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Judges Matter

By Rev. Donald L. Perryman, PhD
The Truth Contributor

  (Democrats) must groom their base to understand the importance of the courts. Dems can get the best laws passed but what difference will it make if it doesnít survive judicial scrutiny?  - Midwin Charles

The recent death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg exposed the jeopardous political vulnerability of those not aware of the judiciaryís critical role.

Justices have the responsibility to protect rights and provide justice to all people, regardless of race, social status, wealth, or power. They are also required to interpret and apply laws with honesty, fairness and impartiality. Therefore, it is critical to place knowledgeable, fair and diverse judges on the bench in this election season.

I recently spoke with Common Pleas Court Judge Myron Duhart who is a Democratic Party candidate for the Ohio Sixth District Court of Appeals. He seeks to move up the judicial ladder to the Appeals Court, a highly responsible and valuable part of the judicial process.

Here is our conversation.

Perryman: Please introduce yourself to The Truthís readers.

Rev. Donald L. Perryman, D.Min.

Judge Myron Duhart

Judge Duhart: I was born and raised in Toledoís central city, right across the street from the Fredrick Douglass Community Center. My mother passed away when I was 10, and my father passed away not long after. I was essentially raised by a single grandmother who sold Avon to put food on our table and she taught me the value of hard work. I went to St. Francis de Sales High School and didnít really have any way to pay for college, so I did a of couple years of active duty in the United States Army, and chose to go to Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio.  While in college, I interned for Ohio State Rep Casey Jones, and he encouraged me to consider law.

Perryman: Please describe your law school experience.

Judge Duhart: I had the pleasure of being the law clerk for Judge Robert Penn, obviously a pillar in the community and a well-known judge. Again, I didnít have any money to pay for law school so I would work at Toledo Municipal Court from 9-5, go to school from six to nine at night, go home to eat and rest, and then get up for the graveyard shift at the United Parcel Service, where I would sling boxes till three or four oíclock in the morning, and go home. Then Iíd get back up at four to five in the morning and do it all over again. I worked hard, paid my way through law school, and graduated in 1996.  With respect to the formative years before I started practicing law, those are the highlights.

Perryman: You are presently on the Court of Common Pleas and a candidate for the Ohio Sixth District Court of Appeals.  Many people understand what trial judges do, but theyíre not familiar with what State Appellate Judges do. Can you talk about how the Appellate Court differs from your trial court experience?

Judge Duhart: I was appointed by Governor Ted Strickland in 2011 to the Common Pleas Court, trial division, replacing Judge Charles Doneghy, another pillar in the community. Previously, I had a very large general practice for 20 years, doing a lot of work in personal injury, criminal defense and business litigation all over northwestern Ohio, and many other jurisdictions.  Many of those jurisdictions are the same counties that make up the Sixth District Court of Appeals, but while an attorney I was certified by the Supreme Court of Ohio to litigate death penalty cases, some of the most challenging cases I ever had. 

 In 2012 I had to run to be elected and was successful. I handled multi-million-dollar civil cases ranging across the gamut to death penalty, homicide cases. I was reelected in 2018 to the Common Pleas Court bench, and it has been a fruitful and rewarding experience, and I believe Iíve made an impact on the community. At least thatís what I try to do, to do whatís right. 

Perryman: And the Appellate Court?

Judge Duhart: The Sixth District Court of Appeals, however, is made up of eight counties, as Lucas, Wood, Erie, Sandusky, Ottawa, Fulton, Williams and Huron County.  So, to use a football analogy, if thereís a call by the referee made on the field in real-time, thatís the trial court judge, thatís what I do now.  You make that call to the best of your ability with what you have in front of you. 

Now, the Court of Appeals is when that call is made, and one of the coaches challenges the call. Itís the persons in the booth and in the camera who then, in consultation with the other referees, look at the film, pontificate as to what the right call is based on the rules, what the tape and the record would suggest, and then come back and either affirm the call or reverse the call on the field.  Thatís essentially what the Court of Appeals does. It is a crucial position to have, and I take it with a great deal of seriousness and consideration. 

Perryman: So, an appellate judge is tasked with overseeing the lower courtsí rulings to ensure that decisions are sound?

Judge Duhart:  Correct.  Often, people donít understand that the Supreme Court of Ohio is the highest in the state; however, the cases they take are discretionary. Therefore, if you wish to dispute the decisions made in a trial or the municipal court, most cases donít often reach the Supreme Court.  Thatís why itís vitally important to know the judges on the Sixth District Court of Appeals, and have researched their record, experience and education because theyíre generally the last court of resort.

Perryman: So, an appellate judge must clarify often confusing or misunderstood points of law, and have extra insight and knowledge about the law and how it should be applied.

Judge Duhart:  Yes, 100 percent! Hence, I feel that it is extremely helpful to have a judge who has served on the trial court, understands what happens at the trial level, and moves on and ascend to the Sixth District Court of Appeals for that very reason. 

In addition to that, and speaking of me in particular, I think not only my experience as a trial judge is a value add to the Court of Appeals but my education as well. Iíve also gone to the Harvard Kennedy School of Government, a highly selective program. In 2015 I was also selected amongst judges from all over the world, literally, to the Duke University School of Law for a Master of Law and Judicial Studies degree. My class consisted of State Supreme Court judges, federal judges at the district court level and the circuit level.  There were Supreme Court judges in other countries, and classmates from Sierra Leone, Taiwan, Denmark, Belgium, and just worldwide.

I believe as you mature, thereís always an opportunity to get better, be better, do better, and understand more. So, Iím always seeking education and experience to better assist me in the decision-making process that you engage in when you become a judge, especially at the Appellate Court level where itís more of an exercise in researching the law, understanding nuances in the law and an academic exercise. I think Iím uniquely qualified.

Perryman: Letís talk about the ďgavel gap.Ē  Presently, on the Sixth District Court of Appeals, all of the judges are white. I donít know of a previous African American to serve. Why is it essential to have a bench that reflects society?

Judge Duhart:  If elected, I would be the first African American there, but I also believe my experience and education qualify me to be on the Sixth District Court of Appeals, and thus, diverse perspectives are critical. Suppose decisions are being made in a vacuum without the benefit of diverse thoughts, opinions and experiences: In that case, you begin to get decisions that have blind spots and donít appreciate what those in a diverse country like ours would appreciate. Diversity is critical - not only demographic diversity but diversity in thought and experiences.  Iím not aware of anyone on the Sixth District who has any military experience.  Iím not aware of anyone on the trial court bench right now who has any military experience. I believe strongly that a more diverse court is a stronger court.

Perryman: Do you believe a less diverse court might have hidden biases of which they are unaware?

Judge Duhart:  The reality is, we all have implicit biases, and so, it is incumbent that those who sit in judgment of others acknowledge those implicit biases, recognize them and actively take steps to offset whatever those are.  I also strongly believe that individuals from diverse backgrounds on the court can accelerate the process of identifying implicit biases, take affirmative steps to address them, and put in place mechanisms - either in rulings or other administrative ways - to minimize the effect biases have on our decision-making.

Perryman: Finally, what key messages would you like to communicate to voters about your campaign?

Judge Duhart: The main message is, donít forget about the judges. When you fill out your ballot or go to the polls, judges will not have party designations next to their name.  So, make sure youíve investigated and researched the judges on the ballot to include myself and make an informed decision. We must have good judges on the bench. 

Now, why? That may sound simple, but the judicial branch is a coequal branch of government -   the executive branch, the legislative branch and the judicial branch. When there is an overreach by the executive and/or the legislative branches, generally the judges bring that back in line. This is not a partisan statement, but in the current state of America, starting from the federal government all the way down to state and local levels, there is a great deal of dysfunction, discord, and acrimony. Generally speaking, itís the judges who have weighed in. No matter what side of the political aisle that judge is on, I trust and think that the decisions are being made based upon the law and not partisan politics.  

Thatís how vital judges are, and I encourage folks to make sure that they research me, particularly, and when they go to vote, make sure that they pull that lever.

Perryman: And voters want to see judges that are fair and impartial.

Judge Duhart:  Absolutely, and so critical!  I was at a judicial conference a couple of days ago. One of my classmates at Duke, Bernice Donald, who sits on the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, said something, which was so profound, but simple. She said: Ďperceived justice is just as important as actual justice.í 

So, while it is incumbent on judges to make sure that actual justice is being done, it is critical also to ensure that perceived justice is being done. Because, if there are certain members of disenfranchised communities who believe or perceive that justice is different for one group as opposed to another, whether or not actual justice is being done or not, then weíve got dysfunction and weíve got a problem.

Contact Rev. Donald Perryman, D.Min, at drdlperryman@centerofhopebaptist.org


Copyright © 2019 by [The Sojourner's Truth]. All rights reserved.
Revised: 09/24/20 09:59:00 -0400.



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