After the Wauseon Chamber of Commerce event was cancelled last Thursday, there was an opportunity for an extended conversation with Judge Sharon Kennedy of the Ohio Supreme Court. She is one of seven judges which constitute the court of last resort in the state of Ohio.
Justice Kennedy is a native to the Greater Cincinnati and a graduate of Northwest High School. She earned her undergraduate degree in social work from the University of Cincinnati and her Juris Doctor law degree from the William Howard Taft School of Law, also at UC. From the time she graduated with her degree in social work, she was in the legal field, as she became a police officer with the City of Hamilton.
Upon earning her license to practice law, she opened her private practice, which was predominately a civil and domestic practice. From there, she worked upward within the Butler County Area Courts as a part-time magistrate, as an administrative judge within the Court of Common Pleas, Domestic Relations Division.
What excites her is the continuing education necessary to be prepared for the diversity of cases heard at the Ohio Supreme Court.
“The demands of reading, understanding and comprehending the cases involving utilities, particularly energy and telecommunication cases, is an ongoing school of learning,” said Kennedy. “To dig through cases heard by the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO) and distilling the economic impact of the case is very challenging. The utility cases and cases involving tax situations are very compelling.”
“I do have on my staff three attorneys and a judicial assistant to assist with research and finding the more relevant decisions which are standing (stare decisis, Latin for “let the decision stand”) or should the case law evolve. The court hears oral arguments from both the plaintiff and the defense parties to the case, as well as anyone filed as a friend of the court and then the justices adjourn to deliberate and document our findings.”
While their case load is primarily cases appealed through one of the 12 state Court of Appeals, they receive death sentence cases directly from the Court of Common Pleas (since Jan. 1, 1995) and the court can select any civil or misdemeanor case that the Court finds to be, “of public or great general interest,” as the case pertains to the Ohio Constitution or U. S. Constitution.
The Supreme Court also has original jurisdiction to issue extraordinary writs. These include writs of habeas corpus (inquiring into the cause of an allegedly unlawful imprisonment or deprivation of custody), writs of mandamus (ordering a public official to perform a required act), writs of procedendo (compelling a lower court to proceed to judgment in a case), writs of prohibition (ordering a lower court to stop abusing or usurping judicial functions), and writs of quo warranto (issued against a person or corporation for usurpation, misuse, or abuse of public office or corporate office or franchise).
Also as part of the court’s duties, as defined by the Ohio Constitution, the court can make its ruling on the disqualification of an appellate and / or common pleas judge from hearing a case. The sitting governor can make appointments to the bench for vacancies that may occur between elections.
The qualification to become an Ohio Supreme Court justice is to be an attorney with at least six years experience in the practice of law. A justice either runs as a state-wide election nonpartisan ballot for a six year term. The only term limit is that a candidate for office or for re-election is under the age of 70.
This is the third time in the court’s history that the justices are four women and three men. The current chief justice is Maureen O’Connor. Chief Justice O’Connor is the first female chief justice. The other six justices are Paul E. Pfeifer, Terrance O’Donnell, Judith A. Lanzinger, Kennedy, Judith L. French and William M. O’Neill.
She has witnessed the evolution of the law and how society has shaped the enforcement of the law.
“There was a time when, as a police officer, that we had some leeway when we pulled over a potentially intoxicated driver,” she explained. “If the individual was near their home and in the best judgment of the officer, there were some allowances made to get the driver home safely without a citation.
“As we know, that is no longer the case. Society and groups like Mothers Against Drunk Driving have helped to cry out against those past practices and guided the states to revise the law and practices which today have made our highways safer.”