Toledo Legal News - News Laconic judge waxes poetic on Churchill and General Sherman

 

photo of Judge Richard SpeerIn Toledo, the Bankruptcy court is housed in the old, historic Court and Custom House building on Spielbusch Avenue. It sits on the landscape, dominate. It is squat and long, its beige and brown bricks rise up royally from the ground. It’s a quietly beautiful old building, in a style of architecture now only seen in Hollywood period pieces. While in the winter, when the building is capped with snow and the cold pavement walkway leading to the front door is flanked by hard, brittle frosted grass, the Custom House can seem almost Dickensian; in the summertime it’s homey tan coloring contrasts nicely with the greenery that blooms and blossoms around it. On a warm June day the Custom House could almost be an old school building or one of those glitzy, ritzy historic New York hotels scaled down and made appropriate for Toledo. It’s a reassuring thought that a building so lovingly crafted and beautifully built can have stood the test of time.

The interior of the building has a different feel from the exterior but is no less elegant. The rich, lustrous ambience, marble walls and heavy wooden doors, is marred only by the presence of a metal detector, an X-ray machine and a cheap, particle board table upon which visitors are inspected to place their personal belongings for inspection.

Judge Richard Speer’s office is no less refined. Thick green carpet muffles footfalls, the surface of the large, imposing desk is shined to mirror-like polish and the music of an oboe solo plays softly in the background.

“‘The great war, through which we have passed, differed from all ancient wars in the immense power of the combatants and their fearful agencies of destruction. And from all modern wars in the utter ruthlessness with which it was fought. All the horrors of all the ages were brought together. And not only armies but whole populations were thrust into the midst of them’…” The words are Winston Churchill’s, but the voice speaking them aloud belongs to Judge Richard Speer, a bankruptcy judge for the Northern District of Ohio. He is reading this passage aloud in hopes of making clear just how good written English can be. “…’Every outrage against humanity or international law was repaid by reprisals often on a greater scale and of longer duration. No truce or parley mitigated a strike for the armies. The wounded died between the lines. The dead moldered into the soil’…” When the Judge finishes the selection, he closes the book gently, placing a bookmark in it to keep his place. He holds the book with both hands close to his chest. It seems like he is about to say something soft and reverential. Instead he bursts out, exclaims, “Who writes like that today? Who? That’s my point, that’s why I like Churchill.”

Nestled in his office, which is big enough to have its own hallway, Judge Speer spent over an hour talking about law, history and literature. Well schooled in all three areas, the former English teacher seemed most to enjoy himself most when raving about Churchill’s The World in Crisis or considering some of the more shocking revelations found in the latest Benjamin Franklin biography.

As a person, the Judge is a product of the 1950’s. He has the principled personal reservation that typically stereotypes men of that age. In his professional role as a judge, Speer refuses to discuss politics or the laws he administers except to say, “My particular moral philosophies on the world are nice for me but they are irrelavent to the cases. So the question is then asked, ‘do I agree with every opinion I write?’ Well of course not. But I have to follow the law and sometimes the law doesn’t allow me go where I think the law should go but nobody has elected me to the legislature. You want to change the law? You go down to the legislature, that’s where it’s at. I am not an activist judge.”

An extension of his reticence is a refreshing modesty that runs deep. Judge Speers brushes off questions about awards won or commendations given.

As taciturn as the Judge can be, he can also in many ways be disarmingly honest. He describes himself in high school: “I went to school and went home. I was what, I guess, you would call a nerd. That’s fine. I sang in the choir, was on the debate team… I was on the chess club until I figured out I really didn’t know that much about it,” one gets the sense that Judge Speer is completely unaware of how hip it currently is to own one’s geekiness.

He is also forthright about his family. “My family came here as immigrants. And they came on the bottom of the boat, not the top. My father worked for Ford, my father-in-law worked for Ford. I worked for Ford for two summers during college. They would employee me for 89 days at a time because if I worked for them for 90 days they would have to hire me full time. So they would only hire me as a summer thing and then on the 89th day they would say ‘thank you for your time and good luck’. I think everyone should work in something like that. It’s an honest way to make a living.”

After college the Judge went to law school and eventually ended up working for the Attorney General’s office in Columbus for two years. There, he worked for a man he compares favorably to General Sherman. “In the A.G.’s office, I worked for Bill Saxbe, who was an old army boy and would become the American Attorney General in 1973. As a boss, if you got into trouble with a judge for some reason, Bill would come by your side and protect you. Now, the ride home would not be a pleasant experience. But everyone in the office knew that Saxby would back you up. Loyalty goes down as well as up. And Bill Saxbe was willing to lead from the front. Like General Sherman. Have you read his autobiography? He’s a fine writer, just wonderful. And you know, Sherman’s been really mischaracterized in my opinion. But Saxbe, like Sherman was willing to mess and sleep with the troops. They were both always up in front, never 20 miles back giving orders.”

After leaving the A.G.’s office, Judge Speer formed a law firm in Oak Harbor, Ohio. He practiced there until he became a judge.

While Judge Speer’s principles preclude him from talking at length about the practice, the nuts and bolts of his job, he is not shy about his love for the job. “I really like being a bankruptcy judge. This job covers a lot of different aspects of the law. We do all kinds of things, negligence, commercial, medical malpractice cases. I had Bell & Beckwith which of course turned into a 14 year thing, which was fine, that was fascinating. I have an opportunity to do so many areas of the law. When I became a judge the firm gave me keys to the front door and said, ‘come back whenever you want’. Well, I still have the keys but they’ve changed the locks six times over.”

Michael Davisson, Toledo Legal News Staff Writer

Measure seeks to increase youth job opportunities

A legislative measure aimed at bolstering youth employment numbers got a first hearing recently by members of the Ohio House of Representatives seated on the Higher Education and Workforce Development Committee.

Date Published: June 22, 2017

New IBAHRI report states nations are failing to protect people with albinism

In the last decade, across 28 countries in Africa, there have been more than 600 reported cases of killings or mutilations of persons with albinism - a rare, non-contagious, congenital condition characterised by a lack of pigmentation in any or all of the hair, skin and eyes. Under international law, countries have a legal obligation to protect persons with albinism from human rights violations, attacks and discrimination. A new report by the International Bar Association's Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI) concludes that current approaches to albinism have fallen short of this obligation, and persons with albinism continue to be victims of human rights abuses.

Date Published: June 22, 2017

Toledo man indicted for selling six kilograms of heroin

A Toledo man was indicted for distributing six kilograms of heroin, said David A. Sierleja, Acting U.S. States Attorney for the Northern District of Ohio, and DEA Special Agent in Charge Timothy J. Plancon.

Date Published: June 22, 2017

Financial advisor sentenced for $1.1 million fraud scheme

Mark F. Speakman, 60, of Grove City, Ohio, was sentenced in U.S. District Court today to 60 months in prison for an investment fraud scheme that defrauded his clients out of more than $1.1 million.

Date Published: June 21, 2017

Ohio’s 529 plan ranks first in nation for 5-year performance

SavingForCollege.com, a trusted college-savings industry resource, recently released their nationwide 529 direct plan performances for the first quarter of 2017. CollegeAdvantage Direct 529 Plan has been ranked first overall in the nation at the five-year performance category; fourth overall in three-year performance; and third overall in 10-year performance.

Date Published: June 21, 2017

Push made to roll back Common Core

Ohio lawmakers seated on the House of Representative's Education and Career Readiness Committee got the proverbial earful from concerned citizens, policy makers and education professionals over the much maligned Common Core curriculum implemented in schools throughout the Buckeye State.

Date Published: June 21, 2017

Rockets to host volleyball camps from July 8-15

The University of Toledo is holding volleyball camps during the second week of July. The camps are designed for beginner- and advanced-level volleyball players and will cover all basic skills.

Date Published: June 21, 2017

Seniors can sell their life insurance policies

(BPT) If you're struggling to make ends meet in retirement, you're not alone. And when your income is limited and fixed, you do your best to cut out unnecessary expenses.

Date Published: June 21, 2017

Eight older Ohioans inducted into Ohio Senior Citizens Hall of Fame

The Ohio Department of Aging, the Ohio Association of Area Agencies on Aging and members of the Ohio General Assembly honored eight accomplished older Ohioans with induction into the Ohio Senior Citizens Hall of Fame during a special ceremony recently in Columbus.

Date Published: June 20, 2017

Nikola Arsic to join Rockets program in 2017

Head Coach Al Wermer announced that Nikola Arsic (Brus, Serbia) will join the Toledo men's tennis program at the start of the 2017-18 academic year.

Date Published: June 20, 2017

Ohio sees greater need for CASA volunteers in face of opioid epidemic

The tentacles of Ohio’s opioid epidemic stretch beyond those in the throes of addiction. Not only do the latest statistics show that Ohio leads the nation in opioid overdose deaths, but the Public Children Services Association of Ohio notes an 11 percent increase in children in protective custody between 2000 and 2016.

Date Published: June 20, 2017

Appraisal licensure sought for Ohio

A Cincinnati Republican lawmaker has a plan to conform with federal regulations implemented by the Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act of 2010, also known as Dodd-Frank, before time runs on the requirement for states to adopt uniform real estate appraisal rules.

Date Published: June 19, 2017

Ohio college savings plan marks milestone

Boasting more than 637,000 active accounts, CollegeAdvantage - Ohio's 529 college savings program - has exceeded more than $10.35 billion in assets under management, according to a recent press release announcing the development.

Date Published: June 19, 2017

Oil and gas lease did not terminate for unpaid royalties

A lease to drill for oil and gas in Washington County did not terminate when the energy companies failed to pay annual royalties it promised the landowners, the Ohio Supreme Court ruled recently.