Good judges are, in my experience, much more common than bad ones. But as in any profession, exceptional judges are rare. When one leaves the bench, it’s a loss. One of those rarities is my friend, the Hon. Jennifer L. Sargus, for 24 years judge on the Court of Common Pleas in Belmont County, Ohio. Her profile lists some her administrative and professional accomplishments.
Being a trial court judge – hearing civil and criminal cases – is a challenge in any jurisdiction. But it is especially hard in a county hit with the consequences of the rapid death of the steel industry, the slow death of the coal industry and the depopulation of rural townships.
“You throw a coin up in the air and the job of most people is to call heads or tails. The job of a judge is when that coin is mid-air, to see both heads and tails. To see both sides of the equation, and that requires you to a lot of times recognize when your own feelings are interfering and to the very best of your ability leave them outside.”
Sargus described empathy as among the most important qualities a judge should cultivate.
“The word ‘judgment’ has no good place in a court,” she said.
“One need only grow older to grow gentler in one’s judgments,” Sargus said, quoting the philosopher Goethe.
Jenny will continue to hear cases on assignment and to teach trial practice at Ohio State’s College of Law.
I wish her all the best with thanks for all she’s done.