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Sutton ready to assume seat on appeals court

December 30, 2020

By Emily Chesnic

COPLEY — Former U.S. Rep. Betty Sutton, of Copley, is looking ahead to her approaching term as judge on the 9th District Court of Appeals — a position she said will allow her to continue to “proudly” represent the people of Northeast Ohio and apply her extensive knowledge of the law.

At an early age, Sutton, 57, devoted herself to public service — becoming an at-large Councilwoman for the City of Barberton while finishing college — and has continued her commitment to the region, believing in the positive impact she can have at “home.”

The youngest of six children, Sutton was born and raised in Barberton by a mother who worked at the city library as clerk/treasurer and a father employed with a local boiler factory.

“I have never forgotten where I came from,” said Sutton, who is married and has two step-children and six grandchildren.

Sutton’s dedication to Northeast Ohio and continued desire to “make a difference in the lives of people locally” led the labor-law attorney, a Democrat, to seek and secure the position of 9th District Court of Appeals judge in the Nov. 3 General Election, defeating current Judge Julie Schafer, a Republican, with 54 percent of the vote.

“My passion is supporting those who, like me, have been from this area. It has always been about helping the families and workers of Northeast Ohio, while upholding the rule of law,” she said.

Sutton’s six-year term as judge will commence Feb. 9, and the Kent State University and University of Akron School of Law graduate said she could not be more “humbled and honored” for the opportunity.

She said she sought the seat to begin applying her experiences as a “lawyer, law maker and executive” to the court, ensuring “fairness and justice” are apparent in each case.

“I really wanted to put together the things I have learned for the benefit of the folks I serve,” said Sutton, who received many honors and recognitions in law school — graduating in 1990 — and as an attorney for 30 years.

“I have experience representing hardworking Ohioans, who keep us safe and educated. I am proud of the legal work I have done, fighting for parents and workers injured through no fault of their own,” said Sutton, who has been employed for the past year with Bevan & Associates Co. LPA Inc. and was employed for six years at Faulkner, Muskovitz and Phillips LLP.

In addition to her experience practicing law, Sutton has a lengthy history of public service, which she said allowed her to “see the law from many angles, providing a firm foundation in interpreting law and a deep desire for the courts to be fair and just.”

After serving for one year as a Barberton City Council member, Sutton in 1991 was appointed to fill an at-large seat on Summit County Council, going on to serve a second term in the role and spending time as vice president of Council.

At the age of 29, in 1992, Sutton became the youngest woman ever elected to the Ohio House of Representatives, serving for eight years representing District 47, and then reaching the term limit.

In 2006, Sutton was elected representative for the U.S. House District 13 seat, one she held through Jan. 3, 2013. In 2012, due to redistricting, the District 13 area became part of District 16, and she lost in that General Election to Republican Jim Renacci.

In 2014, then-President Barack Obama appointed Sutton administrator of the Saint Lawrence Seaway Development Corp., where she worked to keep the seaway open and people working.

While pursuing a bid for governor in 2018, Sutton decided instead to seek the office of lieutenant governor aside running mate Richard Corday. The pair was defeated in the 2018 election by Republican Gov. Mike DeWine and Lt. Gov. John Husted.

Having been involved in previous elections, Sutton said this year’s General Election certainly was “unprecedented.” While she could not meet face-to-face with voters due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, she relied on new ways to reach out, often sharing her résumé with voters virtually.

“I really enjoyed talking with people about the court and learning what they would like to see in a judge,” she said. “They conveyed to me they want a judge who is open and fair-minded.”

During the election process, Sutton said she expressed her promise to work hard on every case.

“Each case is important. The Court of Appeals has an important role to play to ensure fairness and justice for all,” she said. “The decisions we make have real-life impacts on people and communities.”

The 9th District Court of Appeals is based in Downtown Akron and hears appeals for cases decided in courts in Summit, Medina, Lorain and Wayne counties. Schafer, Lynne Callahan, Donna Carr, Thomas Teodosio and Jennifer Hensal are the current judges.

“I will be well prepared for each case. I will read materials, research the law and indent the questions that need to be asked to do the best job on the case before me,” she said.

While judge for the 9th District Court of Appeals, Sutton said she would focus on increasing public transparency and trust, as well.

“I want to help people have a better understanding of the judiciary and justice process. It is important to enhance individuals’ knowledge of the system,” she said.

This will be done by commissioning public outreach initiatives and engaging in the education of students in the area, said Sutton.

Currently, the 9th District Court of Appeals is operating remotely, which Sutton foresees continuing for a time after she becomes judge. Despite the challenges the pandemic has brought about, the public health crisis also ushered in ways to improve access to justice through technology, she said.

“Innovation has been necessary to meet the need of the court and the people they serve,” she said. “The 9th District Court of Appeals allows for real-time viewing of hearings, for example, and I think that is a wonderful thing.”

As far as where her career may take her in the future, Sutton said her only goal moving forward is to “virtuously” serve as judge for the 9th District Court of Appeals.

“It is important to me to do a good job for the people I serve and increase public trust,” she said.

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