Cultivating a Life in the Law
Jenna Gant | December 5, 2016
For 24 years, Justice Paul Pfeifer has sat on the Ohio Supreme Court bench.
"That's a quarter of a century. It would seem to others like a long time; to me it just flew by," he said.
Justice Pfeifer heard his last oral arguments in August. Due to age restrictions, he and Justice Judith Ann Lanzinger will hang up their robes at the end of the year.
"I know I've left my mark here. How long will it last? It's sort of like writing your name on the sands of the beach. Cases change; the personality of the Court changes," Justice Pfeifer said.
While Court personalities may change, Justice Pfeifer's disposition has stayed constant throughout his tenure. He has become known for his colorful dissents.
"Sometimes my colleagues would say I have sharp elbows. I am really getting into them for what they have written in the majority opinion. But lawyers read that, and it makes an impression on them. It helps them remember the law even if the law is in the lead opinion and not in my dissent," Justice Pfeifer said.
Justice Pfeifer skipped the typical judicial route of becoming a justice. He was a lawyer and state senator before pursuing the state's highest court.
"I chaired the judiciary committee in the Senate for a decade, served in the Senate for long period of time, practiced law, did trial work, but never thought about being a judge," Justice Pfeifer said. "Eventually I succumbed to the persuasion."
He's glad he did. Justice Pfeifer said it's fascinating listening to hundreds of cases and casting votes on thousands of Court items each year.
"I think to me, perhaps, the most satisfying part of the job is knowing that we are deciding important matters that may affect the lives of literally millions of people in the state, and they don't even know it," Justice Pfeifer said.
Life as a judge is much different than his side job - raising Black Angus cattle in Crawford County.
"I am just known as Paul at home," Justice Pfeifer said. "When I'm out of the courtroom being very informal, you would find me in blue jeans and in my pickup truck. So that's very different than the formality of our courtroom."
Justice Pfeifer served during some memorable moments at the Supreme Court. He heard the famous DeRolph case, where the Court ruled the state's method of funding public education was unconstitutional. He also was there when the late Chief Justice Thomas J. Moyer unexpectedly died.
"I became acting chief justice for a month, and getting us and the staff through the emotion of that was, it was a challenge. It is probably the most memorable event in my time in the Court because it was so unexpected. We had Court the week he died," Justice Pfeifer said. "It was a great shock, and it was a challenging time for the Court. I'll always remember that."
His love for the Court will continue. While he has no definitive plans yet.
"I should have travel plans, but I don't," he said.
He said he will go back to his farm and perhaps do something law-related again - such as mediation.
For now, though, he will contemplate on his life as one of the longest serving Ohio Supreme Court justices.
"I've been blessed that the citizens of the state have given me the opportunity," Justice Pfeifer said. "I think a quarter of a century is enough. As I said, I'm not weepy about it, I'm not doing cartwheels; I will miss the Court, I will miss this place. I will miss my staff tremendously because we have been together for longer than that."