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COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Ohio Supreme Court Chief Justice Maureen O'Connor is pushing for a study of judges' workloads at a time the number of cases on judges' dockets is steadily declining in Ohio and nationally.
O'Connor told a gathering of judges in March the study was a proactive move at a time of a tight state budget, and a chance to explain the changing nature of the judiciary, according to written and recorded minutes of that meeting obtained by The Associated Press through an open records request.
O'Connor, a Republican, said no sitting judges would lose jobs as a result. O'Connor will meet with a panel of municipal, common pleas, juvenile court and other judges June 30 for more discussion. A decision is probably weeks away. The court has set aside $250,000 to pay for such a study.
Competition from private companies offering mediation and arbitration services outside the courts is helping drive a 26 percent decline in Ohio judges' caseloads since 2007, O'Connor said. Nationally, dockets shrink about 3.5 percent a year, she added.
Meanwhile, judges are working just as hard because of more and more specialized courts, O'Connor said. In such courts, judges spend extra time helping drug addicts, human trafficking victims, veterans and defendants with mental illness, among others.
The country's opioid epidemic, which kills about eight people a day in Ohio, is having a major impact on workloads as judges deal with the impact of addiction, said Michael Buenger, the Ohio Supreme Court's administrative director. For example, 75 percent of children removed from homes in some counties are taken because of their parents' drug abuse, he said.
Paul Pfeifer, the head of the state judicial agency, is skeptical of the proposal. He told O'Connor at the March 10 meeting that judges won't like it and will question the merits.
Pfeifer, a former Supreme Court justice and a fellow Republican, also said fears of cutbacks from lawmakers questioning judges' reduced caseloads are overblown.
"My view is once it's done, it'll go on the shelf," Pfeifer, executive director of the Ohio Judicial Conference, said at the March meeting.