After several years in government jobs, Ohio Ninth District Court of Appeals Judge Carla Moore was in her dream job as an attorney in a prestigious Akron law firm. Yet, as she began to settle in at Buckingham, Doolittle and Burroughs, her career path was altered, in part, by fate — and her faith.
“God had other plans for me and I just followed them,” she said.
Moore is the 2016 recipient of the Sir Thomas More Award. The award is given to a member of the legal community who demonstrates outstanding personal integrity, community service and professional excellence. She will receive the award May 6.
Her career was always led by faith and fate. A semester of student teaching where junior high students threw spit balls while she was teaching German discouraged her from a career in middle school education.
A chance meeting with a law student sparked an interest in law school. The guidance of the late Ninth District Court of Appeals Judge Mary Cacioppo (the 1993 Sir Thomas More Award recipient) helped her through her legal career.
In 1989, she became the first black woman to sit on the Akron Municipal Court bench.
Groomed for the position by then-Summit County Common Pleas Judge James R. Williams (the 2001 Thomas More recipient), she was appointed to the seat following the death of Judge Harold K. Stubbs.
In Moore, Williams said, he found someone who could get appointed to the bench, then run successfully to remain on the seat. Williams had a history with Moore. He hired her to work in the civil division when he was the U.S. District Attorney for the Northern District of Ohio. She rose to head the appellate division.
“She proved to be an outstanding attorney,” Williams said. “I think the work there set the stage for her to be a judge. She was always very knowledgeable and very professional. She was a quiet professional.”
Moore said: “I didn’t know the first thing about politics and didn’t know if [being a judge] made sense for me. It was a time for prayer and seeking wisdom.
“The firm was very supportive of me and after 10 months at the firm I left. The community was also supportive. It was a big deal in the African-American community to have that milestone …”
“But for not ever wanting to be a judge, from the first day I took the bench in 1989 I just knew that’s where I belonged.”
As a judge she said she felt she was making a difference.
“Municipal court is so vibrant and the atmosphere is always so electric, the phone never stopped ringing, people never stopped opening the door and coming in, detectives were calling for search warrants, jailers were calling to see if they could bring up prisoners, lawyers would come in and talk with you — from the time you got there until the time you left it was action, a connection with humanity,” she said.
She observed and learned from judges who preceded her.
“Judge [Joseph] Roulhac [1980 Thomas More recipient] was a wonderful example of making it a practice of treating everyone that came through his courtroom with dignity and respect. I adopted that immediately … and that respect was always reciprocated,” she said. “You can be clear for your disdain of the person’s behavior, but you never have to belittle the person.”
Her bailiff, Donald Lomax, said that no matter what a person did or how many times they were in her courtroom or their socio-economic background, Moore always addressed them as Mr. Smith or Miss or Mrs. Jones.
“She’s a serious juror … she always gave dignity to people, no matter who they were,” he said. “People appreciated the way she treated them … She was always willing to talk to people about their options.”
Moore said one case that still bothers her involved a young girl, no more than 10, who testified in her mother’s defense.
“I’m watching the mother as the child is talking and the child is crying. I’m handing her tissues and I noticed that the mother never made eye contact. … My heart is breaking as a mother and I still noticed that the mother never looked up. … I found the mother guilty and at sentencing I let her know that I was aware of the fact that she had allowed her daughter to lie on her behalf and I took that into consideration in sentencing her.”
She said the mother was angry and thought she had gotten away with it.
“I could have given her probation, fines, public service or jail time. I gave her jail time,” she said. “It wasn’t lengthy, but I was making a statement.”
Her belief was confirmed later by a victim’s assistance coordinator, who said the child said the mother instructed her to fabricate her testimony.
“You learn a lot in law school, but some of it, is what you learn about people through human interaction,” Moore said.
There were other cases where she spent her lunch hour talking with defendants offering spiritual counseling and advice. She has even taken in homeless defendants.
She said from very early on people were urging her to move up, but she didn’t feel called to do that. She said she never wanted to go to common pleas court, but when she was asked to run for the court of appeals seat she was drawn to it. She was first elected to the appeals court in 2004, where she was also the first black woman in the position.
She said there is quite a contrast in the two courts, and she enjoyed both experiences.
“In appeals court you are focused on reading and researching and writing and your phone never rings. You are very isolated … You can hear a pin drop as you walk down the hall,” she said. “Sitting on a panel of three judges we have very robust debates and some level of give and take, whereas you were the queen of your courtroom in municipal court.”
Donna Carr, the presiding appeals court judge, served as a municipal court judge with Moore.
“I knew her then, but didn’t know her well,” Carr said. “I knew she was very well respected. But when we started working very closely together in the appeals court I got to know her better personally and not only respected her as a judge, but grew to love her as a person.”
Attorney Timothy Killian has worked with the More award selection committee since 1978, when the first recipient was chosen.
“Judge Moore is not just giving out justice. She’s living the law …,” he said. “Judge Moore is a wonderful, classy lady, but boy does she have a big heart. She is so vested in the community and she’s so humble.”
Marilyn Miller can be reached at 330-996-3098 or email@example.com.