In heavily Republican Allen County, Juvenile Court and Probate Judge David Kinworthy — a Democrat — held office for 34 years.
That tells you about the respect he earned from the county’s residents.
Kinworthy died Thursday, one day after his 84th birthday. He’s remembered as a fair and caring judge who saw thousands of children come before him, and with each one of them, he did his best to try to put them on the right path.
The amazing thing about his long career on the bench was that Kinworthy never had aspirations of being a judge. But with the death of sitting Judge David Steiner in 1974, the position opened, and Kinworthy had the experience, having mostly handled probate and juvenile cases.
Back then, the majority of delinquency cases in juvenile court were property offenses, such as theft, breaking and entering and burglary. Three decades later, he would see a docket filled with cases involving children who committed violent crimes linked to drugs and guns, as well as sex crimes. Yet in all of those years, one thing never changed: It bothered Kinworthy when he felt he couldn’t reach juveniles. He also struggled over the years with the sorrow he felt for victims.
In his role as the probate judge, Kinworthy administered estates and trusts and presided over wrongful death cases and the issuance of marriage licenses. He called adoptions some of his most enjoyable work, noting those cases usually make people happy and end with a positive result. It also likely had something to do with the fact that Kinworthy himself was an adopted child.
He was always quick to credit others for his successes, including the staffs at both courts for their efficient work. As an administrator, he had a combined 20 employees when he took office. By the time he retired in 2007, there were 90 employees between both courts. “They make me look good,” he would say of his staff. Yet those who knew him will tell you his success was tied to his mix of compassion and sternness for those appearing before him.
When he left office, The Lima News asked Kinworthy how he wanted to be remembered. He said, “As someone who was willing to listen, who was fair and yet firm in providing meaningful consequences for misbehavior.”
Moments later Kinworthy added that he always felt he was put on earth to make it a better place to live.
“I only hope I have been successful in some degree,” the judge said.
Mission accomplished, your honor.