Sentencing Reform, Case Data Drive Chief Justice's 'State of Judiciary'
By Csaba Sukosd | September 18, 2019
Every year, judges juggle more than just caseloads. As professionals, they must continue to learn about evolving trends. For the judiciary, there's no bigger think tank than the Ohio Judicial Conference.
Hundreds of jurists from across the state recently convened in Columbus for the annual event that highlights the ever-changing profession through two days of courses and programs.
"Adapting to changes in society has become the hallmark of our judiciary in Ohio. We are innovators. We are problem solvers. Why? Because we have to be. Who else is there to do what we have to do?" Ohio Supreme Court Chief Justice Maureen O'Connor said during her State of the Judiciary.
During her hour-long speech, she elaborated on the most-evident evolution in the state's justice system over the past decade - how courts handle drug offenses and those people dealing with substance use disorders.
"Drugs don't just affect the individual," Chief Justice O'Connor said. "It is the community that suffers. It's the family that disintegrates."
To help change the cycle of the disease, the chief justice is supporting Ohio House Bill 1. The legislation expands the use of intervention in lieu of conviction, seeking less prison time for nonviolent drug offenders and expanding access for those who want to seal their criminal records.
"We can make these individuals more productive to society. Then they can get work, pay taxes, and maybe everybody will be happy," said Eighth District Court of Appeals Judge Patricia Blackmon.
As the science has advanced in understanding substance use disorders, there have been technological strides in analyzing the efforts of the justice system. In February, the Ohio Supreme Court unveiled a series of interactive data dashboards with county-by-county case statistics from trial courts as a means of promoting transparency and providing local courts with a new way to monitor and improve case management processes.
"Why shouldn't we look into the problem-solving nature of technology around us to meet the needs of our judiciary, such as bail reform and access to justice? The answer is we're doing this to some degree, but we can and we must go much further," Chief Justice O'Connor said.
Soon, those figures will be even more detailed with the unveiling of case statistics for each trial court judge.
"If you're proud of how you run your court and keep things timely, it's nice for your constituents and the users of your court - the attorneys and the general community - to be able to go to a site like that, and see how you're doing," said Sandusky County Juvenile and Probate Judge Brad Smith.
The statewide effort is not only a public service. It's a way to uphold the law, as well as the virtues of the legal profession and judiciary.
"You deserve to be called your honors. Never forget your own honor. So, thank you to all, God bless, and let's all work together," Chief Justice O'Connor said.