Court News Ohio
Court News Ohio
Court News Ohio

Newly-Elected Judges Get Crash Course on the Bench during Mock Trials

Every New Year comes with new optimism. In 2019, that same belief will extend to Ohio’s 64 newly-elected judges and justices, dozens of whom will work behind the bench for the first time in their legal careers.

“It’s exciting because I feel like it’s a brand new chapter in my life. It’s a brand new experience,” said Franklin County Common Pleas Court Judge-elect Monica Hawkins.

Of the new judges who will be in office next year, Hawkins and 51 others will work in the trial courts. Since all-but-three have no experience conducting a courtroom as a judge, they went through a test run recently with mock trials during the new judges orientation at the Thomas J. Moyer Ohio Judicial Center.

“It made me pause for a moment, even though it was a mock trial,” said Judge-elect Thomas Beridon, who’ll serve Hamilton County Common Pleas Court. “It made me realize the seriousness of the role I’m taking now and that I have so many more responsibilities than I did when I was on the other side of the bench.”

During these staged court proceedings, the soon-to-be judges handled everything from lawyers who show up late to hearings, distracted attorneys checking emails and playing on their phones, and questionably-competent witnesses.

“As a social worker, and then trial attorney for Franklin County Children's Services, sometimes that chaos is normal,” said Hawkins.

After the prosecutor and defense finished their testimony, other judges participating as the faculty and posing as actors, provided their feedback.

“I think about how much people have helped me in my career and helping others, giving back, that’s the least that I can do,” said Hancock County Commons Pleas Court Judge Jonathan Starn.

Along with handling all the people and the specifics of each case, the veteran judges are trying to instill a bigger picture perspective when putting their peers on the spot.

“You’ve got to develop your personality, your reputation, your philosophy about how you're going to do this job,” said Judge Starn.

For the 12 new appellate-level judges, including Ohio Supreme Court Justice-elect Michael Donnelly, they are leaving the trial court behind for a different workflow.

“It’s like going from an emergency room where everything is coming at you and then you have a lot of work at the appellate level where you have to be very disciplined,” said Justice-elect Donnelly.

His decision to climb the state’s judicial ladder was very specific, but the principles apply to all of his peers.

“I wanted to be in a place where I can work with lawyers, other judges, other stakeholders in the system, both civil and criminal, and make it better, and work on policy that improves the efficiency of the justice system,” said Justice-elect Donnelly.