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U.S. District Judge Charles Esque Fleming’s path to the bench

Legal News Reporter

Published: June 24, 2022

As a young boy growing up in Cleveland, Charles Esque Fleming was surrounded by public servants.
“My mom was an educator who became the director of English language arts for the entire Cleveland school district and my dad, Charles Walter Fleming, was a Cleveland Municipal Court judge,” he said. “My older sister Patrice also became an administrative law judge in Texas for its bureau of workers’ compensation.”
While he didn’t follow the exact paths of his role models, he did have a passion to serve the community and its citizens, objectives that he hopes to achieve in his new role as a judge in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio.
Judge Fleming, who is located in Cleveland was sworn in on March 11 after being nominated to serve a life term on the bench by President Joseph R. Biden Jr.
He replaced U.S. District Judge James S. Gwin, who assumed senior status in February 2021.
“Serving as a judge is very interesting and rewarding work,” said Judge Fleming, a member of the Cleveland Metropolitan and Federal bar associations. “At the end of the day, I believe judges are here to make sure the justice system, whether civil or criminal works for all members of society. It is humbling for me to play a role in ensuring that it does.”
In a press release, Chief Judge Patricia A. Gaughan, who swore Judge Fleming in, stated, “We are very excited to have Charles Fleming join the court as a district judge. He has the judicial temperament, intelligence, work ethic and commitment to justice to be an invaluable asset to our bench.”
Judge Fleming received his bachelor’s degree in business administration from Kent State University.
Prior to attending law school, he served as a chief deputy clerk at Cleveland Municipal Court.
Judge Fleming earned his juris doctorate from Case Western Reserve University School of Law.
He began his career as an associate at the Cleveland firm of Forbes, Forbes & Associates, where he focused on a variety of civil litigation matters.
“I primarily worked on employment discrimination and wrongful termination cases,” said Judge Fleming.
After the better part of two years with the firm, he received an offer to join the Office of the Federal Public Defender for the Northern District of Ohio.
“It was a big decision because I would have to learn a discipline yet unknown to me, federal criminal law and procedure,” said Judge Fleming. “Nonetheless, my desire to be on the frontlines fighting for the less fortunate among us ruled the day and I accepted the offer.”
Judge Fleming started as an assistant federal public defender in 1991.
“I handled a variety of matters, including cases involving guns, large-scale drug trafficking conspiracies, armed and unarmed bank robberies, bank fraud and embezzlement, postal crimes, theft of public funds and a host of other issues,” said Judge Fleming.
In 2010, he was promoted to supervisor of the investigative and paralegal staff. Six years later he became the supervisor of the Cleveland trial team, overseeing all of the attorneys, investigators and paralegals in that unit.
“The Federal Public Defender Office gave me the invaluable opportunity to serve the community and give a voice to those who otherwise would not have one,” said Judge Fleming. “It was an amazing journey that I never anticipated when I was in law school and was a fantastic federal court training ground.”
During his time as an assistant federal public defender, he often appeared before U.S. District Judge Solomon Oliver Jr., now a senior judge for the Northern District of Ohio.
“Judge Fleming has the kind of temperament that I think we like to see in a judge,” said Judge Oliver. “He’ll be calm, thoughtful and respectful of all who come before him. His experience practicing before the court also suggests that he will be well prepared and will quickly develop a reputation for treating all litigants fairly.”
From 2007 to 2018, Judge Fleming also served as an adjunct professor of trial advocacy at the Cleveland-Marshall College of Law.
At the beginning of 2021, he informed his then-boss Chief Federal Public Defender Stephen Newman that he intended to retire at the end of year, after 30 years of service.
Within days of making his intention to retire known, three judicial vacancies became available on the Northern District of Ohio bench.
“I was all set to retire, but my conscience was not having it,” said Judge Fleming. “I had wanted to be a judge for my entire legal career. I had applied on a number of occasions for U.S. magistrate judge in the Northern District of Ohio and was a finalist several times, but was not selected.
“I remembered telling my law students about the lesson I learned playing Little League Baseball for several years as a kid, which is you don’t know if you’ll hit a home run unless you swing the bat. You do know you won’t get anything if you don’t swing.
“Thinking back on that lesson, I knew I had to swing the bat and apply for U.S. district judge or I would be haunted about what might have been for the rest of my life,” said Judge Fleming. “That decision completely changed the landscape of my career.”
As fate would have it, he did indeed hit a home run and he hasn’t given retirement a thought since.
“There is a significant learning curve going from federal criminal defense attorney to federal judge, but it is very rewarding work and I am enjoying learning every day,” said Judge Fleming.
“I had the good fortune recently to be appointed as a judge in the court’s STAR (Successful Transitions-Accelerated Reentry) Program. It helps citizens returning from incarceration get the tools necessary to obtain and maintain employment, successfully avoid recidivism and live productive lives. It’s a voluntary program with a proven track record of success.
“As a federal criminal defense attorney, I was previously involved with the program from its inception until my retirement,” said Judge Fleming. “It is an honor and a privilege to return in this new role.”