Court News Ohio
Court News Ohio
Court News Ohio

Justice French Reflects on a Tenure of ‘Energy and Devotion’

Image is of 3 photos of Justice French on the bench

Justice Judith French's tenure on the Supreme Court of Ohio comes to an end on Jan. 1.

Image is of 3 photos of Justice French on the bench

Justice Judith French's tenure on the Supreme Court of Ohio comes to an end on Jan. 1.

When someone has a love for the law and is driven by the purpose of a public servant, those connections can take the person to tremendous heights.

For Justice Judith French, that combination catapulted her to the Ohio Supreme Court for the past eight years.

“I was drawn to careers, like journalism and law, that are about figuring things out. I saw law as adding advocacy, history, and politics, too,” Justice French said.

Her tenure at the state’s highest court, with Jan. 1 as her last day, is part of 25 years in the public sector. It includes eight years as a judge on the Tenth District Court of Appeals, chief counsel to the governor, assistant state attorney general and later chief counsel to the attorney general, and deputy director of legal affairs at the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency.

An enthusiast of constitutional law and author of 168 Ohio Supreme Court opinions, she relished debates on the bench during oral arguments and in deliberations with fellow justices. Prior to her judicial career, she argued twice before the U.S. Supreme Court.

As a civil servant, she said: “No matter what the issue is, you have to ask, ‘What’s in the best interest of the people of Ohio? What do they expect and deserve?’ I like answering those questions, because they have a broader meaning and purpose.” 

During her time with the Supreme Court, the 155th justice used her platform to help improve the judicial system, specifically for low-income citizens who can’t afford to hire attorneys.

As the court of last resort’s liaison to the Ohio Access to Justice Foundation – a partnership she helped develop – Justice French worked to reform the state’s structure of legal aid and the Supreme Court’s role in it. That initiative was paramount in her remarks when she was sworn in as an elected justice in January 2015.

“We’ve made things better for the lawyers who provide legal aid services and for the underserved Ohioans who rely on those services,” Justice French said.  

The native of Sebring, near Youngstown, vowed to “give [the Court] the full measure of [her] energy and devotion.” Part of that mission was tirelessly traveling the state, promoting the efforts of the high court and explaining its role within the judicial system and the three branches of government to students and residents in all 88 counties.

It was a way for her to shed light on the countless people behind the scenes who support her and carry out the Supreme Court’s duties – from her judicial attorneys and law clerks to the hundreds of others who serve the Court and assist the lower courts.

“I'm here because many people throughout the course of my life helped me grow and develop as a person, as a lawyer, and as a judge,” Justice French said during her initial investiture ceremony.

No matter the specifics of a case or the steadfastness of sentiments, Justice French had a “dignified manner and willingness to listen and share astute legal advice and opinions,” observed Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor.

That civility earned her the title of “the nice justice” from her colleagues and peers.

“My colleagues will agree that it has been a high honor to serve on the bench with her. We will miss her and wish her the best of luck,” Chief Justice O’Connor said.

Still deciding on her next step, Justice French intends on staying in the public arena, continuing civic progress in another capacity and paying it forward out of respect to those who’ve encouraged her along a distinguished journey.

“The professionals working at the Court are extraordinarily good at their jobs, and I’ll leave knowing that, together, we produced good work,” Justice French said.