Big picture leads small-town judge to Supreme Court
Seventh District Court of Appeals Judge Carol Ann Robb’s recent duty as a visiting judge for the Supreme Court of Ohio is a reminder of how one person, from rural Ohio, can make an impact.
“The opportunity is humbling,” said Judge Robb, speaking of the precedent-setting nature of the work. “It’s a different type of responsibility and weight upon you because everything that you do and every word that you say is going to be heavily weighted in the future.”
Judge Robb – a lifelong Columbiana County resident – is from New Waterford, a village with a population of just 1,194. That didn’t stop her from becoming the first person from Columbiana County to join the Seventh District bench in nearly 100 years. Since 2015, she has heard cases from the district’s eight counties in eastern Ohio.
“That accomplishment was very meaningful to me in addition to being part of the appellate court’s first female majority,” Judge Robb said.
The judge’s ideals regarding judicial reform have been a commitment since serving as a municipal judge for 10 years in her home county. Judge Robb developed the state’s first mental health specialized docket certified by the Supreme Court, which became a model for other courts in Ohio. She also created programs to address defendants’ personal struggles underlying their offenses. Those efforts included focusing on economic issues to aid those in poverty and developing community partnerships to provide services and training for job placement. An example of removing financial barriers in providing access to justice is when Judge Robb extended the sanction of electronically monitored house arrest to low-income defendants who can’t afford to hire an attorney.
“Just because you have limited means does not mean you should not have the same rights and options in the legal process as those with more resources,” said Judge Robb about the measure that saved taxpayer dollars by fulfilling a punishment without the need of incarceration.
Improving the justice system to benefit citizens locally and across Ohio is something Judge Robb has done for years on behalf of the Supreme Court. Aside from handling cases as a visiting judge, she’s been a member of multiple commissions and volunteer groups to further court rules and practices.
As part of her most-recent involvement with the Court, Judge Robb heard an oral argument for the case of State v. Messenger in place of Justice Jennifer Brunner, who recused herself. When there is a justice recusal, the Ohio Constitution states the chief justice selects a state appellate court judge to sit temporarily on the Supreme Court.
Judge Robb embraces the opportunity to discuss the issues with the presenting attorneys and fellow jurists. The debates allow her to better understand who people are, how they think, and what can happen when people from different places – big or small – work as public servants on behalf of Ohioans.
“I encourage dialog. It challenges me and tests my position,” Judge Robb said. “How can we grow and better understand other opinions without an open and honest discussion?”