Login | December 14, 2018

Longtime Akron municipal court judge passes away

Former Akron Municipal Court Judge John E. Holcomb passed away on Jan. 18 at the age of 69. Judge Holcomb is pictured here with his wife Marcia. (Photo courtesy of Marcia Holcomb).

Legal News Reporter

Published: February 27, 2018

With his large physique and commanding voice, former Akron Municipal Court Judge John E. Holcomb fit many of the stereotypes often associated with judges.

But those closest to Judge Holcomb said in reality he was more of a “gentle giant,” who had compassion for those who came before him, gave back to his community and cared deeply for his family.

The 69-year-old passed away on Jan. 18, 2018 after losing his battle with cancer.

“John was a dedicated husband and father,” said his wife Marcia. “He was very principled, conservative and fair.

“As a judge, he would give those who came before him every chance to better themselves, but if they repeated their mistakes he would impose a strict sentence,” said Marcia. “He believed in giving everyone a chance.”

Ninth District Court of Appeals Judge Lynne Callahan served on the Akron Municipal Court bench for a number of years with Judge Holcomb.

“I got to know him very well,” said Judge Callahan. “On the outside John appeared tough and people had no idea how incredibly funny and witty he actually was.

“He was kind, thoughtful and intelligent, which are qualities that municipal court judges should possess.”   

Born in Akron on Oct. 29, 1948 to Cecil and Josephine Holcomb, he was an only child.

Judge Holcomb graduated from Ellet High School and received his bachelor’s degree in political science from Baldwin Wallace University in 1970.

“My husband was on the football team in high school and college and he was a very good player,” said Marcia.

She said in 2016 Judge Holcomb was inducted into the Ellet High School Football Hall of Fame.

His wife said they met in college during their junior year abroad and were married in December 1969. They have two children, Tony and Allison, and five grandchildren.

In 1974, Judge Holcomb received his juris doctor from The University of Akron School of Law and began working as an assistant law director for the city of Akron under the late Mayor John Ballard.

Three years later, he became the city’s youngest law director after the mayor appointed him to the position, which he held from 1977 through 1980.

His next stop was Brouse McDowell, where he became a partner and focused on employment and labor relations matters.

Clair Dickinson, now of counsel at Brouse McDowell, first met Judge Holcomb in 1983.

“He took me out to lunch on my first day at the firm,” said Dickinson. “He was a very good labor lawyer, who seemed to have an understanding of both sides of the cases he handled.”

Dickinson, an At-Large Member on the Summit County Council, said Judge Holcomb served as a political mentor to him.

“John was a Republican and I’m a Democrat, but he offered good insight about elections and my campaigns for judge,” said Dickinson, who previously served on the 9th District Court of Appeals.

Judge Holcomb later became a partner at Millisor & Nobil. Prior to taking the bench in 1996, he was attorney at Harry A. Tipping.

During his many years at the Akron Municipal Court, he served as presiding and drug court judge.

Ninth District Court of Appeals Judge Thomas Teodosio, who appeared before Judge Holcomb while he was an attorney, said he was well respected in the community.

“As judge he had a great demeanor and was very compassionate,” said Judge Teodosio. “He was always prepared, maintained good control over his docket and gave the parties a chance to resolve their issues.”

They also spent time together at the Italian American Professional and Businessmen’s Club.

“Judge Holcomb was very proud of his Italian heritage,” said Judge Teodosio.

Judge Holcomb retired from the Akron Municipal Court in December 2013. When he stepped down, Akron Municipal Court Judge Jon Oldham took over his docket.

“I knew Judge Holcomb personally because I attended Walsh Jesuit High School with his son,” said Judge Oldham. “As an attorney, I enjoyed appearing in front of him because he had a demanding presence, yet a calm demeanor.

“Judge Holcomb was always fair, but he expected his sentences to be followed,” he said. “He fit the definition of a judge completely, which caused those who appeared in front of him to be on their best behavior.”

Akron Municipal Court Clerk Jim Laria was once Judge Holcomb’s neighbor and his colleague the entire time he served on the bench.

“My wife and I purchased their home before he took the bench and then they moved five houses down,” said Laria. “John had a great sense of humor. We would go golfing together and as soon as we got on the golf cart the jokes would start flying.

“He was a very smart man and very knowledgeable about the law,” said Laria. “John was someone you would want to hear your case because he took his work very seriously.

“His passing is a real loss to the legal community.”

A longtime member of the Akron and Ohio State bar associations, Judge Holcomb served as an Akron Bar trustee and chaired the professional ethics (now grievance) and character and fitness (now bar applicants & students) committees. 

He was elected to and served on the State Board of Education in Ohio from 1980 to 1982 and the Akron Board of Education from 1993 to 1995. He was also a big supporter of Our Lady of the Elms and Walsh Jesuit high schools, and together with his wife Marcia, chaired Walsh Jesuit High School’s annual POWWOW fundraiser in 1994.

He also volunteered as a board member for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Summit, Medina & Stark Counties and was a longtime member of Westminster Presbyterian Church, where he served as elder, deacon and moderator of the Personnel Committee.

In addition, Judge Holcomb was a member of the Dean’s Club of The University of Akron School of Law, Toastmasters, the NRA, the Republican Party and the Scanlon Inn of Court. He chaired and was a member of the City of Akron Charter Review Commission and the Summit County Charter Review Commission and served as president of the Akron Law Alumni Association.

“John enjoyed sports, traveling, family gatherings and attending his children’s and grandchildren’s sporting events,” said Marcia.

A memorial service, which included a judicial processional, was held at Westminster Presbyterian Church on Jan. 26 to pay tribute to Judge Holcomb.

Judge Holcomb leaves behind his wife Marcia; children Tony (Michele) of Hudson and daughter Allison Perry of Houston; grandchildren Ryan (13), Andrew (10) and Abby (8) Holcomb and Lilliana (10) and Delaney (8) Perry; brothers-in-law Bob (Jan) Fugler and Jon (Noonie) Fugler; sister-in-law Shelley (Ed) McFee; step mother-in-law Annelies Fugler; aunts and uncles Mary (Gerald) Finnell, Ted Sabatula, Albert (Alyce) Shannon, John (Betty) Shannon and Sandy Holcomb; Holcomb cousins Mark, Susan and Linda; his Shannon cousins Bunny, Beatrice, Cynthia, David, Mark, Greg, Steve, Todd and Dana as well as nine nieces and nephews.