A hot topic in the Ohio Supreme Court and the legislature these days is Judicial Reform. State Representative Tim Grendell (Senator-elect) has proposed a bill in the house which addresses some of these issues. The Chief Justice has openly recommended a list of changes he thinks are appropriate. Many of these recommendations have been accepted readily as “reform” but in reality they do not address the core issues. They are change, only for change’s sake, and will not have the effect desired.
Increasing the term of office does not improve the judiciary in any respect. The purpose of longer terms, of course, is to attract qualified people with the promise of being free of politics. This is a fallacious argument. Our entire system of government is based on politics, and trying to deprive the voters of the opportunity to judge the candidate is patently unconstitutional in spirit and intent. Politics will be faced whether the term is 6, 10, 12 or 15 years. Unless we have a majority of one-term judges, the incumbent judge must face the reality of standing for reelection.
The problem of reelection could be solved by adopting the so-called Missouri or Modified Missouri plan where the incumbent runs on his record. This is not a viable solution as it merely trades one imperfect system for another and the voters of Ohio have struck this consent down in the past. The voters have shown they want to elect their judges. No matter how the issue is viewed, judges are political animals and are involved in the political process. It is a disservice to the voters to consider them anything else.
There are many if not most judges in Ohio who are well qualified for the bench, but it is also true that there are those who by background and temperament are not suited and should never be on the bench. What do we do with these unqualified persons when their terms increase to 10,12 or 15 years? At least with a 6 year term, the voters can weed out the incompetents in a shorter time instead of allowing them to do damage for a longer period.
Requiring 40 hours of course work doesn’t even scratch the surface of the abilities and skills needed to be an effective judge. Lawyers currently have a 24 hour requirement and the continued incompetence is alarmingly encountered on a daily basis. Schooling, no matter how intense, cannot supply in a few hours what many judges have made a career of excelling at in their profession. The skill, knowledge, experience and training must occur before aspiring to the bench. The bench is not a good place to do on-the-job training. People’s lives and fortunes are at stake. Neither is it a place to retire to, nor should it be a political plumb awarded to the faithful. Attorneys who have specialized in one small area of the law should be ineligible for a judgeship. Such an attorney cannot possibly expand his horizons where he can suddenly make judgments on vast areas of law. A judge does not have to know all the law, but should be broadly conversant enough that any new area of law encountered is not a major learning experience.