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Toledo Legal News - News Family, neighborhood, teacher & church guided Judge Doneghy


photo of Judge Charles J. DoneghyJudge Charles J. Doneghy’s father left when he was six. Young Charles was the third of four children. Mom, Bessie, had a high school education. She cleaned houses, took in other families’ clothes and laundered them. At six in the morning she would bundle up with two or three sweaters against the winter cold and make her way to the bus while her children went off to school. In the summer the Doneghy children would stay with their grandfather until Bessie had finished her work for the day.

“I was with my grandfather almost on a daily basis. He kind of talked to me as if I were an adult. I was like a little old man at a young age. He taught me the priority of values: the greatest value being that of the Church; secondly the value of the family unit and the requirement that you take care of family; thirdly, the value of community involvement.” Armed with his mother’s love and his grandfather’s advice, Charles Doneghy would serve his country, sit on the bench of two different courts and eventually sit on the board of St. Vincent’s Medical Center where his mother once worked as a maid.

If Judge Doneghy’s success began anywhere outside of the family, then it started when a high school teacher told him he probably shouldn’t dream about being a doctor. “Don’t ask me where I got the thought from, but I wanted to be either a pediatrician or a research scientist. During my freshman year, a teacher, a very sincere, very wonderful teacher, advised me that maybe I should pick another field because they didn’t have any, quote Negroes, which then was the proper term, in those areas. There was a great deal of truth in what she was saying for those times.”

Further talks with the teacher set Judge Doneghy’s mind towards business. At the time, President Truman had opened up government jobs for minorities. “She was very sincere, so I decided that I would major in book-keeping.”

After graduating high school, Doneghy was accepted at UT and majored in accounting with the thought of becoming a CPA. He stuck it out even though by his junior year he had realized that he didn’t like accounting all that much.

To help with the expenses of college, Judge Doneghy entered the Army ROTC program. Upon graduating he was commissioned a 2nd Lieutenant assigned to the Finance Corp. He received a deferment which allowed him to begin taking classes at the University of Toledo’s Law School. “UT Law was a part time school so I didn’t think I could go there. With my commission I thought I would have to go into the service. But I called and found out that if I went to UT year round I could get deferments.”

After receiving his Juris Doctor in 1965, Judge Doneghy entered into the Service and was sent to Fort Benjamin Harrison in Indianapolis. “That was Finance Corp.’s basic training. I’ve forgotten how many weeks we were there. At the end of that we received our orders for where we would be shipped. Initially I was going to be shipped to Fort Lewis Washington on the West Coast. I was to be assigned to Garrison Finance.” That was a training post for finance officers who were going to be deployed to Vietnam. However, at the last minute his marching orders were changed and the Judge ended up being assigned to Fort Totten in New York. Being posted there meant a decrease in his odds of being sent to Vietnam, but it was not without problems and hardships.

“I was promoted to 1st lieutenant. When the finance offer in command was sent to the embassy in Germany, Judge Doneghy was put in charge of the Fort’s books. “They looked around for a replacement for the officer awhile. Finally the folks at the headquarters for the 2nd Army said, ‘Wait, there’s a young fella there with a major in accounting and a law degree, what more do you want?’ There was some suggestion that there may have been some race issue involved but ultimately I became the commanding finance officer.” When the Judge was made commanding finance officer, it was decided that Fort Totten would be closed. “I was charged with this awesome responsibility for closing this account worth many millions of dollars. You know, when you’re just leaving and someone else is coming in you can kind of fudge some stuff and pass things on. But when you’re closing an office, everything has to balance. Everything has to zero out. I did a lot of praying.”

The Judge made it through just fine and after his stint in the Army was up, he returned to Toledo and began practicing law. In 1969 he was made an Assistant Lucas County Prosecutor and in 1977 became the Chief Assistant Lucas County Prosecutor.

During this time the Judge became good friends with a number of people who are still important to him including Joseph Flores. “One of the most meaningful and memorable relationships I’ve had and still have is with Joseph Flores. I’ve known Joe since I was just out of high school, but we didn’t become good friends until I was out of the Service. We became brothers, as close to literally as you can.”

He was also friends with the Resnicks and helped both of them in their judicial campaigns. They, in turn, helped him with his.

“I never really envisioned myself as being someone who was going to hold public service.” The Resnicks talked him into running for Municipal Court. Doneghy was running up against a sitting judge and didn’t give himself good odds of winning but, “I went into that campaign running to win.” And win he did. “The money began to flow in, the people were there. By the time election night was there I must have had 100 plus people out there. It was just so humbling, being in something like this and be blessed with people who gave up their resources and time.”

After five years there he was appointed to the Common Pleas court by then Governor Richard Celeste. He has since been re-elected three times.

Any man who starts where Judge Doneghy began and finishes where he ended up knows that he did not go it alone. Judge Doneghy had his mother, his grandfather, his close and dear friends. He also had the Toledo community to help support him in times of need. “My neighborhood was phenomenal. There were any number of people who knew the commitment my mother had to our family. She was truly a saint, she sacrificed everything for her children. And everyone knew that and always said, ‘Now, you do what your mother says’. And they all sort of looked out for us.”

And now that he can, Judge Doneghy, along with his wife Lera, gives back to his community and tries to impart the values he learned from his grandfather onto a new generation. “I remain very active in community organizations. I remained a resident of one of the poorest sections of town until my house was literally too small for my family.

“I have had any number of youngsters end up on my porch. We’d have discussions and it’s just wonderful for these kids in deprived neighborhoods to be able to see professional people driving to work. It really is surprising how little it can take to give a young person that ray of hope.”

Michael Davisson, Toledo Legal News Staff Writer

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