When Paul Gallagher last ran for Summit County Common Pleas judge in 2012, he was 69, one year shy of Ohio’s age cutoff for seeking a judicial seat.

If it hadn’t been for this threshold, Gallagher says he would have sought another term in November.

“I would have run again, although I think it’s time,” Gallagher, 75, said in a recent interview. “I just don’t think I could resist.”

Gallagher is retiring Dec. 31 after 12 years as a judge and more than 40 years in public service, including time as a Summit County Council member and assistant Portage County prosecutor. On County Council, he was known for being an outspoken watchdog. As a judge, he earned a reputation for being fair and rarely — if ever — losing his temper.

Gallagher’s past and present colleagues say his absence will be felt.

“I have a lot of respect for him and his community service,” said Judge Amy Corrigall Jones, the administrative judge in Common Pleas Court. “We’re going to miss him.”

“All of the citizens of Summit County should be grateful to Paul Gallagher for his long service on council and Common Pleas Court,” said Clair Dickinson, a Summit County Council member and former judge. “He’s done great work.”

Reporter turned lawyer

After working as an intern for the Record-Courier, a reporter in Connecticut, West Virginia and Maryland and then a press secretary in Maryland for several years following college, Gallagher returned home to Akron in the early 1980s to help care for his ailing mother.

He served for a few years as the safety service director in Tallmadge and left to attend the University of Akron law school.

After getting his law degree, he worked as a defense attorney for several years, then scored a recommendation for an assistant prosecutor position in Portage County. He started in juvenile court, then moved to municipal court and common pleas, where he served as one of the lead prosecutors.

Victor Vigluicci, who became the prosecutor after Gallagher had already been with the office for a few years, described him as “professorial.”

“He always knew the law,” Vigluicci said. “He was a mentor to many young prosecutors.”

Vigluicci said Gallagher “can’t be rattled,” an attribute that served him well as a prosecutor and later as a judge.

Don Hicks, a defense attorney for 35 years, worked with Gallagher during his time as a prosecutor and then a judge. As a prosecutor, Gallagher would dismiss cases when it was the right thing to do, he said.

“He has always been a kindly gentleman,” Hicks said.

Gallagher said he loved being a prosecutor, a role he held for 15 years. He said he thought of prosecutor as a “young man’s sport” and, as the years passed, watched for the chance to become a judge.

Watchdog time

Long before he ran for judge, though, Gallagher dived into Summit County’s political scene through another means.

Gallagher initially contemplated running for Summit County clerk and began circulating petitions in 1984 to run against incumbent Jim McCarthy.

McCarthy, already a veteran politician, wasn’t pleased about this potential competition and worked out a deal to get Gallagher out of the clerk’s race. If Gallagher withdrew, McCarthy, Akron Mayor Tom Sawyer, Akron Council President Don Plusquellic and Summit County Executive Tim Davis would endorse Gallagher for Summit County Council in 1985. Gallagher agreed and earned an impressive list of endorsements.

Gallagher, who hadn’t thought he had much of a chance, was the top vote-getter in the council race.

Gallagher assumed his role at a critical time for Summit County, which had recently adopted a charter form of government. He quickly became a watchdog, challenging Davis and his administration about how things were being done.

“It was just a terrible time,” Gallagher said. “I was embattled.”

Gallagher, drawing upon his journalism experience, published a newsletter called County Watch and used it as a platform to raise issues.

Gallagher’s time on the council overlapped with his time as an assistant prosecutor. This came in handy during the FBI investigation into William Hartung, Davis’ chief of staff, for taking kickbacks. Gallagher learned from a fire chief who lived near Hartung in Ravenna Township that Hartung was having work done to his property by a local contractor, including delivering soil, asphalting the driveway and putting in plants.

Gallagher pressed Hartung and the contractor for documentation, and got receipts from the contractor that he turned over to the FBI.

Hartung ultimately went to prison and was among seven high-level county employees and consultants in the Davis administration convicted in federal corruption probes.

Tom Teodosio, a 9th District Court of Appeals judge who served on the county council from 2000 to 2006, said Gallagher served as a check and balance to the administration.

“He had a great moral compass — always doing the right thing,” Teodosio said.

Gallagher and Dickinson were at odds during the Davis years, with Dickinson supporting Davis.

“We didn’t see things in the same way back then,” Dickinson said. “It wouldn’t surprise me if we suspected each other’s motives ... I’ve come to recognize you shouldn’t worry about what’s motivating somebody. It’s what actions they’re taking you should react to.”

Dickinson said he and Gallagher became allies during Dickinson’s second term on the council from 2003 to 2007 and have been friends ever since.

Gallagher said his years on council were often difficult, but he learned a lot and it helped to build his political clout for the next step in his career.

Taking the bench

Gallagher ran for judge unsuccessfully three times, twice for Cuyahoga Falls Municipal Court and once for common pleas court.

Gallagher and Teodosio, who were on the county council together, ran jointly for common pleas judge in 2006 — and both won. After that, they often had coffee and went to lunch. As a judge, Teodosio described Gallagher as thoughtful.

“He’d always listen, think, then talk,” he said.

Teodosio said this served Gallagher well when he had difficult cases, including several in which defendants represented themselves.

Jeffery Conrad was among Gallagher’s most challenging cases. Gallagher had Conrad in his court twice — once in 2015 in the stabbing death of his ex-girlfriend and again in December 2017 in the stabbing of an inmate in the Summit County Jail while he awaited trial.

In his first trial, Conrad threatened to kill his attorney, represented himself initially and then skipped the rest of the trial. He also refused to come to court for his second trial.

When Gallagher sentenced Conrad to life in prison in January 2017, Conrad’s reaction was, “So …” He followed this up with smirks, laughter, hand gestures, muttered comments and an expletive-filled statement, none of which seemed to rattle Gallagher.

Gallagher said Conrad "was a trip.” He said he tried to talk to Conrad, and at times thought he was getting through, but then realized he wasn’t.

Gallagher said two of his other most difficult cases were the capital murder trials of Dawaud El Spaulding in 2013 and Deshanon Jammal Haywood in 2015. Gallagher sentenced Spaulding to death and Haywood to life in prison with possible parole after 35 years.

“You have to be so careful,” Gallagher said of capital cases. “Everything you do is so scrutinized.”

Gallagher plans to work until the last day of his term and declined to have a retirement party. He did, however, agree to a round of applause from his fellow judges at the courthouse holiday party, where they also presented him the portrait that will hang in his courtroom.

Asked what advice he has for the three new judges who soon will join the common pleas bench, Gallagher said simply: “Be patient. Everything works out. Be patient.”

Stephanie Warsmith can be reached at 330-996-3705, swarsmith@thebeaconjournal.com and on Twitter: @swarsmithabj.