Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor gave her State of the Judiciary Address on Thursday at the annual Ohio Judicial Conference.
She spoke to hundreds of judges across Ohio about how courts are rising to the occasion in difficult economic times and finding creative ways to maintain the highest level of quality in the administration of justice.
“I want to take stock of some of the things we are doing to make the courts more efficient, encourage you to continue in your efforts at the local level, and make the case that our argument for adequate court funding – including adequate judicial compensation – is directly tied to our success in building more efficient courts,” Chief Justice O’Connor said.
“While we can make the case for more funding, we have the reciprocal responsibility of better management and use of those dollars,” she added.
Chief Justice O’Connor said Ohio judges are long overdue for a raise.
“I don’t need to remind you that since 2008, no judge in Ohio has received a raise. And according to the records we maintain, this has been the longest stretch of stagnation in judicial salaries since the 1950s,” Chief Justice O’Connor said. “A national survey released in July noted that Ohio ranked in the bottom half of all 50 states for judicial pay.”
She said there is support in the general assembly for increasing judges’ salaries but cautioned that judges will have to make the case.
Chief Justice O’Connor said she is advocating for the creation of a commission that would make recommendations to the General Assembly on a regular basis regarding compensation for all elected officials in Ohio, from county commissioners to the Governor.
She also updated the judges about the year-old Joint Task Force to Review the Administration of Ohio’s Death Penalty. She said members have met five times this year and are still discussing ways to ensure the death penalty is administered in a fair way.
Chief Justice O’Connor also spoke about plans for an Access to Justice Comission that would focus on underserved members of the community including those with disabilities and for whom English is not their first language. The commission will also look at ways to strengthen diversity on the bench and bar.
The chief justice ended her speech with a tribute to Justice Evelyn Lundberg Stratton, who is retiring at the end of the year to focus on ways to improve the lives of veterans with mental illness.