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As new Supreme Court justice, former police officer now can tackle law from another angle

JESSICA SHAMBAUGH
Special to the Legal News

Published: January 3, 2013

Recently elected Ohio Supreme Court Justice Sharon Kennedy is looking forward to a term full of “new beginnings.”

Kennedy said 2013 will bring many new beginnings to the state’s high court, not just because of the new year, but also because three of the seven justices are coming on board for their first terms.

“While this is a new beginning for the court, the most important aspect of serving as a justice remains the same. The Constitution of the United States of America and of this great state still stands for and protects individual freedom,” Kennedy said.

The path to the Supreme Court of Ohio started in a police cruiser for Kennedy. After graduating from the University of Cincinnati, Kennedy worked as a police officer for the Hamilton Police Department.

She said seeing the world through the eyes of a police officer made her want to start improving it. Although she had her own law practice, the opportunity to start creating the change she wanted ultimately came when she began serving as a judge for the Butler County Domestic Relations Court. Now, she said, she brings an unique background to the Supreme Court.

“To my knowledge, I am the first former police officer with specialized docket knowledge serving as a justice of the Ohio Supreme Court. My diverse professional and personal experience will only enrich my service to the benefit of all Ohioans,” Kennedy said.

It was a high school general law teacher who first suggested that Kennedy could practice law, but the inspiration to pursue a judicial career came from Butler County Judge Matthew Crehan. During her time working as Crehan’s law clerk, Kennedy learned more about the law and gained the knowledge that a judge’s role is a limited one.

She said Ohio Supreme Court Justice Evelyn Lundberg Stratton also served as a role model.

“Justice Stratton is a pioneer for women, a leader of compassionate justice, and is the embodiment of what a justice should be,” she said. “I hope to emulate Justice Stratton throughout my years of service on the Ohio Supreme Court.”

She said she hopes part of that emulation will come from working in areas that Stratton is passionate about — developing specialized dockets for veterans and the mentally ill.

Stratton will retire at the year’s end. She announced in May that she intended to step down so she could focus more time and energy on working to improve the courts’ handling of cases involving the mentally ill and veterans.

Kennedy said she would like to work with Stratton on these projects, as well as continue her own work with young people.

“Throughout my legal career I have developed and implemented programs to help change the direction of young people’s lives. I would like to continue that work on a broader scale and work with courts to implement programs that give young people a new beginning,” Kennedy said.

Above all, Kennedy said, she aims to join what she calls the “caretakers of the law” by understanding that her role is limited to preserving the law as it is written.

“I look forward to serving the people of Ohio and promise to serve every Ohioan with a full heart and steady moral compass.”

Kennedy was sworn in at a ceremony in the Thomas J. Moyer Judicial Center on Dec. 7.

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