on the ballot in November.

“I feel strongly that we are the voices. Not only are we permitted to do this, we are obligated to do this,” she said. “People put [judges] in office because they trust you. Use that trust to inform. Use that trust to save lives. This is an issue about saving lives.”

It’s that accountability drug court judges say makes all the difference.

“I am definitely affected by it every day. I see how wonderful it is that we have these programs and the role that a judge can play over the success of this person that's in recovery,” said Franklin County Municipal Court Judge Jodi Thomas, whose opiate-specific drug court is called “Help Achieve Recovery Together.”

Serving the public in this way is one of the countless acts Chief Justice O’Connor believes the judiciary does for the benefit of the Ohioans they serve.

“We don’t do it for the glory. We don't do it because it's an easy job. We do it because we are committed to something bigger than we are. [It's] better than personal gain, it’s community gain. It's society's gain,” she said.