In her first state of the Judiciary address delivered Sept. 8, Chief Justice Maureen O'Connor announced the formation of a new joint task force to study the application of the death penalty in Ohio and called on Ohio's judges to come together during these difficult economic times to continue to improve the administration of justice in the state.
The remarks were delivered to a full house of more than 300 judges from across Ohio at the Ohio Judicial Conference 2011 Annual Meeting at the Hilton Polaris Hotel.
"My message to you today is simple: There has never been a more important time for judges to come together and work toward the common goal of supporting the courts. We must work together to forcefully and tirelessly make the case that strong courts are critical, that justice is indispensable, and that even in times of economic distress, the courts must be a top priority."
The Chief Justice announced the formation of the Joint Task Force to Review the Administration of Ohio's Death Penalty, a partnership between the Supreme Court of Ohio and the Ohio State Bar Association "to ensure that Ohio's death penalty is administered in the most fair, efficient, and judicious manner possible."
She said the task force will be a broad-based panel of judges, prosecuting attorneys, criminal defense counsel, legislative leaders, and academics that will examine the death penalty process to ensure that the criteria, laws, and procedures regarding the imposition of the death penalty in Ohio are fair, impartial, and balanced.
"It should be made perfectly clear that the exercise to be undertaken is in no way a judgment on whether Ohio should or should not have the death penalty. This will not be in the charge to the Joint Task Force. The Task Force will examine the current laws on the subject, the practices in other jurisdictions, the data, costs, etc. It will review the ABA death Penalty Report and identify areas in need of action and recommend the course of action."
The Joint Task Force will be chaired by Retired Judge James A. Brogan of the Second District Court of Appeals.
In addition to the announcement of the death penalty task force, the Chief Justice called on Ohio's judges to work collaboratively on improving the administration of justice, and she outlined some specific areas where efforts should be focused, including judicial selection, judicial qualifications, improving diversity on the bench and bar, and addressing the current budgetary challenges.
"Here in Ohio, the most recent biennial budget has been difficult for everyone. Local courts are experiencing difficulty providing services in a hostile fiscal environment. Courts are being asked to do more while Local Government Funds are cut 31 percent," Chief Justice O'Connor said.
Chief Justice O'Connor reported that a task force on the judicial budget that she announced in January will soon begin its work to assist courts "examine cost cutting ideas while ensuring the continued fair and efficient administration of justice."