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Crescent News - "Unique Background On the Bench"

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Location: Defiance, OH

Crescent News - "Unique Background On the Bench"

Growing up in Southeast Asia in the 1950s and 60s as the daughter of American missionaries, Evelyn Stratton had a unique childhood.

"I swung on vines and rode elephants," she said. "I only ever had one doll, but I felt very wealthy because none of the other children had any dolls.

"The world was a lot different then. It took a month to get mail from the states. Now I can send an email every day to the Thai woman who helped take care of me."

She attended boarding school in South Vietnam during the Vietnam War, and later in Thailand (for a short time) and in Malaysia, a predominantly Muslim country.

"When I left home for school when I was 6, I had no idea I would be away from my parents for nine months other than spending Christmas break with them," she said. "I learned to grow up very quickly and make my own decisions.

"I had the unique opportunity to grow up in three different countries. This gave me an appreciation of different cultures. I spoke Thai fluently."

At the age of 18, she returned to the U.S. alone with only a few hundred dollars in her pocket, enrolling at LeTourneau College in Texas.

"My first job was at McDonald's," she stated. "So I've always had a special place in my heart for the golden arches."

She planned on becoming a nuclear physicist, but changed her mind to law and transferred to the University of Florida. She earned her undergraduate degree from the University of Akron in 1976.

"As a child of missionaries, I've always had a very spiritual side," she said. "I viewed being a judge as my calling."

She worked her way through law school, receiving her degree from Ohio State University in 1979.

"I really had a difficult time getting a job out of law school," she said. "But some of the lawyers who wouldn't hire me would eventually call me 'your honor.' "

Stratton practiced law in the Columbus area until 1989, when she became the first woman elected to the Franklin County Common Pleas Court. She established a solid record of judicial integrity and fairness and her approach to sentencing in serious felony cases earned her the nickname, "The Velvet Hammer."

"Justice Stratton has always been extremely well respected by the judges and lawyers in the state," said Defiance County Common Pleas Judge Joseph Schmenk, who knows Stratton from her years on the Franklin County bench.

As a trial court judge, Stratton was confronted by the lack of mental health services available to individuals appearing before the court. That motivated her to create a statewide advisory committee to address issues related to the impact of mental illness on Ohio's court system.

"It was obvious that certain offenders became entangled in the criminal justice system because their illnesses were not being properly addressed in the community," she said.

Stratton served on Franklin County Common Pleas Court from 1989-96, when she was appointed to fill Justice Craig Wright's term on the Ohio Supreme Court. She was later elected to the high court and re-elected in 2002.

She has continued her passion for helping persons with mental illness. She co-chairs the Judges' Leadership Initiative, which supports mental health efforts, as well as the Returning Home Advisory Commission, which assists in the re-entry by persons from jails and prisons in order to reduce recidivism and its cost to society.

In addition, her efforts have helped lead to major changes in adoption law. As chairperson of a national committee, she has led a nationwide effort to speed up adoption appeals.

"These last 12 years have been so exciting and rewarding," said Stratton, who is seeking another six-year term in November. "The justices meet together on Tuesday and Wednesday every other week, and we read five feet of briefs every two weeks.

"I drive around all the time with boxes of briefs in my car. Lawyers don't know what 'brief' means."

Stratton said her experience of living the first 18 years of her life in Southeast Asia gave her a world view that has served her well on the bench.

"It is important today more than ever to understand world politics and the cultures of people living in foreign countries," she said. "Whether we realize it or not, Americans are affected by what happens overseas. This is truly a global economy."

In what little spare time she has -- especially in an election year -- Stratton enjoys painting and Thai cooking.

"Four years ago, I took up fly fishing with my husband," she said. "We've taken fly fishing vacations in Chile, Costa Rico, Montana and several times in Michigan."

When told her fly fishing experience would play well with many male voters in rural northwest Ohio, Stratton smiled.

"I have a picture of me fly fishing on my campaign website," she exclaimed. "Tell your readers to check it out."

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