Chief Justice Plays Ambassador for Ohio, Drug Courts at Global Conference
By Csaba Sukosd | August 12, 2019
Chief Justice Maureen O'Connor welcomed judges and staff from as far away as Alaska, Hawaii, Albania, Ukraine, and Australia to Ohio and the annual Conference of Court Public Information Officers. During opening remarks, she expanded upon the evolution of the judiciary during her decades on the bench.
"Courts have always been active places, but now courts - through our work and society's needs - have become proactive places," Chief Justice O'Connor said. "It's not just about trials, day-in and day-out. Courts have become agents of change."
Few things have proven that progression more than drug courts, especially in Ohio which has 180 of them - an increase from 109 in 2014. During the conference held in Cleveland, the Chief Justice was also part of a panel discussing the opioid and drug epidemic, and how sentiments have altered toward those dealing with addiction.
"People were always referred to as addicts. That doesn't make a whole lot of sense if we're treating this as a disease," Chief Justice O'Connor said. "I liken it to the fact that somebody has cancer. You don't say, 'They're a cancer.' You say, 'They're suffering from cancer.'"
The annual conference, held for judicial communications officials at local, state, and federal levels from trial and appellate courts, is held as a means to help staffers share information and best practices for matters including media relations, crisis communication, education, and community outreach.
Over the past several years, arguably the most new material in the criminal justice system has revolved around drug offenses and addiction. As scientific developments lead to more insight about substance use disorder, Chief Justice O'Connor stressed the importance of judges and their staffs to stay informed - for themselves and their citizens.
"We need to educate the public as a way to build and maintain support for our courts," Chief Justice O'Connor said. "We need to show that we are dealing with the problems that society hands us."