Chief Justice O'Connor Addresses Courthouse Safety in State of the Judiciary Speech
By Anne Yeager | September 1, 2017
In the wake of the shooting of Jefferson County Judge Joseph Bruzzese, Ohio Supreme Court Chief Justice Maureen O'Connor reminded judges of the real potential for violence they can face just doing their jobs.
"Judge Bruzzese was about to get an early start to his day on August 21st. Instead, a cowardly, would-be assassin, who had a pending civil matter in the judge's court, shot him in the alleyway leading to the courthouse," said Chief Justice O'Connor. "The judge managed to return fire and the quick action of a probation officer brought down the assailant."
Chief Justice O'Connor said Judge Bruzzese was released from the hospital and she hopes he will make a quick recovery and resume his position on the bench. Yet, she said the shooting served as a dangerous reminder.
"I don't want to be an alarmist, but ensuring the safety of the judiciary should be a primary, not secondary, concern for you, for us, and for the state. In this day and age, it's not a quantum leap for a disturbed individual to think that violence against a judge or a family member or court staff is an appropriate way to deal with a problem," she said.
Those pointed remarks affecting the judicial branch were part of the Chief Justice O'Connor's seventh state of the Judiciary address before a gathering of hundreds of judges at the annual Ohio Judicial Conference in Columbus. It was called "Adapting Justice to a Dynamic Society."
"Our role in the judiciary is clear," said Chief Justice O'Connor. "We have a responsibility to maintain neutrality and to ensure that the system is perceived by the public as both fair and equitable."
From fines and fees, the speech turned to the opioid crisis, which has cast an unwelcome spotlight on the state of Ohio. This week, the Ohio Department of Health reported that 4, 050 Ohioans died last year from drug poisoning and overdose deaths. Led by Ohio, the Regional Judicial Opioid Initiative launched last year continues to leverage the resources of state judicial, criminal justice, and treatment options to be shared by nine states in America's Heartland.
"We are not just judges. We are also community leaders," said Chief Justice O'Connor. "We cannot sit behind the bench thinking this is someone else's problem to deal with. Judges - you and I - have a special place in our communities. We are "looked at" and "looked up to" for leadership in times of crisis. And make no mistake, we are in crisis."
Other topics covered in her remarks included case workloads for judges and a continued push to produce hard data to tell the story of what the judiciary is doing for its state and its citizens.