Court News Ohio
Court News Ohio
Court News Ohio

Justice Donnelly, Record Crowd Exhibit Growth of Magistrates

When a record-setting number of magistrates from across Ohio convened in Columbus, they did so to network, share best practices, and keep up with some of the latest judicial obstacles. As a bonus, they received insight from a member of the state’s high court who understands their work.

Ohio Supreme Court Justice Michael Donnelly’s remarks opened the annual Ohio Association of Magistrates fall conference before 422 attendees.

“There were so many familiar faces in the crowd, a lot of people who I consider mentors as a young attorney, who provided me with a lot of important lessons that I’ve carried throughout my whole career,” Justice Donnelly said.

As a Cuyahoga County commons pleas judge for 14 years, he has met and worked with hundreds of people in the legal profession, many of whom are magistrates. Even before he entertained the idea of practicing law, Justice Donnelly was exposed to the work of arbiters at home. His father – former Cuyahoga County Probate Judge John Donnelly – served more than two decades as a magistrate, which was called a referee in Ohio until 1995.

“Every judge knows that the judicial branch could not function without the excellent men and women who serve in all our divisions as magistrates,” Justice Donnelly said.

It’s a perspective that’s appreciated by his peers, who many times are overlooked as judicial officers.

“I think we need judges like that to be at the appellate and the Supreme Court level that understand the job down there in the trenches,” said Summit County Domestic Relations Magistrate Diane Coughlin.

Along with hearing about Justice Donnelly’s experiences and how the Supreme Court handles and discusses cases, the magistrates learned from other speakers over three days of courses. There was curriculum that encompassed all jurisdictions in trial courts, with educational programs tailored to respective sectors – appellate, common pleas, domestic relations, juvenile, probate, and municipal.

While many of the themes were familiar – domestic violence, child custody, and evidence – some highlighted turbulent topics that land in courts and are hindered by limited governmental regulation, such as drones, GPS radar, monitoring apps on phones, and implantable neurodevices.

“Just to know that we’re all seeing some of the same issues, but we’re seeing them in a different context based on where we’re from,” said Tracy Peebles, a magistrate in Cuyahoga County Juvenile Court. “It’s nice to know that you have a group of people that you can talk about that with.”

The overlying theme for any conference is improvement – individually and collectively. Regarding the courts, it means analyzing elements of the justice system, not just over three days, but year-round.

“Do we like it? Is it effective? Is it efficient, transparent?” Justice Donnelly asked. “And if not, how can we change it. How can we make it better?”

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