The Ohio Departments Building was built in 1933, during the depths of the Great Depression. Many public buildings — typically referred to as WPA (for Works Progress Administration) buildings, whether they in fact were built by the WPA or by one of the other alphabet agencies of the New Deal — were constructed during that time period. They all have a certain charm and beauty that modern office buildings don’t even try to equal.
I don’t know if this is true about the Ohio Departments Building (later renamed the Ohio Judicial Center) where the Ohio Supreme Court now sits, but I’ve always thought that the WPA buildings were beautiful because countless masons, artists, woodworkers, and other skilled craftsmen were thrown out of work by the Great Depression and were eager to do just about anything that would bring them a paycheck. Whether my theory is true or not, the Ohio Departments Building is a collection of excellent paintings, splendid wood work, detailed metal fabrication, and colorful tile creations that certainly look like they were the work of masters. The rear doorway of the Ohio Supreme Court courtroom, shown above, brings many of those art forms together, with the lovely painting of a colonial scene, a fabulous carved wooden wooden clock about the doorway, and fine, gleaming, metal inlaid into the woodwork. (The Latin phrase below the clock and above the doorway is dum loquor, hora fugit — roughly translated as “while I am speaking, time is fleeing.” It’s a good reminder for loquacious lawyers.)
The outside of the building, with its clean, bright lines, includes some carved cats and the quasi-Egyptian figure shown below, as well as the customary tribute to the value of labor — a common feature in Depression-era buildings.
Many busy attorneys hurrying to an oral argument no doubt scurry through the entrance without looking around — or looking up. Those who fail to do so are missing something, because the ceiling above the entrance sparkles with colorful, carefully inlaid tile work (show above), and the doorways feature beautiful, finely detailed metal gate-like doors (shown below). How much time did it take for the master craftsmen who were involved to place the tiles or do the metalwork that produced such striking pieces?
When people talk about making a grand entrance, this must be what they are talking about.
Today I went over to the Ohio Supreme Court to listen to an oral argument. While there, I had the chance to enjoy the Supreme Court courtroom and many other splendid features of the Ohio Judicial Center, which was called the Ohio Departments Building when it first opened in 1933.
The building is a graceful structure that is chock full of beautiful features and distinctive touches, and the Supreme Court courtroom is one of the highlights. It is a magnificent venue for an oral argument before Ohio’s highest court, with walls and ceilings covered with historical murals and classical scenes, rich carpeting and wall hangings, and fine furnishings. When I was there this morning a high school class was there to watch the argument, and while I thought the students might have been bored by the subject matter — which involved the standards for certifying a case as a class action under Ohio law — they could easily occupy their time gaping at the room. It definitely conveys the majesty of the law.
There’s a marked contrast between the current courtroom and its immediate predecessor, which was located a few blocks away in the Rhodes Tower. The Rhodes Tower is a prime example of soulless modern architecture, and the Supreme Court courtroom was a cold, drab, unadorned room that was filled with stone and sharp angles. The old courtroom always made me feel as if the Politburo was ready to walk out, give a perfunctory wave to the proletariat, and then pronounce judgment on the latest five-year plan. The “new” courtroom — which of course is older than the “old” courtroom — is a vast improvement.
On my visit today I took some photos of the refurbished building and its trappings. Above is a picture of the Supreme Court bench and counsel tables, and below is some of the terrific artwork found on the ceiling of the courtroom. I’ll post some more pictures of the building over the next few days.
Last week the Ohio Supreme Court issued an interesting decision, City of Barberton v. Jenney, that reflects a bit of the clash between human and machine. An Ohio driver challenged a speeding ticket that he received. The State relied on the officer’s visual estimation of the driver’s speed, which was that the driver was exceeding 70 mph in a 60 mph zone. The driver argued that a police officer’s visual estimation, standing alone, is insufficient to sustain a speeding conviction. The Supreme Court rejected that argument. It held instead that an officer’s visual estimate is sufficient if the officer is trained, is certified by the Ohio Peace Officer Training Academy or a similar organization, and is experienced in visually estimating vehicle speed.
This decision seems pretty unremarkable to me — except for the fact that the argument that police officers must use radar devices was made in the first place. In the days before radar guns, of course, police officers had to rely on visual estimates of speed to issue tickets. The Supreme Court opinion notes that the police officer in the case had received specific speed estimation training, and in order to be certified by the OPOTA he needed to demonstrate that he could visually estimate a vehicle’s speed to within three or four miles per hour of its speed. Courts also permit lay witnesses to testify about similar matters based on their visual perception. And, as the Supreme Court noted, the police officer’s credibility always will be subject to challenge. If the jury concludes, after hearing all of the evidence, that the officer’s testimony is not credible or that the officer’s estimate was unreliable, it can find the defendant not guilty.
The fact that mechanical devices can perform certain functions that humans also have performed does not mean that humans no longer can, or should, do so.