Court News Ohio
Court News Ohio
Court News Ohio

Retired Judge Educating on Justice System, Journalism

Tom Hodson knows it’s important to always challenge yourself professionally, intellectually, and creatively. The retired Athens County judge started his career in journalism. He went to law school to be a better reporter and returned to Athens to practice law.

“I loved the courtroom as a private attorney, and I wanted to be involved with the court on a day-to-day basis,” said Hodson. “It’s the relationships with the people in court that are important.”

When he was 31 years old, Hodson was elected to the Athens County Municipal Court, the youngest elected judge in Ohio. He moved to the common pleas court, helping people understand the courts and the process.

“It’s helping defendants understand what is going on around them in this sort of foreign land of legalese and legal systems,” Hodson said. “You want to make sure that they feel like they’re respected in the court and treated fairly.”

After seven years on the bench, an opportunity with the U.S. Supreme Court changed Hodson’s professional course. He stepped down from his judgeship to become a judicial fellow for then-Chief Justice William Rehnquist. He helped develop the chief justice’s administrative office, spoke with visiting dignitaries about the U.S. justice system, and worked with national news organizations through the court’s public information office.

“Those 14 months were the most exhilarating professional experience of my life,” said Hodson.

He laughs saying he did things backward, being a judge at the beginning of his career.  He returned to private practice for 13 years after the fellowship. And for the next two decades, he led one of the nation’s renowned media programs at Ohio University in the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism and WOUB public media. He spent his career finding ways to connect his background in journalism and the law.

“The things I learned in journalism applied to being a trial lawyer and a judge,” said Hodson.  “How to phrase a question, how to read a witness, how to take a complex set of facts and break it down for a jury.”

After more than 40 years, Hodson has been back to hearing cases at the Athens County Municipal Court where he started, using modern technology and procedures.  It’s part of a Supreme Court of Ohio program allowing retired judges to be temporarily assigned to hear cases for a sitting judge.

“To come full circle and sit back here is pretty remarkable. It’s like going back home,” said Hodson.

He also helps train new judges on media relations at the Judicial College of the Supreme Court of Ohio.

“People do not trust what they don’t understand,” Hodson said. “And what we can do to have people understand things, it builds the trust level.”

Hodson’s next adventure will be in Massachusetts to spend more time with his 4-year-old granddaughter. He’s looking forward to the views of Cape Cod Bay, learning to fish in the ocean, and drawing cartoon characters with plans to create his own comic. But he’ll be back visiting Ohio, as a member of several boards and continuing his podcast “Spectrum” featuring judges, attorneys, journalists, scholars, innovators, and policymakers. Because for Hodson, it’s always about the next conversation, and the next challenge.