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New Youngstown muni court judge discusses plans

Legal News Reporter

Published: December 13, 2018

As a single mother who once relied on public assistance Youngstown Municipal Court Judge Renee DiSalvo knows firsthand what it’s like to struggle and now she is working to create new programs and specialty dockets at the court to help others realize their full potential.

“There are a lot of people in our community who are stuck in the system and need a little assistance to get their lives back on track,” said Judge DiSalvo. “It’s important that we as judges are able to look at people from all perspectives and see where new solutions can be crafted that might address their needs.

“While not all individuals are amenable to rehabilitation there are those who are,” she said. “We should do what we can to identify them and offer alternatives to incarceration, thereby unburdening our jails and making our city safer and more productive.”

Judge DiSalvo is still new to Youngstown Municipal Court, taking the bench on Nov. 5 after being appointed by Gov. John Kasich to fill the vacancy left by Judge Elizabeth Kobly, who retired on Sept. 21.

Judge DiSalvo was sworn in by Youngstown Municipal Court Judge Carla Baldwin.

“I have known Judge DiSalvo for almost 10 years,” said Judge Baldwin. “I first met her when I was working as an assistant county prosecutor for Mahoning County.  

“I most recently worked with her here in Youngstown Municipal Court where she served as defense counsel on our veterans treatment court docket over which I preside. She has always been a pleasure to work with. 

“Judge DiSalvo has committed herself to serving the people of the city of Youngstown. I am honored to work alongside her as she forges a new path on her legal journey.”

A native of Youngstown, Judge DiSalvo graduated from Woodrow Wilson High School. She obtained her bachelor’s degree in communications with an emphasis on intercultural communications from Youngstown State University.

In 1996 she received her juris doctor from The University of Akron School of Law.

She began her legal career as a trial attorney at Nationwide Insurance. About four years later, she started her own practice, serving as a part-time adjunct instructor at Kent State University at the same time.

She later accepted a job as a trial attorney at Betras, Kopp & Harshman, where she represented plaintiffs in personal injury and medical malpractice cases. Brian Kopp, a founding partner at Betras, Kopp & Harshman said Judge DiSalvo did an excellent job dealing with clients who were in crisis.

“She tried some difficult medical malpractice and wrongful death cases and she did an incredible job researching and analyzing the issues,” said Kopp. “She has handled a wide variety of cases throughout her career and I think she is well prepared for the bench.

“She has a great temperament and is very good with people, which I think will translate well in her new role.”

Judge DiSalvo’s other legal experience includes serving as a guardian ad litem, an assistant prosecutor for the city of Youngstown and a part-time mediator for the Mahoning County Court of Commons Pleas.

Although she is not currently teaching Judge DiSalvo is a part-time adjunct instructor at Youngstown State University.

“I was very excited to accept the appointment,” Judge DiSalvo said. “I want to be a conduit of hope and help effectuate positive change in the city of Youngstown. My life experiences, both good and bad, have shown me that with faith, support, guidance and hard work, even the worst of situations can be turned around. It worked for me and I believe it can work for many others who are willing to do what it takes.”

Judge DiSalvo said she received The Mahoning County Bar Association Foundation’s first scholarship while working as a secretary for the bar association.

“I always say the legal profession chose me. Becoming a lawyer was not on my radar but while working at the law firm of DeSanto & DeSanto I experienced many great interactions with the bench and bar and law became my noble goal.”

Mahoning County Common Pleas Court Judge John Durkin met Judge DiSalvo while she was working for The Mahoning County Bar Association. He later presided over her first jury trial.

Judge Durkin said he was “truly excited” when he learned that she had been appointed to the bench.

“Not only does Renee bring to the bench an extensive and diverse background of legal experience, she brings something that is, perhaps, even more important,” said Judge Durkin. “Like Judge Carla Baldwin, Renee brings with her those qualities that will serve the citizens of Youngstown well. She possesses the integrity, the independence, the character, the competence and the ‘heart’ that will make her an excellent judge, one that we can all be proud of.”

Judge DiSalvo said she is busy researching existing court programs in order to come up with ideas for new specialty dockets.

“I am investigating a program started by 7th District Court of Appeals Judge Carol Robb while she was a Columbiana County municipal court judge, which addressed the economic issues faced by defendants.”

Based on the “Bridges Out of Poverty” model, Judge DiSalvo said it was very helpful in reducing recidivism.

“I am also working with various courts and our local task force on human trafficking to explore a possible specialized docket for the victims of human trafficking that find their way into our court because of misdemeanor criminal charges.”

In her office, Judge DiSalvo said she has two plaques on the wall, which read, “The Future Belongs to Those who Dream,” and “Faith in God includes Faith in His Timing.”

She said this year has been an amazing one. In addition to her appointment as judge, she also married Michael Ramun, the owner of Exodus Industrial, a Youngstown-based demolition company. She credits her husband with reigniting the dream inside her to serve on the bench.

“He is a wonderful man,” she said. Together they have three sons and five grandchildren.

Judge DiSalvo’s appointment will run until Dec. 31, 2019. She said she plans to seek a full six-year term.

“It is my belief that as the city of Youngstown goes, so does Mahoning County. It is a ripple effect. Sometimes incarceration will be what works to effectuate positive change in one’s life, but sometimes alternative methods will work.

“My goal and desire is to serve the city of Youngstown in my capacity as judge with wisdom, compassion and fairness and to play my part in making it safe, secure, peaceful and prosperous. That starts with those who are brought before me. Many of them have the potential and desire to change and become productive but up to this point have had no support or direction.

“I plan to do my best to identify those individuals and help them to help themselves, thereby helping our city. Now is the time, this is the place.”