Court News Ohio
Court News Ohio
Court News Ohio

Justice Donnelly Guides International Attorneys-Turned-Students on Road to Reform

Groups of students tour to the Thomas J. Moyer Ohio Judicial Center all the time. But a recent class came to do more than just document their experience. They did so to help their homelands.

Students from all over the world attending Ohio Northern University’s Pettit College of Law learned about the state’s legal system from one of its most visible jurists: Ohio Supreme Court Justice Michael Donnelly.

“We resolve disputes. When you look at it from an aerial view, that’s the service this branch of government provides in our democracy,” Justice Donnelly said.

The Master of Law students are enrolled in a two-year program known as an International LL.M. with a focus on the rule of law. Unlike most law school students, each participant is already a licensed attorney in their respective country. Among the 16 scholars, nine countries are represented – Bangladesh, Honduras, Kenya, Kosovo, Nigeria, Serbia, South Sudan, the United Kingdom, and Zimbabwe.

“I applied for this post because of the opportunities I’ll learn, so that when I get home, I can try to introduce some reforms in the justice system,” said Lungile Masuku, who works in civil service in Zimbabwe.

Arguably, Justice Donnelly’s biggest belief for a sound judicial system is transparency. For people from developing countries, that pillar can be nonexistent when judges are appointed by people in power and court proceedings aren’t always on the record.

“We don’t have transparency. We have corruption, a lot of corruption,” said Norma Karina Sanchez, a Honduran who works in legal aid.

Along with the public electing who serves on the bench, the lawyers learned of other ways there are checks and balances of the legal profession and judiciary, like the Supreme Court’s Board of Professional Conduct and Office of Disciplinary Counsel.

“We need a lot of accountability of the judge and for the justice system, because if you have accountability, and if you believe in rule of law, you’re going to have results, too,” said Genc Nimoni, a rule of law and democratization program manager for an organization aimed at democracy and anticorruption initiatives in Kosovo.

Justice Donnelly also discussed some of the issues he sees in Ohio’s legal system, including the lack of a statewide database that tracks every sentence a judge issues in a criminal case. As all the attendees hold the U.S. judicial system in high regard, the justice’s critique illustrated that there’s always room for reforms in the pursuit of fairness and access to justice.

“When you admit that you still have flaws, it shows that you want the best in terms of justice for the people,” said Masuku.