Thursday, June 30th, 2011
By Amy Kronenberger
Justice explains role of court system
  ST. MARYS - The Ohio Supreme Court has a great role regarding individual rights.
Court Justice Robert Cupp spoke to Rotary members Wednesday, explaining the importance of the state's court system.
"The role of courts are to protect individual and property rights, and we do that in an independent way, free from the influence of the executive and legislative branches or from the public," Cupp said.
"We are to decide cases according to the law and the facts and not outside pressures. Hence we have independent judiciary. Our role is to resolve disputes fairly, rather than having them guided by brute force," he said.
Within the three levels of courts in Ohio, criminal, appellate and supreme, more than three million cases are filed every year. Every work day, more than 12,000 cases are decided by 724 judges in 383 courts.
"Each case is more than just a statistic because the case involves somebody's property, somebody's reputation, someone's family, someone's liberty, and in the death penalty cases we get, someone's life," Cupp said.
Court cases begin in criminal courts: Municipal, common pleas, juvenile and probate. If the party who loses a trial thinks the judge didn't apply the proper law to the facts or follow the proper procedure, they have a right to go to the district court of appeals.
Ohio has 12 districts. The Third District is based in Lima and covers Mercer and Auglaize counties and most of northwest Ohio. The state has 69 appellate judges.
The losing party in the appellate court may then appeal to the Ohio Supreme Court.
"The Supreme Court has some discretionary jurisdiction, so not everyone who wants to appeal has their case accepted and decided," Cupp said.
The Supreme Court has the final word in matters of state law and constitution. However, if it involves a federal question, it could be appealed directly from the state to the U.S. Supreme Court.
"It is a very rare case, indeed, when they decide to take one," Cupp said.
About 1,400 cases are filed with the Ohio Supreme Court every year, and the court accepts about 13 percent.
"If you think that's small, you can compare what we do with the U.S. Supreme Court. They usually submit about 80 to 90 decisions each year," Cupp said. "So I want you to know that your supreme court justices here in Ohio are working at least twice as hard as our federal counterparts."
Of the court's responsibilities, 48 percent involve criminal cases and four percent are juvenile, probate and domestic relations. It handles direct appeals in death penalty cases. Currently, 153 people are serving on death row, 19 death penalty cases are pending, eight executions are scheduled andare pendng eight more requests to schedule an execution date.
The court also hears public utilities commissions and tax issues.
"We decide whether or not the public utility commissions followed the law when approving or rejecting rate increases," Cupp said.
The Supreme Court also approves the final admission for attorneys to practice in Ohio and handles attorney discipline issues.
Currently, 45,000 attorneys are licensed to practice in Ohio. In 2010, 1,300 new lawyers were admitted.
"The Supreme Court has a constitutional responsibility for upholding the rules, governing practice and procedures in the court and general superintendence over all courts," Cupp said.
Cupp was elected in 2006. He had served 16 years in the state Senate, four years on the Ohio Court of Appeals, was elected twice as Allen County Commissioner and served four years as a prosecutor for Lima.
The court has seven justices: Chief Justice Maureen O'Connor and associate judges Paul Pfeifer, Evelyn Lundberg Stratton, Terrence O'Donnell, Judith Lanzinger, Yvette McGee Brown and Cupp.
"It is an honor for me to serve on the Ohio Supreme Court. This is now my fifth year and we are having fun," Cupp said.
- The public can watch oral arguments live or in archive on the website, www.sconet.state.oh.us. Text of decisions, the Ohio Constitution, the Revised Code and the Administrative Code are also available.
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