The Ninth District Court of Appeals is celebrating Women's History Month by making history of its own. The court became the first fully-staffed Ohio appeals court to be ruled only by women.
Judge Jennifer Hensal began her term on the Ninth District Court of Appeals on February 9 after defeating two-term Judge Clair Dickinson, the only man on the court, in the November election. She joins fellow colleagues Eve Belfance, Donna Carr, Carla Moore, and Beth Whitmore. The five-woman panel serves Lorain, Medina, Summit, and Wayne counties.
"When I started practicing there were so few women on the bench, but over the course of the years those numbers increased," Judge Moore said.
Statistics maintained by the Supreme Court's Office of Attorney Services show that only around a quarter of Ohio's nearly 700 judges and about 30 percent of the state's roughly 44,000 active attorneys are women.
Judge Moore said the all-women panel is significant given the historic struggle for women allowed in the profession.
"It wasn't really that long ago that women were just denied the opportunity to be able to practice law and certainly were not considered competent to be judges," Judge Moore said. "I think it takes a while for people to catch up with the fact that women are bright and hard working and good stewards of that which the community has entrusted. "
Judge Carr was the only woman serving on the bench when she was appointed to the Ninth District Court of Appeals 15 years ago.
"Not only was I the sole female on the bench, but I came on the bench 8 months pregnant. So it was very much a cultural change for everybody on the court whenever I arrived," Judge Carr said.
Even as the cultural shock changed dramatically, Judge Carr said the court's judges, men and women alike, have always worked well together throughout the years.
"I'd like to see the kind of profession where gender or race or any of the other designation really is insignificant - they are just people who are doing a good job who are committed to public service and are rising to the top levels of their profession based on their competence," Judge Moore said.
In the 210-year history of the Ohio Supreme Court, only 10 of the 156 justices who have served on the court were women, and 4 of those are on the current bench.