Below is the speech given by Ohio Women’s Bar Association President Valoria C. Hoover at the swearing in cere- mony for Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor on Jan. 7, 2011, in Columbus, Ohio. To view the ceremony, go to the following link: www.ohiochannel.org
It is customary for anyone speaking at these great occasions to begin her re- marks with the phrase, “it is my great honor” or “my rare privilege,” or per- haps “I have the distinct pleasure.” Well, believe me, it is all those things and more. Honor. Privilege. Pleasure.
But today Chief Justice O’Connor, members of the court, honored guests, my presence here today is a time of joy! Joy to be saying a few words in honor of my bar colleague, a role model and my friend, Maureen O’Connor, as she makes history and becomes the 10th chief justice of the Ohio Supreme Court.
I said my friend, as Chief Justice O’Con- nor has on occasion jokingly lamented that when she be- came a judge she lost her first name as friends no longer called her Maureen but Judge. Today, I will take a small liberty and occasionally refer to Chief Justice O’Connor as Mau- reen.
To be sure I also said, “Makes history.” And indeed this is a day to mark in history, for Maureen, for members of my organiza- tion, the Ohio Women’s Bar Association, for everyone in our profession, for this Court and for the great State of Ohio.
This isn’t the first time Maureen has made history in her career. Nor is there any rea- son to think it should be the last. Certainly this state and nation have seen women at- torneys make historyundefinedin reaching the pin- nacle. Among them: Nettie Cronise Lutes, Ohio’s first woman attorney; Justice Flo- rence Allen, first woman on the Ohio Supreme Court; Ohio Attorney General Betty Montgomery; U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno; Justice Sandra Day O’Connor; Justice Sonia Sotomayor; and most re- cently, Justice Yvette McGee Brown.
But I am certain that history was never the first thing on the mind for any of those women. It wasn’t on Maureen’s mind when she crossed important thresh- olds earlier in her career or for the one she’s crossing today.
The remarkable story of her truly re- markable career isn’t one about history or about being among the first or even being the very first. It has always been about being the best. About being a leader. About being the one who takes on an assignment with the determination and strength of character and professional ex- perience to do that job better than anyone else. And then exceeding even those lofty expectations!
Being first or among the first has always been the least of it. Performing at the level of the very best in her calling is the one and only expectation she set for herself at every turn. And Maureen has met that goal, surpassed that goal on each occasion.
She may have been breaking through ceil- ings with regularity, but she’s done that with both feet planted firmly on the floor: sure, steady and solid in her professional- ism, integrity, diligence and commitment.
I have had the great honor (and yes, I’ll also use the phrase “rare privilege” be- cause it fits) of seeing these qualities in Maureen first-hand, as her career has flourished and her extraordinary leader- ship emerged. I saw those qualities in the days when I observed Magistrate and then, Judge Maureen O’Connor on the trial bench in Summit County and as Ad- ministrative Judge during a time when I was working there with the Ninth District Court of Appeals. From my time as a staff attorney at the Ohio Supreme Court, I fol- lowed her career as she was elected Sum- mit County Prosecutor O’Connor and built a record of service and tenacity that led to statewide leadership roles as Lieu- tenant Governor of Ohio and Director of Public Safety, a position that perhaps was the most demanding cabinet role in the months following 9-11.
So it was no surprise to me or to anyone who had witnessed her performance in those roles to see Maureen elected (by sizeable margins) to two terms as Justice of the Ohio Supreme Court. And now with another strong electoral showing as the overwhelming choice for Ohio’s high- est judicial office.
The latest step in her career may sound a bit grand to some, but being grand (like doing something just to be the first) is not Maureen’s style. In fact, she has shown a steadfast determination as Supreme Court Justice and now, as Chief Justice not to wall herself up in some judicial ivory tower. She doesn’t let herself be removed from the lives of everyday Ohioans or from appropriate involvement with those who share her passion for the law.
The Ohio Women’s Bar Association bene- fits greatly from her keen interest and in- volvement. For example, she has agreed to join 11 colleagues from across the state to serve as advisors to our new Ohio Women’s Bar Foundation Leadership In- stitute. Next week, just days after her ad- vancement to Chief Justice, she will be with us for the advisory committee’s first meeting and help us develop programs for emerging leaders among women attorneys in the early stages of their careers.
Our association and other professional organizations that rate judges and jus- tices base their evaluations on several key criteria, including integrity, judicial temperament, diligence, profes- sional competence and community involvement and understanding. That’s not merely an assembly of grandiose words to be checked off as we work our way down a rating form. These are very meaningful, quantifi- able and essential qualities that mem- bers of the bar look for in a judge, especially for someone who will lead our highest court.
Those are also exactly the qualities Maureen has demonstrated from her ear- liest days on the trial bench. But Mau- reen also possesses one crucial criterion that isn’t on anyone’s official list for ju- dicial ratings. Yet, it may be the most important quality of all, the most telling as a predictor of judicial temperament, fairness and leadership. And that is Maureen’s unfailing talent for and com- mitment to listening. That’s a rare judi- cial talent alas, much more rare than it should be today. But I saw Maureen use it early in her judicial career in Summit County. And we can all see that today here in this courtroom or on the tele- vised proceedings. (Watch those re- runs. The art of listening is visible and with Maureen, the intensity of her focus comes across in almost every shot.) It’s a clear demonstration of Maureen’s ability, insistence really, on letting the practitioners make their case. Yes, from the bench, as always she’ll be challenging with well-pre- pared, probative questions. But also she will be listening, visibly and in- tently listening, and hearing the case, not truncating it.
I said earlier that Maureen had taken every step of her career with feet planted firmly on the ground, profes- sionally and personally. In taking office today as Chief Justice of this court she is also aware of the ways her feet now follow in the steps of Chief Justice Tom Moyer. What footsteps to follow! Our late, beloved Chief Justice was also a judge who listened. And with that gift and all his other matchless qualities, he was exactly the kind of judge, justice, chief justice that members of the bar most admire, whether you agreed with his specific decisions or not.
I believe that history (there’s that word again) will say the same about Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor.
And that is why for myself and for my colleagues at the bar it truly is my great honor, my rare privilege, my dis- tinct pleasure and joy to salute Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor on this very special day.