One of Judge Paul Gallagher’s biggest legacies — the formation of a felony Domestic Violence Court — will continue after he retires.
Gallagher recently signed an order naming his successor, Judge Kathryn Michael, to take over the court. This was one of his last official actions before his Dec. 31 retirement.
Michael, a longtime Akron judge who presided over a domestic violence program in that court, won Gallagher’s common pleas seat in the November election. She said during the election that she hoped to oversee Gallagher’s domestic court.
“I am looking forward to the challenge,” said Michael, who will hand off Akron’s domestic violence docket to Judge Ron Cable.
Gallagher was appointed in 2011 to be the first judge overseeing Summit County’s domestic court, which was the first of its kind in Ohio. The program is targeted toward people who have committed felonies against intimate partners and involves intensive probation with requirements such as attending anger management classes.
Gallagher said he agreed to take on the program because none of the other sitting judges was willing. He said they were concerned because the program requires a focus on a particular type of case and carries with it the risk of letting someone out on bond who could kill or seriously injure his or her spouse.
Gallagher said he wasn’t concerned about being "pigeonholed” because he had been an assistant prosecutor in Portage County for 15 years and had tried dozens of felony cases. He worried, though, about the possibility of making a bad bond decision.
“That fear is still with me every day,” he said. “Thank God I haven’t had a case yet where someone killed the victim.”
Terri Heckman, executive director of the Battered Women’s Shelter, credited Gallagher with the courage to take on the court. She said he became an expert on domestic cases and the challenges they present.
“This consistency in his courtroom has probably been one of the biggest wins for us,” said Heckman, whose advocates assist in the program.
Gallagher said the program has been successful, though about 25 percent of participants fail to complete it. He said many who finished it, however, haven’t committed other offenses.
Assistant Prosecutor Joe Dangelo, who worked in Gallagher’s court the past two years, said Gallagher grasped the dynamics involved with domestic violence cases, including victims who call the police but later want to recant their stories.
“He understands,” Dangelo said. “He refused to lift protection orders until the case is over. He requires them to attend anger management classes. He sends them to prison when warranted.”
Dangelo said he thinks the program helped a lot of people to cope with anger issues and improve their relationships.
The program has about 70 participants.
The effort will continue with two prosecutors, rather than the current three, because of a grant that recently wasn’t renewed to the prosecutor’s office.
“Although this may mean an increase in their workload, we believe the prosecutors assigned to the DV docket can handle the change,” Prosecutor Sherri Bevan Walsh said in an email.
Walsh said the prosecutors “will continue to work with victims and the court to find viable solutions to hold people accountable while providing alternatives for defendants.”
Stephanie Warsmith can be reached at 330-996-3705, firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter: @swarsmithabj.