Yesterday morning, Judge Joseph Bruzzese of the Jefferson County (Ohio) Court of Common Pleas was shot in the chest at near point-blank range as he prepared to enter the courthouse in Steubenville, Ohio. Judge Bruzzese was rushed by helicopter to a Pittsburgh hospital, and it appears that he will survive. Remarkably, the judge was armed and returned fire. A local probation officer was also at the scene and also fired at the perpetrator, who was killed. Authorities surmise that had the probation officer not been present, the suspect would have continued firing until Judge Bruzzese was dead.
The suspect was identified as Nathaniel Richmond, whose son was convicted in the same court for raping a 16-year-old girl in 2012. But the motivation for the shooting is unclear. Judge Bruzzese apparently had nothing at all to do with the younger Richmond’s case, although he is overseeing a separate case in which the elder Richmond is the plaintiff.
A sad and strange story, which could have been much worse if not for some quick thinking by the probation officer. Wishing Judge Bruzzese a speedy and full recovery.
One of the challenges for litigators who practice across state boundaries is making sense of state court systems: not just the culture and norms of the area, but often the structure and administration of the courts themselves. Many states are downright byzantine, with a large number of specialized courts (sometimes with overlapping jurisdictions), and no unified (or only recently unified) court systems. Local courts, covering counties and municipalities, are often under the governance of their host city or county rather than a centralized judicial administrator.
This is a product of history as much as anything, but it leads to obvious inefficiencies. One example making the headlines this week comes from Clark County, Ohio, where the county council has voted against consolidating two clerk of court offices, in part because they use entirely different electronic records systems. The move was originally proposed as a way to save up to $400,000 a year for the cash-strapped city of Springfield, but the city was unable to fund a study to confirm that number. In the end, lawyers, judges, and others will have to continue navigating different court systems with different technological resources.
The Chief Justices of six states — Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio, and Tennessee — recently signed a charter to support a Regional Opioid Initiative already in place in those states. The courts’ commitment to the initiative recognizes that the epidemic crosses state borders and is most usefully addressed with a high level of cross-state cooperation. It also recognizes the key role of state judiciaries in combatting the epidemic.