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April 01, 2014 Waymaker

Chief Justice Moyer: A Judge for All Seasons and All the Right Reasons

By Judge Stephanie Domitrovich and Judge Milton Nuzum

Why are we judges? . . . If we push ourselves beyond our daily tasks we will realize it is because the law touches us. It excites us. It is because law reminds us that we follow in the footsteps of the masters—the greats such as Locke, Montesquieu, and Jefferson. We are judges because the law brings order from chaos. Like brush strokes on canvas, law brings form to cloudy images of the mind. We are judges because of the beauty of the law.

—Chief Justice Moyer, Annual State of the Judicial Address for Ohio, Sept. 11, 2008

Chief Justice Thomas J. Moyer pushed himself beyond his daily tasks as a judge and justice to demonstrate his passion for the law. He not only talked the talk, he walked the walk. He was a visionary and achieved so much not only for his own Ohio constituents but also for others nationally and internationally during his career.

As true a Buckeye as any other, Chief Justice Moyer was born and raised in Sandusky, Ohio. He received his bachelor of arts and Juris Doctorate degrees from The Ohio State University, entering the practice of law in 1964. Prior to his service on the Supreme Court of Ohio, he served for eight years as a judge of the Tenth District Court of Appeals in Franklin County following his service as an executive assistant to Ohio Governor James A. Rhodes. His long and distinguished career as a public servant began in 1970 as a member of the Columbus School Board, where he served until 1975, including two years as board president. He was elected chief justice in 1987 and served in that office until his death in 2010, making him the longest-serving chief justice of a state court in the United States at that time and the second-longest-serving chief justice in Ohio’s history.

A complete listing of Chief Justice Moyer’s professional accomplishments would perhaps fill an entire volume. Among his many successes, Chief Justice Moyer initiated the Supreme Court of Ohio Domestic Violence Task Force 20 years after the enactment of Ohio’s first comprehensive domestic violence legislation. This Domestic Violence Task Force coordinated communication among the 28 entities responsible for addressing domestic violence issues in the state of Ohio. In 2005, Chief Justice Moyer chaired a National Summit on Court Safety sponsored by the National Center for State Courts and the U.S. Department of Justice. Chief Justice Moyer believed “[c]ourthouses are where citizens go for the peaceful resolution of disputes in our civilized society.” This National Summit brought together policy leaders from all three branches of government to review current safety and security practices, identify serious threats, establish security breach procedures, and balance public access with the need for a safe and secure facility. For Chief Justice Moyer, “[t]he important work of our justice system can only be performed in courtrooms that are safe and secure.”

On a state level, Chief Justice Moyer worked diligently and efficiently with judiciary leaders and the Ohio General Assembly to develop family courts in a comprehensive approach to resolving criminal and civil issues within and affecting family units. He worked as chair of the Ohio Criminal Sentencing Commission to revise Ohio’s felony, misdemeanor, traffic, and juvenile sentencing laws for adoption by the Ohio General Assembly. In his annual address before the Ohio Judicial Conference in 2007, Chief Justice Moyer delivered his progress report on the Ohio Courts Network, an integrated statewide justice information network, for which the Supreme Court of Ohio appropriated money:

Today, court information is used to make critical decisions regarding background checks, handgun purchases, issuance of commercial driver and pilot licenses, immigration, Amber Alerts, domestic violence protections and child support compliance. These are vital to the safety of Ohio communities, and information contained in the court system is critical to this effort. The Ohio Courts Network will build a statewide infrastructure for the judicial branch of Ohio to enable the discreet sharing of vital information.

And he was well-known on both national and international levels. He served as vice chair of the Advanced Science and Technology Adjudication Resource Center (ASTAR), a national consortium for preparing judges to be gatekeepers when managing scientific evidence issues. He chaired the Task Force on Politics and Judicial Selection for the Conference of Chief Justices and co-chaired its Committee on Emergency Preparedness in the Courts. He served as chair of the Board of Directors of the National Center for State Courts as well as chair of a joint national multidisciplinary committee of the National Conference of Chief Justices and National Conference of State Court Administrators regarding the impact of drug abuse on state courts. In June 1989, he received the American Judicature Society Herbert Harley Award for his work in improving the administration of justice. In January 2003, he was awarded the James F. Henry Award for exemplary alternative dispute resolution leadership in the state judiciary from the CPR Institute for Dispute. In 2009, he was appointed to the Advisory Committee of the O’Connor Judicial Selection Initiative. Internationally, he worked to develop independent judiciaries for Argentina, Chile, China, and Ukraine.

Chief Justice Moyer died unexpectedly on April 2, 2010, at the age of 70. For more than nine hours on April 9, 2010, his Ohio-flag-draped casket lay in state in the courtroom of the Supreme Court’s home in the Thomas J. Moyer Ohio Judicial Center (which on December 2, 2011, was rededicated in his name), where members of the public were received by the Moyer family. Chief Justice Moyer’s impact on the lives of Ohioans was evident in abundance by the hundreds of visitors participating in this historic event. As noted by Justice Paul E. Pfeifer, his colleague of 17 years on the Supreme Court bench, “We’ll never know all the people he touched throughout his distinguished career. So it’s not surprising at all that so many people would show up to honor the Chief today.” Chief Justice Moyer’s casket remained in the courtroom through the night under solemn guard by uniformed members of the Ohio State Highway Patrol until his interment the following morning.

Those who were privileged to work with Chief Justice Moyer over his long career were deeply impacted by his loss. He was an unassuming man despite his wide-ranging interests, great accomplishments, and leadership of the profession he loved so much. He was completely dedicated to improving the professionalism of lawyers and judges. In that regard, he was a champion of continuing education for his colleagues in the legal and judicial profession. Perhaps his focus on education, among all things he was committed to fostering, will ornament his legacy for generations to come. His genteel approach to dealing with issues coupled with steely resolve to improve the world he lived in stand as a shining example for all to follow. He was a disciplined man who lived by rules that made him a historic and iconic figure as the leader of the third branch of government in Ohio and the nation.

Chief Justice Moyer was completely invested in education of the judiciary. I believe he saw it as his lasting legacy—even beyond the beautiful building we now occupy as the Supreme Court of Ohio, now named in his honor as the Thomas J. Moyer Judicial Center. He had tremendous vision to advocate for the renovation of a building then 70 years old that was antiquated and likely slated for the wrecking ball. I was given a tour of the building prior to its renovation. In my eyes, it was a dark and ugly building that had little to redeem it. When I saw it after renovation two years later, I was absolutely astounded by the beauty that was there two years prior but invisible to my eyes. Not so with our chief justice. He had vision and foresight that few others I have encountered could see.

—Judge Milton Nuzum

Chief Justice Moyer’s commitment to the rule of law and his tireless quest to improve the administration of justice continue to be experienced by the citizens of his beloved state in enduring ways. The Ohio State Bar Association has established the Thomas J. Moyer Award for Judicial Excellence. This prestigious award honors a current or former Ohio state or federal judge who demonstrates outstanding qualities of judicial excellence including integrity, fairness, open-mindedness, knowledge of the law, professionalism, ethics, creativity, sound judgment, courage, and decisiveness—all qualities he displayed as chief justice of Ohio.

Chief Justice Moyer understood deeply that the ultimate success of the third branch of the American system of government, which holds neither the power of the sword nor the purse, must rely instead on the public having trust and confidence in the work of the courts and the people who carry out that work on a daily basis. Chief Justice Moyer’s lasting legacy is a testament to his belief in pushing himself beyond the routine daily tasks as judge and justice—and he earns the distinction of being our Judges’ Journal’s Waymaker judge and justice for all seasons and all the right reasons. We all miss him dearly!