State of Judiciary: Perseverance, Progression Paramount in Age of COVID-19, Social Reform
By Csaba Sukosd | September 11, 2020
Like seemingly all events in 2020, the annual State of the Judiciary address was different.
But the coronavirus didn't stop Ohio Supreme Court Chief Justice Maureen O'Connor from delivering an inspiring message to Ohio judges remotely.
This year's theme for the chief justice's message focused on perseverance and breakthroughs. The idea was in part an homage to suffragists who fought to give women the right to vote 100 years ago, and also a recognition of the current crises stemming from COVID-19 and social injustice.
"When those times present themselves as judges, we must remember: If not us, who? Who is there to sit on the bench and try to mete out justice if not us?" Chief Justice O'Connor said.
Her guidance to state courts through these unprecedented times started in the spring when she set aside nearly $6 million from the Supreme Court's budget for technology grants. That allowed courts to continue services remotely and virtually during COVID-19, and to establish new methods to make the judicial system more efficient post-pandemic.
"Technology solutions in Ohio's courts, especially in the past six months, are the very definition of innovation," Chief Justice O'Connor said in the address that was broadcast and streamed statewide from the Ohio State Bar Association.
As the state's first female chief justice, she has a unique perspective on persevering through difficult times.
Her leadership positions over the past two decades as Ohio lieutenant governor, director of public safety, and the state's premier jurist have taken place during the 9-11 attacks, multiple health epidemics, including severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), the opioid crisis, and the current pandemic. But like those who made a monumental impact with gender rights last century, she's striving for another social breakthrough.
"When it comes to fairness and sentencing, we still lack the number one tool employed by every successful business in this country. That tool is advanced metrics, measurements," Chief Justice O'Connor said.
The start of the process is establishing consistency statewide with a uniform sentencing data entry and a commission to analyze the integrity of convictions and the post-conviction process. The goal is to create a criminal justice database.
"It's important that our judges sentence with consistency," she said. "Judges and lawyers should have tools to know what the data show regarding sentencing for each offense statewide."
That information also would be there for the public to ensure transparency and accountability.
"How can we explain to our citizens that we knew this database effort was critical to justice in our state, but we didn't do it? I believe that we can do this," she said. "I believe that we will do it."