By The Honorable Nadine Allen
The Inaugural Meeting of the newly-minted Ohio Black Judges Association, Inc., the first group of its kind in the state, was held April 27 in Cleveland.
The group’s membership consists of all of the elected judicial officers serving on the bench in the State of Ohio, as well as appointed magistrates and others performing the judicial function.
While it may be hard for some to believe, Blacks have only been a part of Ohio’s elected and appointed judiciary in the years since Perry B. Jackson first took the bench of the Cleveland Municipal Court in August of 1942.
Currently, of the 700 judges serving on Ohio’s state court bench, only 56 are of African descent. Another 32 Blacks serve in a variety of magistrate and administrative judicial capacities throughout this jurisdiction.
The formation of a statewide organization of Black jurists is novel in Ohio, but the idea of Black judges coming together to support one another and their mutual interests is not new. This year marks the 50th Anniversary of the formation of the National Judicial Council of the National Bar Association, the premier organization of Black lawyers in the country.
That impending anniversary of the Council was the catalyst for organizing the Ohio Association of Black Judges, Inc. Discussions around holding a so-called virtual “fireside chat” in honor of the National Judicial Council’s 50th anniversary fostered additional conversation about other Black judicial needs.
The Original idea of forming a statewide Black judicial group came from Cuyahoga County Judges Emanuella Groves (8th District Court of Appeals) and Cassandra Collier-Williams (Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas, General Division). Their perceived need for Black Judges to have a strong vehicle to advocate for Black judicial issues, unique and important to the Black community, drove their desire to make it happen. They reached out to colleagues across the state and were pleased with the reception the idea received. They recruited Cleveland Municipal Court Judges Lauren C. Moore and Michael L. Nelson in Cuyahoga County; Judge Annalisa Williams in Summit County, Judges Laurel Beaty Blunt and Terri Jamison in Franklin County; Judges William Mallory and Alan Triggs in Hamilton County; Judge Ian English in Lucas County; and Judge Carla Baldwin in Mahoning County to become a Steering Committee to draft a formal document and to structure for the effort.
“We recognized the time had come to create a forum where we could support one another and provide our perspective on administration of justice issues,” said Judge Groves, who went on to emphasize that the lack of diversity robs the overall community of perspectives that could illuminate the judicial process and give voice to those who are too often seen in front of the bench but too infrequently seen sitting on it.
“Being a judicial officer is an isolating experience for anyone who assumes the bench, but because of our small numbers it is even more so for Black judges,” added Judge Collier-Williams.
Nationally, for instance, statistics show that African American males constitute 12 percent of the U.S. population but 33 percent of the country’s prisoners. “Our life experiences as Black people cause us to have a different perspective and that perspective allows us to see things that those who don’t share that perspective may miss,” says Judge William Mallory. Judge Lauren Moore agreed with that sentiment and noted how fortunate those now sitting on the bench in Cuyahoga County in particular have been to have to benefit of having Federal District Court Judge Solomon Oliver, Jr, Federal Bankruptcy Court Judge Jessica Price Smith and retired Judges Sara Harper, Ellen Connally, Mable Jasper, Lillian Green, A. Deane Buchannan and Ronald Adrine from who they can draw both knowledge and inspiration.
According to Judge Michael Nelson, there is a palpable sense of excitement among those who are kicking off this effort. “Virtually every Black judge and magistrate in the state is looking forward to this launch,” he said, “We are all anxious to begin regularly getting together, even if it’s only virtually for now, so that we can more adequately share our knowledge and our unique experiences. I know that I, for one, can’t wait!”
Officers and executive committee members were sworn-in during the inaugural event by Ohio Supreme Court Associate Justice Melody Stewart. Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor gave remarks, as will top Black Legislative leaders. The assemblage heard from U.S. Congressional Black Caucus Chair, Congresswoman Joyce Beatty, as well as from Ohio Legislative Black Caucus President, State Representative Thomas West. The Rev. Dr. Jawanza Colvin shared his views on why the new Ohio association of Black judges matters. The event was moderated by Chief Judge Algenon Marbley, of the United States District Court for the Southern District of Ohio, who served as Master of Ceremonies.
At least 1,000 people viewed the event online.