Court News Ohio
Court News Ohio
Court News Ohio

Shared Experience Helps New Judges Grow

Newly elected Ohio judges learned about the duties and challenges that come with serving their community at the Supreme Court of Ohio’s new judge orientation.

The week-long course provided 63 attorneys with information and tools they need for transitioning to the bench. Most of the attendees are first-time judges while some are taking positions with different courts.

“My whole life has been in court, and this is the pinnacle of all my experience,” said Elizabeth Sundermann, a judge-elect for Hamilton County Domestic Relations Court, “I think it’s the best way I can help my county.”

Sundermann and fellow new judges were able to meet at the Thomas J. Moyer Ohio Judicial Center in the first in-person orientation since the COVID-19 pandemic led to online education in the spring of 2020. The major benefit to being in-person is that participants can communicate easily with seasoned judges and peers about the ethical, procedural, and administrative responsibilities that come with judgeships. Above all, there’s the human component of understanding how much their actions and decisions can impact the lives of others.

“Chances are, what’s happening in your courtroom is the most important thing that parties have going on in their lives at that moment, and just always being mindful of that, and treating it with the utmost importance,” said Jennifer O’Donnell, a judge-elect for Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court.

Attendees were made aware of how to access the Supreme Court’s network of services, resources, and information, including case management, human resources, security, and language services. The education provided by the Judicial College is the beginning of hundreds of hours of content produced every year to inform and update judges.

“It is impressive to see the amount of time and energy that the Supreme Court is putting into making sure that we are better judges, and that we are informed judges,” said Kani Hightower, a judge-elect for Summit County Domestic Relations Court.

Hightower is the first Black woman elected to the bench in Summit County in 20 years. She relishes opportunities such as new judge orientation to meet others dedicated to public service. The in-person interactions allow people to learn more about each other’s backgrounds and jurisdictions. To her, that better understanding of people paired with stronger judicial knowledge will benefit each judge and the people they serve.

“The community elects you because they feel you have their best interests,” Hightower said. “That’s why it’s so important for us as judges to repay that faith by always learning and growing.”