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Toledo Legal News - News Toledo's been great to a judge who first came to town with a coat hanger for a car antenna


photo of Judge Frederick McDonald
On top of his desk, Judge Frederick McDonald keeps a small rectangular piece of paper. Printed on it is a list, ten commandments for new judges. Square in the middle, number five reads: A Lazy Judge is a Poor Judge. This is not a commandment that concerns Judge McDonald. Hard work, sweat-of-your-brow work has been par for the course for Frederick McDonald since he was a little child.

“I got my first job when I was in the fifth grade. For five summers I worked a pony ring. I took little kids for rides on horses and taught them lessons.”

That job was only the beginning for McDonald. Before becoming a lawyer the young man would, among other things, work as a dishwasher, a waiter, a factory rat and a farm hand. “On the farm, primarily I was a landscaper, I cut the grass. When they needed farm labor I would help make hay or drive the trucks or whatever. I painted fences there one summer, that was the worst job I’ve ever had.” Be that as it may, it certainly wasn’t the last job the judge ever held before sitting on the bench, even if it was one of the worst paying. “Scrape and paint, scrape and paint, that’s all I did. I made 75 cents an hour that summer.”

While it’s not uncommon for children to take part-time jobs during high school or to help pay for college, surely Judge McDonald’s pre-law resume stands out simply for the sheer quantity of hard, physical work he performed.

It’s hard not to see the influence of the judge’s parents on his work ethic. Born and raised in Poland, Ohio, the judge’s father was, for a time, an educator and sports coach who later went to work for the Standard Slag Company in Youngstown, Ohio where his title was ‘prospector’. As a prospector, it was the elder McDonald’s job to drill into rock beds and extract samples to determine if there was enough sand, gravel or limestone to justify a dig. “I spent a summer assisting my father. I was called a test driller’s helper. We were in Kentucky and all over Ohio.”

Judge McDonald’s mother also played a large role in shaping his work ethic. Like his father, McDonald’s mom was also a teacher and a coach. “My mom’s passion was basketball. When she was in high school she played and loved it. But that was in the 1920’s and ‘30’s. Then, a determination was made that it was unseemly for high school women to play sports. So they abolished interscholastic women’s sports in Ohio for many years. So my mother started an intramural program where she taught, just so that girls could be a part of what she loved so much.” That idealism, that commitment, was surely transmitted down to Mrs. McDonald’s son, who went to law school because, “After college my choices were either go to grad school and become a college professor or go to law school and use the law to affect social change.”

Judge McDonald attended classes at Georgetown University in Washington D.C. in the late 1960’s and worked for the Neighborhood Legal Services Project. “The project was part of the war on poverty, this was during the Kennedy years and it was kind of like the traditional legal aid but funded federally.”

After graduating from Georgetown in 1968, McDonald enlisted in the Navy and served on a submarine in Southeast Asia during the Vietnam War. He served on the U.S.S. Henry W. Tucker and was the submarine’s legal officer, intelligence officer and was in charge of its electronics. “Most of what I did was administrative. I was the Electronic Material Officer, which meant I had a chief who knew all the electronic stuff and my job was to make sure he stayed out of trouble in port. Being a lawyer was helpful.”

After exiting the Navy as an Ensign/Lt. Junior in August of 1970, McDonald moved to Toledo and began working as a staff attorney for the Toledo Legal Aid Society. “I had originally come to Toledo to work for ABLE (Advocates for Basic Legal Equality) but instead took a job at the Toledo Legal Aid Society.

After three years with Legal Aid, McDonald left to work in the County Prosecutor’s office, where he worked alongside future judges Jensen, Foley, Bates, Doneghy and both Melvin and Alice Resnick. Judge McDonald would eventually go on to work as an Assistant United States Attorney before becoming a judge in 1986. While working in the US Attorney’s Office, McDonald met Judge Kiroff who had a great influence on him. “[Judge Kiroff] was probably one of the best trial judge I have ever been in front of. In terms of role models and how I want to conduct myself as a judge, I really respect him.”

Judge McDonald spent a year sitting on the bench of the Toledo Municipal Court before moving to his present position in the Common Pleas Court. His current position can be seen as a reward for all of the hard work he has put in during his life, not only in the legal field (or farm fields for that matter), but also as a family man. Together with his wife, Holly Sydlow, he has raised two fine boys. And like his parents, he coached both of them in sports.

“I came to Toledo when I was just out of the service. Toledo has been a great place to practice. It’s a big town, but small enough that you can develop real relationships with other lawyers and other judges. I came here and didn’t know a soul. I came to town in my car with a coat hanger as an antenna and 17 years later they made me a judge. Is this a great city or what?”

Michael Davisson, Toledo Legal News Staff Writer

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