The Supreme Court justice said death penalty cases are very difficult to consider.
By DAVID SKOLNICK
VINDICATOR POLITICS WRITER
WARREN -- Ohio Supreme Court Justice Evelyn Lundberg Stratton said she is thankful the court does not get many death penalty cases.
"Putting your name on the dotted line saying someone is going to die is a very awesome and very difficult responsibility," she said. "They're very painful cases to deal with. I want to make sure we do everything absolutely right before we take a man's life as a penalty. I consider it a very serious matter and a matter I take with great caution."
Justice Stratton's comments to The Vindicator came a few hours after the Supreme Court voted Monday to rule on the issue of whether killer Jay Scott is mentally competent and can be executed. The court also refused to postpone Scott's May 15 execution date.
The justice was here speaking at the Trumbull County Republican Party's Lincoln Day Dinner at the Golden Gate Restaurant. About 100 people attended.
Justice Stratton said she could not comment directly on the Scott case. But said she takes extra care with death penalty cases.
Even the case of Wilford Berry of Cleveland, the last person executed in the state and who volunteered to be put to death in 1999, was "a pretty tough case," Justice Stratton said.
"We're still taking a life," she said. "It's the final punishment. I don't know if [Scott] will be any easier or harder. I think it will be equally hard."
Phone calls about case: Justice Stratton told the crowd that she had to have her driver stop the car a few times on her trip from Columbus to Warren to answer telephone calls about the case. She has a cellular phone, but on such sensitive matters the justices use regular land line telephones, on which conversations are more secure. The justice said she stopped at a BP gas station in "not one of the better parts of Akron" to make the call, but opted to leave because "it looked like five guys were casing the joint."
She said she went to a nearby McDonald's to use the pay phone but couldn't because it was locked.
"We went farther up the road to make the call," she said.
The Supreme Court delayed Scott's originally scheduled April 17 execution about an hour before he was to be put to death. It did so at the request of judges on the 8th Ohio District Court of Appeals in Cleveland, who wanted more time to determine whether Scott was competent to be put to death. The court subsequently found Scott competent.
Who writes opinions: At the dinner, Justice Stratton discussed how the seven justices determine who writes the majority decision on its court cases.
"We have a leather bottle with seven balls and if you're in the majority and your ball falls out, you write the opinion," she said. "No exceptions. That's how Justice [Alice Robie] Resnick got to write the school funding case and the tort case."
The dissenting opinion is written by the justice who has the most time or the most passion regarding that particular case, she said.
Sometimes, the dissenting opinion is so convincing that a justice in the majority changes sides, she said.
As the least senior justice, Justice Stratton gets to express her opinion last and vote first when the seven members consider cases.