Justice Evelyn Lundberg Stratton Retires, Will Continue to Leave Mark in Field
By Jenna Gant | December 20, 2012
Growing up in Thailand to missionary parents made a lasting impression on Justice Evelyn Lundberg Stratton. Her upbringing helped guide her when turned 18 years-old and left Southeast Asia for America with only a few hundred dollars in her pocket. When she came to the states, Justice Stratton chose to study law and she received her degree from the Ohio State University.
"I have a real religious streak, and I just felt it came into my mind that it's something God wanted me to do with my life, so from the day I went to law school, I wanted to be a judge," Justice Stratton said.
Justice Stratton said she found her calling when she practiced law and became a judge and later a justice on the Ohio Supreme Court. She was only 34 years-old when she became the first woman elected to the Franklin County Common Pleas Court in 1989.
Justice Stratton was fondly called the 'Velvet Hammer' by prosecutors for being tough on crime while still treating those who came before her with dignity. She became an Ohio Supreme Court justice when then-Governor George Voinovich appointed her in 1996.
Justice Stratton said she finds the cases that come before the court of last resort fascinating. Her love for the law is evident, though it's her side-job that became her true passion during the past decade. Justice Stratton made it her mission to focus on Veteran's Court and other court reforms including mental health and criminal and juvenile justice.
"Those were becoming an increasingly larger part of my life, and a lot more important," Justice Stratton said, "and my job gave me a lot of ability to get involved in those reforms, but I had gotten to the point on a national level where I think I had enough experience that I could continue without the actual job and all of its restrictions."
With those restrictions, Justice Stratton decided to hang up her robe so she could focus on advocating and fundraising for court reforms.
"There are a lot of judges that can do this job very well, but not all of them would have the passion for this other work that I have, so I want that to be my legacy."
She heard her last case at the Thomas J. Moyer Ohio Judicial Center on December 4.
""There was sort of this 'gulp' you know. There is really the end of the arguments. I'm not going to be sitting up here anymore, but there was also a sense of relief," Justice Stratton said.
Much like following the footsteps of her childhood, Justice Stratton will continue on another new adventure when she leaves the bench at the end of 2012.
"Ohio will still see a lot of me even though I'll do more national work, but I'm just very privileged that they trusted me with this job for 16 years," Justice Stratton said.
Justice Stratton said she believes that the courts, in partnership with the mental health system, can affect positive change in the lives of many defendants whose mental illness has led to criminal activity. To that end, she formed The Supreme Court of Ohio Advisory Committee on Mental Illness & the Courts, which is composed of mental health, law enforcement and criminal justice professionals who are dedicated to mental health initiatives in the court system.
Nationally, Justice Stratton is co-founder and former co-chair of the Judges' Leadership Initiative, a professional association that supports cooperative mental health programs in the criminal justice system. Her latest focus in Ohio and nationally is on establishing veterans courts to help those returning veterans with PTSD and other issues, whose problems may lead to involvement in the criminal justice system.
Among her many honors are the Congressional Coalition on Adoption's Angels Award, as well as the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services' Adoption Excellence Award.
Additionally, in May 2008, Justice Stratton received an Ellis Island Medal of Hon