Speeches

Chief Justice Maureen O'Connor
Ohio Association of County Behavioral Health Authorities Award Ceremony
Jan. 29, 2019

Thank you, Executive Director Georgas. Thank you CEO Cheri Walter.

I’m honored to be receiving this award and to be in the presence of my fellow awardees ... all of whom have helped to positively affect the lives of clients in need of treatment for their alcohol, drug, and mental health challenges.

And thanks to your staff and executive council for this award ... and for YOUR work last fall against Issue 1.

I know that I’m an awardee because of my efforts in the campaign against Issue 1.

I know that you know that the actions of one person are not enough to explain the defeat of Issue 1.

The explanation starts with an incredibly flawed proposal that would have actually decreased the number of people in treatment because the incentive to get treatment was taken away.

I may have fired the first shot but without the army of the judiciary, the prosecutors, sheriffs, all law enforcement, the business communities and of course the treatment community joining in to voice well-reasoned opposition, Issue 1 would have passed.

Today at this luncheon I invited Paul Pfeifer, Director of the Ohio Judicial Conference and Lou Tobin, Director of the Ohio Prosecuting Attorneys’ Association because they helped to mobilize judges and prosecutors to step up and educate the public about the dangers of Issue 1.  As I just said, without judges and prosecutors we could not have prevailed.

I have to publically thank the Ohio Business Roundtable, Former congressman Pat Tibieri, the Chamber of Commerce, Dave Myhal, who was engaged by Lou and Paul to raise dollars to take our message to the airwaves, and the media team of The Strategy Group who donated their services.

It was a pretty even fight ... they had 17 million dollars and we had about one million.

But here’s the big difference, we had voices of the judiciary.  Voices such as Judge Dave Matia, Judge Steve McIntosh, Fairfiled County Magistrate Jillain Boone, Judge Berans, and about 720 more.  Ohio’s judges wrote letters to the newspapers, spoke to community groups and basically manage to weave in the opposition to Issue 1 in just about every conversation had right up to Election Day.

Never before have the judges been so engaged.  Why now?  Because they realized just how much was at stake and how devastated the treatment communities and the criminal justice communities would be if it passed.

The message was successful: Issue 1 failed by a two-to-one margin ... 63 percent against to 37 percent.

The turnout was high, and Issue 1 failed in 86 of Ohio’s 88 counties.

Judges played a big role by becoming educators in their communities.

I made it clear to judges that judicial ethics rules not only allow – but encourage – them to speak out on issues that affect the courts.

The work of the judges was critical, I believe.

The message was simply factual.

Facts still count. Thank God for that.

The passage of Issue 1 would have devastated our drug courts. And its effects on YOUR work would have been devastating as well — on all of your members across our counties.

I’m encouraged to see that you are holding an Opiate Conference in June here in Columbus – with 1,200 attendees expected.

It will be your 10th annual opiate conference, which says something about the depth of this scourge.

So, where are we, now that Issue 1 has been defeated, but substance abuse in Ohio continues at crisis levels?

I would like to think that our dialogue with voters and elected officials during last fall’s campaign has provided us a base for education and progress on this issue.

Solving or not solving Ohio’s drug abuse problems will determine what kind of state we become.

This problem is enormous. Our progress must continue or our state will suffer to an even greater degree than we are today.

The drug courts – we now have more than 170 of them in Ohio – are essential to getting offenders into treatment.

It’s their only way out – and it’s our only way out, too.

This is a long race that we’re in, but we’re not at the starting line.

We have organizations like the Regional Judicial Opioid Initiative, which began here in Ohio two plus years ago and joins eight states together in the fight.

And we have a powerful tool here in Ohio. We have you.

The County Behavioral Health Authorities in Ohio are empowered – by statute – to plan, develop, manage and fund community-based mental health and addiction services.

You work with federal, state and local funds to ensure the foundation of survival in this crisis. You see to it that mental health and addiction prevention and treatment and recovery services are available to the individuals and families of Ohio.

I traveled around our state talking and listening during Issue 1 and I have to say there’s still a lot of educating to do on drug issues.

Ohioans need to know what you do, and how you do it.

They need to know about your outreach, your innovations, and the way you share your knowledge through this association.

You are the professional people closest to these problems. And like our judges, you’ve got standing in your communities to lead and to educate.

The issues of drug use and drug courts versus incarceration were laid bare during Issue 1.

But the real answers – the core of our battle – is mental health. The real answer is personal rejection of drug and alcohol abuse.

Dealing with the effects of drug and alcohol abuse is one front of your battle. Discouraging drug and alcohol abuse in the first place is another.

Our judiciary and the executive and legislative branches of our state government are determined to make great progress this year on this crisis.

We’ve done a lot already, but we must do more.

I can’t say today how our further efforts will take shape. But the commitment to see it through is there. I am encouraged by what I hear at the Statehouse.

However we continue the race, I do know that treatment and behavioral health will be at the center.

The burdens that our society has placed on you are very high. I know that wait times for treatment are an issue. That’s connected to funding, and we will have to work on that.  Mental health and addiction funding, in my book, is just as important as school funding, criminal justice reform, and Medicaid expansion. When you think about it, all of these topics are interrelated and all require adequate funding, top notch talent, and a statehouse willing to prioritize.

Thanks so much for the ideas and treatment you provide day-in and day-out across our state.

Courts need a solid place to refer people, and that’s you. The judiciary appreciates your coordination with the courts.

I accept this award on behalf of our Specialized Dockets team at the Supreme Court, our Court staff, and the hundreds of judges across our state who are working to solve this problem.

I am encouraged about the outcome because they are working with dedicated professionals like you.

Thank you, again. And God Bless.