September 13 and 14 found most judges in Columbus for the annual Ohio Judicial Conference. This year’s theme was Advancing the Administration of Justice. I gave one of the Continuing Judicial Education presentations, as I have done for many years. My presentation was on the highlights of the Ohio Supreme Court’s past term. For those of you who read the blog, you’ve received the same information.
Chief Justice O’Connor delivered the annual state of the judiciary address. Her basic theme was doing more with less. I teach at a public university, and we hear much the same message. The Chief discussed a number of other issues of particular interest to judges, including salaries, the creation of a Judicial Leadership Conference, and decreasing the use of visiting judges. You can watch the speech here.
I found the status report on the Death Penalty Task Force the most interesting part of the Chief’s talk. Last year at her first state of the judiciary address, the Chief announced the formation of a joint task force between the Ohio Supreme Court and the Ohio State Bar Association to review the administration of the death penalty in Ohio. At the time, she said she wanted to ensure that the death penalty is administered in the “most fair, efficient, judicious manner possible.” This year she elaborated further on what has been going on. The task force, chaired by retired Court of Appeals judge James Brogan of Montgomery County, has been examining such issues as whether evidence at crime labs is being processed correctly, the accreditation of crime labs and of coroners, training for judges and lawyers involved in capital cases, keeping better data in capital cases, judicial intervention in ineffective assistance of counsel cases, and the possibility of more uniform methods of indictments.
As the Chief noted in her remarks, the minutes from these meetings are available and posted on line on the Court’s website. I decided to take a look at them myself. You can find them here. The most recent set of posted minutes are from the March 8, 2012 meeting, although according to the schedule, there have also been meetings in May and July. At the March meeting, reports were submitted from the following subcommittees: clemency, race and ethnicity, proportionality, judicial role, post-conviction , prosecutor issues, defense services, and law enforcement issues. The minutes reflect that the latter will propose three recommendations:
1. If evidence in a death penalty case is not originally reviewed by an accredited lab, then the defendant has the right to have the evidence reviewed a second time by an accredited lab.
2. Require that each coroner’s office become accredited by the National Association of Medical Examiners, or have at least one person on staff or under contract who is a member of that organization, or have in place a contract with an accredited crime lab.
3. Request the Ohio Judicial Conference to draft a jury instruction regarding videotaped confessions.
All of this is still a work in progress.
Like the Chief, all of us are anxious to hear the final report and recommendations from the Task Force. And taking things one step further, as Justice Pfeifer has suggested on a number of occasions, isn’t it time to re-examine the death penalty itself in Ohio, not just how it is administered?