February 1, 2006,
Columbus, Ohio -
Ohio Chief Justice Thomas J. Moyer this week testified before
the Ohio House Judiciary Committee, supporting the judicial
reform measures proposed in House Bill 266, a bill that would
increase judicial term lengths and up the requirements for
becoming an Ohio judge.
Moyer said Wednesday the reforms proposed in the bill sponsored
by Rep. Bill Seitz, R-Cincinnati, would "strengthen the trust
that citizens have for our system of government."
Many citizens worry that, under the current system, judges may
be too accountable to political parties or campaign
contributors, said Moyer.
According to a 2004 survey conducted by Justice at Stake, a
nonpartisan campaign working to keep courts fair and impartial,
nearly 71 percent of Americans "believe that campaign
contributions from interest groups have at least some influence
on judges' decisions in the courtroom."
Moyer asked legislators, "How can we expect citizens to believe
otherwise when more than $7 million was raised by candidates in
three of the Supreme Court races in 2004?"
One of the chief justice's solutions to the campaign
contribution problem is to increase judicial term lengths.
"Longer terms would achieve the appropriate balance between
independence and accountability, reduce the frequency of fund
raising and increase the number of qualified potential
candidates," he said.
Currently, judges in Ohio, regardless of which court they serve,
have a six-year term. The bill proposes lengthening judicial
terms to eight years for common pleas court judges, 10 years for
appellate court judges and 12 years for Supreme Court justices.
Lengthening terms would further separate judges from the
partisan political process and help create a court system "that
is accountable to the law and the Constitution, not political
pressure," Moyer said.
But as much as Moyer believes lengthening judicial terms would
improve the judicial system, others fear it would have the exact
"While we are certainly in favor of making the court more
transparent, meaning it's nice to be able to follow the money
that goes into campaigns, I can't say that we support
lengthening the term for justices," said
executive director of
Ohio Citizens Against
"If the justices are truly to be held accountable, then I think
the term of six years is more than adequate," he said.
"Courts are no different than any other political office, in my
mind. If we were talking about lengthening the term for a
governor, obviously I think there would be a lot of people that
had a problem with that.
"If someone's doing a good enough job to be re-elected, then
they can get re-elected," Longstreth added.
"Six years is more than enough, and makes sure (judges are)
accountable to the public, because if a judge starts (acting
inappropriately), the public should have the opportunity to
Seitz said he is aware that the increased term-length portion of
the bill is going to be a tough sell.
"The major criticism that I think we're going to be in for is
that some people in the legislature do not feel comfortable
extending the lengths of the terms of the judges," said Seitz.
"In a term-limited legislature, I'm sure some of them are going
to sit there and say, 'Oh, this is a bum deal; why should we
give the judges eight-, 10- and 12-year terms when we only get
two or four year terms?'
"But if you want to take some of the money out of running for
judge, and you want the judge to be focused more on adjudicating
cases instead of focusing on re-election, one way to do that is
to give them a longer term in office," Seitz said.
In support of the changes, Moyer told legislators that
lengthening terms also could help draw a larger pool of judicial
"During my years on the court, a number of intelligent,
motivated attorneys have told me that they would run for judge
if they knew their time in office would be longer than six
years," said Moyer.
He added that "many of the best and the brightest are reluctant
to give-up a well-established private practice" for a six-year
"To many, it's simply not worth it," he said.
Longstreth remarked that he felt this argument was "terrible."
"If someone wants to serve the public, they're going to serve
the public. 'To many its simply not worth it?' Well, then don't
do it. If it's not worth it to serve the public in the role of
judge - well, then don't do it."
Longstreth added that he does support other reform measures in
HB 266, such as increasing the requirements for judicial
Currently, any attorney who has been practicing law in Ohio for
six years is eligible to become a judge. The bill would impose
new training requirements for judicial candidates, and would
require lawyers to have practiced for a minimum of 10 years
before becoming a judge in a common pleas court, 12 years for a
court of appeals and 15 years for the Supreme Court of Ohio.
Seitz has proposed to add two amendments to the bill, both
supported by Moyer.
The first would establish a Judicial Allotment Commission to
study the allotment of judges in each county every 10 years
based on the U.S. Census and submit its recommendations to the
The second would re-direct $4 from the court fees of each case
(which currently goes to the Crime Victims Compensation Fund)
and allocate this money for two purposes: establishing a fund to
assist local communities in providing court security and
establishing and maintaining the Ohio Courts Network, a
long-term project that would digitally connect all courts in
Moyer assured the committee that taking a portion of the fee
from the Crime Victims Fund would not threaten the fund's
solvency, as the fund has carried a surplus of $25 million to
$42 million over the past five years.
Moyer said the programs would "greatly enhance our ability to
monitor case statistics (and), for the first time, give all
courts access to a defendant's criminal record and court-ordered
He added that by linking all courts, "we also would provide
timely access to court filings such as protection orders.
Currently, there is no guarantee that the court in another
county would know that a protection order has been filed against
a particular person. This system would fill a void by sharing
Longstreth said his group also supports the amendments.
"Seitz continues to show his ability to see problems before they
exist. Linking the courts and providing more security is really
ahead of the curve for a politician to do. I can't support his
amendments enough," he added.
Seitz developed HB 266 as part of a task force convened by Moyer
"There were legislators, judges, business, labor on this large
task force, and the bill reflects what the task force could
agree to as being wise and prudent improvements to the system of
our judiciary," Seitz said.
Sen. Timothy Grendell, R-Chesterland, has introduced a companion
bill in the Ohio Senate.
Against Lawsuit Abuse