Court News Ohio
Court News Ohio
Court News Ohio

Reflections from the Bench, Episode 2: Former Justice Andy Douglas

Justice Patrick F. Fischer: Joining me today is former Ohio Supreme Court Justice Andy Douglas. Welcome.

Former Justice Andy Douglas: Thank you very much Justice Fischer.

Justice Patrick F. Fischer: Now you left the court in late December of 2002. What are you doing these days?

Former Justice Andy Douglas: I'm still actively practicing even at age 86. After I left the court, I went to a law firm Crabbe, Brown, and James in Columbus. They let me take whatever cases I want to take and I can do some pro bono work. It's really a good relationship and I'm thinking about wrapping it up. I'm fond of saying that a good lawyer knows the law and a great lawyer knows when to quit.

Justice Patrick F. Fischer: You left in late 2002. You ever miss being on the court?

Former Justice Andy Douglas: Some days I do when I read some of your decisions. When I mean yours, I mean the court's decisions because I recognize that it was such an intellectual feast. (I’m talking about) the issues of the day or something that 11 and a half million people in Ohio were bound by when you wrote them and the cases are always important. All I can say is God bless you, to those of you who are there now, and those who will follow.

Justice Patrick F. Fischer: That's true. Now let's go back to your beginnings. Tell us about growing up.

Former Justice Andy Douglas: I was born in the city of Toledo in the poorest neighborhood in Toledo. I was born of immigrant parents during the depression. We obviously had no financial wherewithal but education and our home was very important. My father was a minister. Both my parents came from Scotland as did my eldest sister. We went through school. I like to think back to those days because only in America could it happen that you arise from St. John's Street or D Street in Toledo, Ohio to the Supreme Court of Ohio.

Justice Patrick F. Fischer: I know of your private practice but you also served on city council for quite a while in Toledo. Can you tell us about that?

Former Justice Andy Douglas:  Yes sir. When I finished law school, it had to be in 1960. I ran for city council in 1961 and it was interesting. I was a republican in a very democratic city Toledo. There were 32 people running and the republican chairman said to me well, we'll give you an endorsement but you can't win. It will be good experience. They didn't know that I grew up in the poor part of the city where I knew a lot of people. I worked at a Kroger store in the middle of downtown Toledo and that I met hordes and hordes of people. I ended up first in that election. I did ten elections for city council after that. So I served on the city council from 1961 through 1980 when I was elected to the Court of Appeals in the 6th District.

Justice Patrick F. Fischer: The sixth district is Lucas County and surrounding areas?

Former Justice Andy Douglas: Eight counties in northwestern Ohio. Yes sir.

Justice Patrick F. Fischer: How did you enjoy your appellate time?

Former Justice Andy Douglas: I did. I had no idea what the difference in salaries was going to be from what I was making in my law practice compared to what I was making as a judge. But I did enjoy it there.

Justice Patrick F. Fischer: Before we get onto the Supreme Court years, I've got to ask you looking over your materials. What's the north Toledo old-timers football association, of which you were a trustee of some type?

Former Justice Andy Douglas: I was. We helped kids and I raised money for the organization so that we could get uniforms for kids in the poor part of the city. Nobody came and gave us anything back then. We raised that all for the kids, we organized the teams, and I helped administer that organization.

Justice Patrick F. Fischer: That’s great. You said people came to you and said, you might want to think about running for the Supreme Court. You said it wasn't on your horizon. Did you ever prior to running for Court of Appeals ever aspire as a lawyer to be on the Ohio Supreme Court? Did it ever enter your mind?

Former Justice Andy Douglas: It did not. No sir.

Justice Patrick F. Fischer: Why not? What was your goal, I guess when you were practicing?

Former Justice Andy Douglas: When you think about where I came from, I didn't go to a prestigious law school like your honor did. The University of Toledo was a good law school and is today. But you had to either go to Harvard or Yale or Michigan or someplace like that to get to the Supreme Court. In addition to that, I came from poor surroundings. I wasn't a particularly good student because I had to work all day and go to school all night. I don't know that I ever had those grandiose dreams. In fact, I might go back and address what you just said. Somebody suggested that I run for the Supreme Court. I think it probably was a little stronger than that.

Justice Patrick F. Fischer: Ok.  Tell me about it.

Former Justice Andy Douglas: Well, I was the leading vote getter in the city of Toledo when I was on city council. I think eight of the ten times, I ran first and that was significant to the democratic community if you were a republican. Then when I ran for the court of appeals in the eight counties, I got more votes in Lucas County than my opponent got in all the eight counties combined. So they were looking around for somebody to run for the court because the court was going through difficult times at that time.  The bar was and the judges were and people were afraid. I suspect they thought that I was dumb enough to take that assignment on, but they pretty much told me I had to do this. I was running against a man by the name of Corrigan from Cleveland.

Justice Patrick F. Fischer: Well-known name up in Cleveland.

Former Justice Andy Douglas: Where 37 out of every 100 votes are cast. So it didn't look like there would be much of a chance to do that. But it was an interesting experience and I just remember coming to your city (Cincinnati) on occasion, I had hardly anybody there to talk to. But during that election I put 40,000 miles on my car.

Justice Patrick F. Fischer: Can you tell me what you meant by difficult times for the Court?

Former Justice Andy Douglas: The disciplinary system was in a mess. When I got to the court, it was even worse than I had supposed. For instance, one of the first things I had to confront was that the chief justice called me in and said that newspapers were being very difficult and very bad with regard to what they were writing about him, particularly in the court and the disciplinary system. He wanted me to help sponsor an order of the court restricting journalists so they couldn't report on the court. I mean, it was the most absurd thing you could think of and I said to him, well, your honor, I can really tell you that my bent is to have government open and transparent.

Justice Patrick F. Fischer: When did Tom Moyer become chief justice? When did Frank Celebrezze leave?

Former Justice Andy Douglas: In 1986.

Justice Patrick F. Fischer: Tell me about that election from your viewpoint.

Former Justice Andy Douglas: He (Moyer) came to several of us and said that he was interested in running. We, of course, said that we would assist him and we did. We assisted him in material ways that probably nobody living knows about. There were only two people and one reporter that knew. But the chief justice then was involved in sort of a money laundering scheme. The Cleveland Plain Dealer caught him in a picture taking a check from somebody at a particular fundraiser. We put together the full page ad and paid for it.

Justice Patrick F. Fischer: Oh wow.

Former Justice Andy Douglas: It ran throughout the state, which really made a difference in the election.

Justice Patrick F. Fischer: Can you share some of your best memories on the Court? Talk about some of the justices you worked with who aren't with us any longer.  What are the good memories from the Court?

Former Justice Andy Douglas: I think, like most people my age, as you get older, you remember all the good times and very few of the bad times. Every day was different. When (former Justice) Paul Pfeifer came to my office and said, I don't really want to be on the Supreme Court do I? I shouldn't run? I said yes, you should. I said because it's not only an intellectual feast. Not only do you do something different every day, you are doing something different every hour of every day.

Justice Patrick F. Fischer: Could you tell the viewers what was DeRolph about?

Former Justice Andy Douglas: Your honor, I was involved in every one of the DeRolph cases. I was the only justice on the Court that was in the majority on all four. There was a reason for that. And I've never really had a chance to articulate that reason I guess before now. So now you have to listen to it. I was dubbed as the head of the “Gang of Four.” A newspaper in Toledo decided that they were going to make me the head of the gang of four.

Justice Patrick F. Fischer: Who was the “Gang of Four”?

Former Justice Andy Douglas: “The Gang of Four” was Justice (Alice) Resnick, Justice (Paul) Pfeifer, Justice Sweeney, and myself.

Justice Patrick F. Fischer: Francis Sweeney.

Former Justice Andy Douglas: Francis Sweeney. I guess they thought that was original. They never heard the “Gang of Four.” It started in China. In any event, I came from a public school. I knew that the educational opportunities were determined by a child's zip code, as opposed to the fact that it should be an equal sort of education. That case came to us in 1997.

Justice Patrick F. Fischer: For the first time.

Former Justice Andy Douglas: For the first time. There were 11,000 pages in that record and I went through every page. I went through all of the depositions because in addition to everything else, it was fascinating.

Justice Patrick F. Fischer: Wasn’t it out of Perry County?

Former Justice Andy Douglas: It was out of Perry County and there was a great, great trial judge, Linton Lewis. He did a really good job with it. I remember the lawyer for the 500 or so school districts that were the plaintiffs looking directly at me when I was at the Court. He said I am not asking you to do their job, the legislature's job. I'm asking you to do your job. It’s a determination of whether this system is constitutional. We saw a young person who came in and he didn't have a drinking fountain in his school. He had to go across a busy highway to get a drink of water while they were in school. There was another school had a sump pump in the urinal, an electric facility in a urinal. Another school didn't have a toilet in it. Those are the kind of things that that record reflected and I'm just giving you a smattering of it. There were thousands and thousands of pages of that kind of thing. And I couldn't bring myself to say that that was thorough and efficient. Besides that, it wasn't fair. I went around to the offices and my office prepared a long memo on why this was an unconstitutional system. We developed our opinions out of that and that decision was 4-3. Then it came back to 4-3 to find it unconstitutional.  The next time it came to the court, on another issue, it was 4-3. That went on for a number of years until it came time for me to go off the Court. I often think I didn't lose that case. I just ran out of time. But what happened was the election of other people to the court. They were going to reverse all those decisions to overrule then. If you will overrule those decisions, they would find that the system was constitutional. I went to the chief justice and together we fashioned a remedy where Justice (Paul) Pfeifer and I gave up some of the things we believed in. He and (Justice Evelyn) Stratton gave up some of the things they believed in in order to reach a consensus so that I left the Court knowing the system was still unconstitutional. We had told the general assembly something that we avoided for years. We shouldn't be telling the general assembly. This is how you solve this problem. That's their job. What we should be doing is telling the general assembly this is unconstitutional. Make it constitutional.

Justice Patrick F. Fischer: You have a reputation around here of mentoring your law clerks and they love you. Let me read what one of them said. First of all, the amount of time you spent with them, helping them to learn to write and your use of a red pen. Why? Why spend that much time?

Former Justice Andy Douglas: I owed that to them.

Justice Patrick F. Fischer: Why? You gave them a job.

Former Justice Andy Douglas: They were young lawyers eager to learn and it’s my job to teach.

Justice Patrick F. Fischer: You also were known to carry a pocket constitution and hand one out occasionally. (Justice Douglas reaches into his pocket) Still do? Excellent. I've got mine. Good for you.

Former Justice Andy Douglas: Do you use it?

Justice Patrick F. Fischer: Absolutely. I used it yesterday when I was speaking. Actually, you were always interested in hearing the law clerks views which is something I do. We have a group discussion. Why did you do that?

Former Justice Andy Douglas: Those were my happiest days on the Court, when you could bring bright young minds together and listen to what they had to say, if you thought that they were wrong. You always have the last vote. It's like Lincoln when he was going to issue the emancipation proclamation. He called his cabinet in, gave them a copy. He said I’m going to issue this proclamation. They all read it. And then he went around the room and he said, what is your vote Secretary of State?  Nay, Mr. President. Secretary of war? Nay, Mr. President. Secretary of interior? Nay, Mr. President. He went all the way around. He sat back in his big chair and said there are seven nays and one yea. And the yeas have it.

Justice Patrick F. Fischer: Two of your clerks told me about picking peaches. Tell the viewers about that, going picking peaches with your staff.

Former Justice Andy Douglas: You sure can tell that I don't have any control over my staff anymore. They're not supposed to reveal our secrets. There's a peach farm out in Johnstown Ohio and I often gather the clerks away from the office. We could talk about cases riding in the car out of a different environment. Sometimes we would go to a restaurant and I'd get a room and we'd talk about cases. You know the pressures around here. All the time you're being interrupted and all the time you have to be careful of everything you say and do. So I used to take them out to the peach farm and let them get peaches. Alicia (a law clerk) had a grandmother who always made us a peach pie with the peaches. We had to stop at the Kroger store and get sugar and stuff. It was just another thing that the clerks got to do. It was something that we got to do together because when you live so close to an office, you become a family.

Justice Patrick F. Fischer: Let's talk about one sort of negative. While you were on the Court, you had a scuffle with Justice (J. Craig) Wright. Can you tell us about that?

Former Justice Andy Douglas: Funny, I guess I don’t remember that.  Of course, I remember that. Justice Wright is not here to defend himself, so I’m trying to be careful.

Justice Patrick F. Fischer: Here’s your chance.

Former Justice Andy Douglas: I would never do that. He was my friend. What happened was he played a lot of golf. He was going on somebody’s plane that he shouldn’t have been going on to a private place in West Virginia. A reporter found out about it and a reporter called the place in West Virginia saying, I'm going to do a story on your resort there. They said, oh yeah, we have a lot of famous people from Ohio here. In fact, Justice Wright tees off at 10:15 tomorrow. So the reporter puts that in the story. Justice Wright accused my secretary of cracking his computer to get his golf times. It was ridiculous. Everything was protected by password. Besides, she didn’t care and she wouldn’t do it anyway. His theory was that she was the only one smart enough to know how to do it. So I went to her and I said did you do something like that? She said that just shows how much you guys know about this stuff. She said it’s protected by password. She also said I wouldn’t do it anyway. Why would I even care? So he proceeded to tell people that she had done this and Justice (Alice) Resnick asked me to come down to her office to explain to her what had happened. I told her. Craig barged into her office and I said to him, “Why are you telling these lies about Sue? He says I never said that.” Justice Resnick said “Craig, you told me that at lunch today.” He grabbed me and he knocked me down. I’m this big (shows his smaller height) and he’s this big (shows his larger height).

Justice Patrick F. Fischer:  He was big. Probably 6’3” or bigger.

Former Justice Andy Douglas: 6’3” and 250 pounds.  He knocked me down and was ready to hit me, when a law clerk pulled him off. He broke my ribs.

Justice Patrick F. Fischer:  Oh wow.

Former Justice Andy Douglas: The only interesting part of the story to me is that the highway patrol came in. They said this is felonious assault occurring on state property. Therefore, we are ready to file the complaint. I said we can’t do that. They said why not? He’s my friend.  They said judge, you have some strange friends. But he and I were as close as we could be during that period of time.

Justice Patrick F. Fischer: What do you want your legacy to be?

Former Justice Andy Douglas: That everybody that had the need or the occasion to invoke the need of my service got a fair shake. My heart is where the legacy is that those who really needed help knew where to come or, at the very least, be assured that they would be fairly heard.

Justice Patrick F. Fischer: Any advice for us for a young man or women out there watching this?  Let's say they are thinking about whether to go to law school or not. Any advice to them or a newly-minted lawyer?

Former Justice Andy Douglas: My answer would be do it. I would say that because when I think about when you lay your head on the pillow at night you can always say thank you lord. Today I was able to help somebody.

Justice Patrick F. Fischer: Well done and thank you for coming.

Former Justice Andy Douglas: Thank you for having me.