November 01, 2017

Science Education for Judges in Ohio

By Milt Nuzum

Ohio has a long and storied history of innovation in science and technology: Thomas Edison, the Wright Brothers, and many other scientists and inventors were born in Ohio. Their innovations changed the world in ways never dreamed possible by all who lived in the millennia prior to these famous sons of the Buckeye state. It is no stretch to believe that the preeminence of science and technology education would find its way into our state courts.

Ohio also has a proud heritage of providing education for judges dating back to the inception of Ohio’s Judicial College in 1976. Continuing education for judges became mandatory in Ohio in 1981, and currently judges must receive a minimum of 40 hours of continuing judicial education every biennium.1

The Origins of Science and Technology Education for Judges in Ohio

The story of science and technology education in Ohio courts begins with the efforts of Thomas J. Moyer. For nearly 24 years, from 1986 until his unexpected death in April 2012, he served as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Ohio. His interest in education was deep-seated, ingrained in his personality, and undoubtedly traced to his first political office as a board of education member.

It is easy to forget that, in 1986, the Internet as we know it, and even email, barely existed. Telefax machines were still not widely available to many. Computerized legal research was coming online to supplement and, in some cases, replace the traditional law books. Computerized case management systems were a thing of the future. Specialized dockets for mental health and substance abuse issues were coming into existence, pioneering an evidence-based approach to therapeutic jurisprudence.

Building on these developments, in 2005, Chief Justice Moyer along with Chief Judge Robert M. Bell of the Maryland Court of Appeals became national leaders in an intense and innovative series of science and technology education initiatives for judges in Ohio, Maryland, and other states across the nation. They secured federal funding for the Advanced Science and Technology Adjudication Resource (ASTAR) program. ASTAR seminars dealt with a wide variety of science and technology issues featuring some of the most widely respected scientists, including Nobel Prize laureates. Issues addressed included the human genome project, nanoscience, neuroscience, addiction treatment, Internet crime, biometrics in forensic technology, public health, and environmental science. The breadth of coverage recognized that even the most preeminent scientists cannot be expected to know the minute aspects of all these diverse fields of knowledge. However, judges, many of whom have not been drawn to science and technology by interest, are called upon to understand and evaluate the credibility of scientists and admissibility of their testimony in cases involving cutting-edge matters from the whole panoply of science and technology that are brought into the courtrooms.

While the federal funding for ASTAR has not been available for its national programs since shortly after Chief Justice Moyer passed away, Ohio’s Judicial College has learned from that experience the importance of science and technology education for the judicial officers we serve. Building on the ASTAR foundation, since 2007 the Judicial College has offered 87 courses on various science and technology issues targeted specifically to our Ohio judges and magistrates. These courses have been designed to meet the needs identified by our judges in dealing with topics like data security, neuroscience and brain development, opioid addiction treatment, forensic DNA analysis, body cameras, and a plethora of other issues being brought into Ohio courtrooms.

Structural Challenges of the Court System in Ohio for Science and Technology Education

The structure of the courts in Ohio create significant challenges in meeting the educational needs of judicial officers. Along with the one supreme court, Ohio has 12 intermediate courts of appeals2 with 69 judges serving in a patchwork of single and multicounty appellate districts. Ohio’s constitution provides for trial courts of general jurisdiction, called courts of common pleas, in each of its 88 counties.3 Currently, there are 395 common pleas court judges in Ohio who hear some combination of civil, criminal, probate, juvenile, and domestic relations matters.

Along with the diverse structure and needs of the common pleas court judges, in Ohio, there are 129 municipal and county courts created by statute representing 214 judges. These courts conduct civil and criminal trials involving issues such as driving under the influence and domestic violence. Their responsibilities are widely diverse. For example, these judges conduct felony preliminary hearings, establish bail, issue search warrants, and issue temporary protection orders in domestic violence cases. Like their common pleas court colleagues, they preside over jury trials where expert witnesses in science and technology are often called to testify.

Societal Challenges: Drugs and Mental Illness

Although caseloads have decreased in the past decade, the complexity of issues the courts face has increased dramatically. According to Fairfield, Ohio, Municipal Court Judge Joyce A. Campbell, unlike when she started more than 20 years ago, at least 80 percent of her current work involves dealing with mental illness and addiction. Judge Campbell and her judicial colleagues realize that appropriate counseling and treatment will reduce the likelihood of criminal recidivism. These judges receive needed science education from the Ohio Judicial College and other court staff to help them deal with the rehabilitation process appropriate for the offenders they see on a daily basis.

Understanding genetic science in DNA testing for criminal cases and paternity cases is crucially important for a judge who is the gatekeeper for admissibility of evidence. Equally important is understanding brain function and treatment modalities for the judges who preside over problem-solving court dockets. In Ohio courts, there are more than 230 certified specialized docket programs that deal with addiction, mental health, human trafficking, and a host of other issues. These specialized programs are a challenge not only for the judges, but also the Judicial College staff who plan and deliver the information those judges need to be effective in doing justice in their courts.

The Role of Judicial Education to Address the Challenges

The Judicial College addresses the education needs of more than 1,500 judicial officers in Ohio. This number includes our judges and their magistrates who conduct hearings in all levels of Ohio courts. The teaching methods used by the Ohio Judicial College have evolved significantly over the past 40 years. The rules prescribe that judges receive at least three hours of “judicial conduct” education in each biennium.4 These three hours must deal with ethics, professionalism, and/or substance abuse issues. Even in these areas, science education is relevant. For example, if a judge is struggling with the admissibility of scientific evidence using the Daubert5 principles, can that judge undertake independent research on the Internet to better understand the issues? If so, should the judge disclose this research to the litigants in the case under the Judicial Canons of Ethics? Where does a judge draw the line between research to gain an understanding of some term of scientific terminology (much as one would look up a word in a dictionary) and research that leads to substantive, case-specific information?

Understanding the Judicial Education Audience to Address Their Needs

It is difficult to find accurate statistics on the educational backgrounds of lawyers (and, by proxy, judges). Data from the 1993 National Survey of College Graduates, however, indicate that 18.2 percent of lawyers had undergraduate degrees in science, engineering, and social science. An additional 9.5 percent had degrees in accounting and economics.6 Extrapolating, it is probably safe to assume at least three in four judges had little emphasis on science, technology, or math education as undergraduate students. This information underscores the importance of providing science and technology education to judges once they are on the bench to help them understand the issues they confront daily.

It is equally true that judges who have extensive undergraduate education in science, technology, or math face daunting challenges when dealing with what Judge Campbell described as the skills of being a social worker. The skill set required of a judge is wide and varied. They must possess knowledge of the law and legal research, rules of evidence, rules of procedure, and effective administration of justice. Add to that the demands of employing good social science when meting out justice, and we find that judges deal with individuals whose problems run the gamut. Being a judge is perhaps the most challenging job a professional can undertake.

The Science of Judicial Education to Address the Needs

Effective judicial education also is based on scientific research. Ohio’s Judicial College has undertaken extensive curriculum development to meet the needs of the wide variety of judges in our state. That curriculum development starts with a needs assessment conducted in partnership with the judges who confront these issues daily. After their needs have been assessed and documented, the Judicial College executes a plan for development and delivery of educational products that will fill the assessed need. Technology has made this easier through the use of a statewide learning management system that allows for monitoring, evaluation, and periodic review of every course offered. Following regular review, each course is reassessed and the process cycles anew to meet the ever-changing needs of the judges in an increasingly technological society facing issues and problems never dreamt of only a few decades ago.

Course development remains challenging because it must meet the needs of judges who are very early in their career, those who are midcareer, and those who are late-career judges. Many of their needs differ considerably while others are common to all judges. Crafting measurable learning objectives for each course, recruiting and training faculty, developing course materials, and implementing effective delivery techniques are all important aspects of course implementation. These are the challenges our Judicial College must meet every day.

Delivery of education in Ohio occurs in classrooms, by live webcasts, and through experiential education opportunities. These delivery methods were expanded in 2010 when the Judicial College began developing asynchronous on-demand Internet-delivered courses through a comprehensive learning management system now called Ohio CourtEDU. Judges sign into the system over the Internet and are able to access high-quality education content on a variety of topics through their normal Internet browser. No additional software is required, making the system universally accessible from anywhere in the world on any web-enabled device.

Development of these courses requires extensive planning and preparation. Fortunately, the Supreme Court of Ohio has the resources to assist Judicial College staff in developing quality on-demand courses through the specialized skills of instructional design professionals. These professionals collaborate with subject matter experts to determine relevant educational content, develop a project plan, design the course outline, create a storyboard, and develop a course prototype, followed by several iterations of course development before the course is deployed. Developing an online course is akin to producing a movie. It is an involved, time-consuming process, but e-learning can be delivered to a wide audience over an extended period at the learner’s convenience as long as the material remains relevant and current. Effective online courses are engaging and challenging and provide access to resources and information that allow our judges to delve more deeply into the subject matter than a classroom experience alone can offer. In this way, technology has provided answers to the question of how we can educate a multitude of geographically distributed judges in a cost-effective manner.

Through evaluation, ASTAR has reinforced for our Judicial College staff that adults learn and retain what they experience. We all have information and knowledge that we retain, much of which we cannot recall specifically where or how we gained that information. Over time, our memories can fade and we cannot recall the intricate details of much that we have learned. Perhaps this is true with respect to myriad statutes and case law that judges interpret and apply in the courtroom. From law school, judges have the skill to find that information when needed. This underscores the importance of learning the skills of legal research and writing that are critically important to the success of any lawyer or judge. But just as important, the neuroscience behind the way we acquire, use, and retain information as adult learners based on technological advances benefit all of us, if applied appropriately by our faculty. Juxtaposed against this general framework of learning acquired over a lifetime are those experiences that are emblazoned in our memories. A trip to Rome to see works of art is much more vivid in our memories than reading about them in a textbook. The experience enhances retention of the information.

Some Tangible Results of Science and Technology Education for Judges

Experiential learning for judges can be transformative. Some examples in Ohio illustrate this point.

Understanding computer technology through the experience of computer lab education delivered by the Judicial College was a major factor that led judges in Ohio to network their computerized case management systems. This in turn has led to efficiencies in reporting data and has given judges access to timely information about cases arising outside of their courts and jurisdictions. Better decision making when establishing bail in criminal cases and enhancing community safety serve as prominent examples of how the Ohio Court Network contributes to Ohio justice since its inception during Chief Justice Moyer’s tenure and as it continues to be expanded with the support of current Ohio Supreme Court Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor.

Another example illustrates how experiential learning can be transformative. The Judicial College developed a program to send judges for a two-day educational experience at the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Criminal Justice Information Services (CJIS) Center in Bridgeport, West Virginia, not far from the Ohio border. This facility forms an impressive complex housing the Uniform Crime Reporting Program and the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS). It also houses the entire Automated Fingerprint Identification System (AFIS) database used by law enforcement. It operates the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) database among other data and reporting responsibilities of the FBI. This experience was impressive and memorable. Judges saw firsthand how fingerprint identification is accomplished using technology and skilled analysts to comb the vast databases of fingerprints on file in the AFIS system. Judges also observed how challenging it is to maintain a national database of crime statistics based on the different criminal statutory frameworks in all of our states and territories. They observed the challenges faced by gaps in FBI data through lack of reporting case results. While an arrest might appear on a person’s record, often the outcome of the court proceedings that follow are not reported. This underscored for Ohio judges the importance of working within our own state to get case outcomes, whether convictions or dismissals, to the NCIC database. Improvements in this regard are being made.

While at the FBI’s CJIS Center, judges observed the NICS background check system in operation. Analysts comb the database for criminal convictions that would potentially disqualify a person from purchasing a firearm. In addition to criminal convictions, there is a requirement for states to report certain mental health cases to the CJIS Center. Those specific cases involve individuals who have a history of forcible commitment for mental health treatment, a legal adjudication of not guilty by reason of insanity, or adjudication of not competent to stand trial.7 As a result of this visit to the CJIS Center and the education provided by the FBI, Ohio judges realized the importance of getting this type of information to the FBI. Ohio has reinforced the reporting system of these types of adjudications to the database the NICS analysts rely on to ensure that certain individuals would not have access to purchase firearms and commit an unfortunate atrocity. It should be emphasized that the correlation between mental illness and violent acts is extremely low. This illustration is not to suggest that those with mental illness are prone to violence. Rather, it is to suggest that judges have a responsibility to report certain mental health adjudications. The education at the CJIS Center highlighted the need for Ohio judges to fulfill this reporting responsibility. This was a direct and active response to an experiential education opportunity afforded our Ohio judges.

Science Education and the Opioid Crisis

Experiential learning can occur in many forms and venues. Judges in specialized docket problem-solving courts came to realize through judicial education that those specialized dockets employing evidence-based treatment practices were much more likely to have successful outcomes in treating individuals. Those evidence-based practices are founded on scientific research. Ohio’s specialized docket courts embraced a statewide certification policy adopted by the Ohio Supreme Court to ensure fidelity with the evidence models upon which successful treatment is based.8

In 2016, Chief Justice O’Connor led a regional conference in Cincinnati to address the opioid crisis on a regional rather than merely a statewide basis. Eight states participated. The opioid epidemic has devastated individuals and families to a degree that has burdened the criminal justice system, health care systems, first responders, and, tragically, our foster care system for children whose parents have become addicted. Our specialized drug court programs are overloaded with those in need. It was apparent that in addition to providing education to the judges, scientific education for the court professionals and justice system partners on appropriate evidence-based treatment practices is critical to dealing with this crisis. Ohio’s Judicial College and our Supreme Court of Ohio Office of Court Services Specialized Docket staff members have partnered to meet those needs as well with many in-state conferences and targeted education.

Conclusion

Science education for Ohio judges continues to improve judicial effectiveness in a multitude of ways. First and foremost, it makes judges more effective gatekeepers of admissibility of scientific evidence in their respective courtrooms. Teaching judges the evidence admissibility standards of the Daubert decision has fostered the skills that lead to more reliable evidence by expert witnesses in our courtrooms.

Ohio is proud of the emphasis on judicial education for more than 40 years. During that time, the development and delivery of our educational offerings have evolved significantly. As suggested by needs assessment responses, science and technology education will remain critical elements in equipping judges to better deal with the issues that come into their courtrooms. Just as importantly, science and technology inform the development of policies that make the system work more effectively in dealing with the issues our society brings before the bench, today and in the future.

Endnotes

1. Ohio Gov. Jud. R. IV(3)(A).

2. Ohio Const., art. IV, § 3.

3. Id. § 4.

4. Ohio Gov. Jud. R. IV(3)(C).

5. Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharms., Inc., 509 U.S. 579 (1993).

6. R. Kim Craft and Joe G. Baker, Do Economists Make Better Lawyers? Undergraduate Fields and Lawyer Earnings, 34 J. Econ. Educ. 263 (Summer 2003).

7. 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(4).

8. Ohio Sup. R. 36.02.