Attorney at Law Magazine Cleveland Publisher Jim Shultz sat down with Justice Terrence O’Donnell to discuss his career as a Judge.
AALM: How did you transition from your career as an attorney to your career as a judge?
O’Donnell: My orientation to the practice of law began with a clerkship on the Ohio Supreme Court where I worked for one year and I had the opportunity to serve as a law clerk on the Ohio Court of Appeals for an additional two years, so my involvement with the judiciary formulated my early interest in serving as a judge. I had an opportunity to join the Common Pleas Court in 1980 and the voters have afforded me the chance to continue my judicial career. I have enjoyed the privilege of serving as a judge and would encourage those inclined to pursue their desire.
AALM: Describe your style in the courtroom.
O’Donnell: As a jurist, it is important to maintain proper decorum in the courtroom. Favored jurists are patient, knowledgeable, well-prepared and able to identify the pertinent issues for resolution. In the courtroom, as a jurist, I strive to give the lawyers and litigants the opportunity to present their case and to impartially make rulings to facilitate resolution of the matter in a timely fashion. Any attorney appearing before the Ohio Supreme Court needs to take the necessary time to prepare for oral argument. Since our cases are archived, I recommend viewing several arguments in advance of appearing in court to be able to develop the skill to answer questions and continue the focus of the presentation.
AALM: Describe your relationship with your staff.
O’Donnell: My habit is to regard my staff as professionals who assist in resolution of the matters at issue. In approaching case decision-making, I value the opinions of my clerks and in conducting the affairs in chambers. I do so in a businesslike, but friendly and cordial manner.
AALM: What do you love about your job?
O’Donnell: The role of a jurist serving on a court of last resort is to develop rules of law – both substantive and procedural – for lawyers and judges to assist them in knowing how to resolve matters coming before them. With more than 730 jurists in Ohio, the variety of the cases and the novelty of the legal issues presented offers an intriguing intellectual challenge, which I enjoy.
I regard the office of Justice of the Supreme Court of Ohio as more than serving in chambers between the hours of 8:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. It is far more than the time spent in the courtroom. The decisions of the court made by interpreting the Constitution and statues of Ohio instill public confidence in the court and the rule of law. There can be no greater legacy for future generations than to adhere to the rule of law.
AALM: What do you miss most about being a lawyer?
O’Donnell: As a former trial lawyer, I lament the inability to present a closing argument to a jury. The art of trial practice always intrigued me and that is the facet of practice I miss the most. The practice of law involves the art of advocacy and the business of operating an efficient law firm. In sharp contrast, the role of a jurist is to be fair, impartial, open-minded and not to choose to be an advocate for or against either party to a lawsuit.
AALM: Are there any changes in the legal community that you are excited about?
O’Donnell: The advent of electronic filing is long overdue and the ability to transmit data has revolutionized the practice of law. Our responsibility is to assure that all parties are treated fairly and no untoward advantage eclipses the ability to present a case to an impartial tribunal.
AALM: Do you have any mentors? What are some of the most important lessons they taught you?
O’Donnell: Tom Moyer, former Chief Justice of the Ohio Supreme Court, and I became good friends when I joined the court. He was kind, friendly, fun-loving and displayed a deep sense of dedication to the court. He taught me that by adhering to the rule of law, we instill public confidence in the court. By following the law in deciding cases and refusing to apply individual conceptions of what the law is or should be, judges distinguish themselves and the judiciary and gain public respect for the law, which keeps order in society. Tom was a well-respected jurist and a true professional.
AALM: Who is your legal hero and how do you try to emulate them in your day-to-day life?
O’Donnell: Former U.S. District Court Judge John M. Manos served his entire legal career on the bench. As an academic, he taught law courses and studied procedural and substantive law. He displayed a tremendous work ethic, opening his chambers six days a week at 6:30 a.m. He studied cases on his docket and prepared for every case. I served as his law clerk in the Eighth District Court of Appeals of Ohio and developed a work ethic and manner of case preparation, which has guided me in the judicial positions I’ve been privileged to hold.
AALM: What do you do in your spare time? Hobbies?
O’Donnell: I spend my time away from the court with my family. I have four children, my two sons are lawyers and one of my daughters is a Common Pleas Court judge and the other is a behavioral counselor for juveniles in the Gahanna School District. We have seven grandchildren and I enjoy spending time with them on weekends, swimming, skiing or at their sporting events. I am active with the Catholic Lawyers Guild and continue to promote Irish activities including Cleveland’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade.