LIMA — Ohio Supreme Court Justice Melody Stewart, the first African American woman elected to the state’s highest court, on Wednesday visited Allen County for the first time since her election in November 2018.
Stewart shared stories from her recent campaign while speaking with a small crowd of business and community leaders at the Old Barn Out Back.
“The only thing that was clear to me about running for (Ohio) Supreme Court was that I was supposed to run,” Stewart said. “I had no idea whether I would win. I knew my chances of winning were not good. Democrats don’t do well (running for) statewide positions. There had never, repeat ever, been an African American woman elected to the Ohio Supreme Court … the odds were against me.”
Stewart said her goal in this term is to improve the judicial system, making it more efficient, responsible and equitable across the state.
She offered disparities in the death penalty as one example, noting that some counties choose not to pursue the death penalty because of the cost associated with such cases.
“It shouldn’t matter where you commit a crime, and it does in the state of Ohio,” Stewart said. “So of course it’s going to affect the urban communities, larger counties more.”
Lima’s Cleveland Jackson, who was convicted for the 2002 shooting of Leneshia Williams, 17, and Jayla Grant, 3, is slated for execution Nov. 13, after Gov. Mike DeWine delayed the execution in March in light of concerns regarding Ohio’s lethal injection drug.
Stewart did not comment directly on the Jackson case or any other specific death penalty case.
Stewart alluded to other inefficiencies and issues affecting the state’s judicial system, like access to mental health and substance abuse service. She said she’d like to make the courts more efficient so that people “don’t have to lose their jobs because they got to come to court.”
Prior to her election in November 2018, Stewart was an administrative judge with the Eighth District Court of Appeals since 2006. She is the first elected African American woman to serve as a justice to the Ohio Supreme Court. Before her, Yvette McGee Brown was the first African American woman appointed to fill a vacancy at the court in 2011, but Brown did not win re-election after her appointment ended.
Reach Mackenzi Klemann at 567-242-0456.