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Toledo Legal News - News Judge Skow: Vietnam; Capital Hill; Toledo - a biography through geography

 

photo of Judge William SkowIn 1961 then-FCC chairman Newton Minow informed America that to watch television was to, “[observe] a vast wasteland.” While Minow may have been right on as far as many adults were concerned, the young William Skow, known today as the Honorable Judge Skow of the 6th District Court of Appeals would have vehemently disagreed. After all, television not only let him follow his favorite sports teams from his living room in Toledo, it also sparked the Judge's initial interest in politics, and that interest has carried him through political campaigns, a stint in Washington and seats on three different courts.

“Even in grade school I was very interested in politics and public service. I remember in 1952 watching both the Democratic and Republican National Presidential Conventions on my family's little black and white T.V. set. The Convention process, nominating a presidential candidate, that fascinated me.”

Judge Skow took that interest in politics and ran with it like the athletes he admired as a child. He attended Harvard University and majored in American Government. After graduating from one of the country's most prestigious institutions in 1963, Judge Skow began studying for his J.D. at, “one of the better law schools in the country, then or now,” the University of Michigan. According to the Judge, “Attending U of M's law school was a good decision. I've always liked Ann Arbor and I was ready to come back to the Midwest.”

Judge Skow obtained his law degree in 1966, moved back to Ohio and began studying for his bar exam while on his television images of the intensifying conflict in Vietnam flashed and flickered like lightning. “I was registered to take the bar in March of '67. I had been dancing with the draft board after I graduated. They wanted me, but it was policy at the time to give deferments to potential lawyers a deferment until after their first bar exam. So I passed the bar and was eventually drafted into the Army.” At the age of 26 Judge Skow was the oldest man in his unit.

After basic training at Fort Knox, Judge Skow was shipped to Vietnam where he spent most of his time performing administrative duties at a rubber plantation in Ben Hoa near what was at the time the busiest airport on the planet. The Judge is a little understated about his experiences. “I was lucky in Vietnam. The people I was serving with were pretty interesting guys. I spent a year overseas. After having done it I realized that it was more interesting than if I had stayed stateside. It was a lot to get used to. The climate, the language, the poverty. But at the same time it was pretty fascinating.”

The Judge was discharged in 1969 after 22 months in the Service, the lucky recipient of an early out. “After my year in Vietnam I returned to the States. Anyone who finished their tour with less than 150 days left in their commitment was discharged early. I had something like 50 days left when I returned.” Once back in Ohio, the Judge spent a couple of months at his parents house recovering from thrombophlebitis, a painful inflammation of a vein similar to a blood clot, which can often be caused by prolonged sitting, like on a flight from Vietnam to California.

Additionally, the young vet had a bit of trouble finding a job. “People, particularly poetential employers of lawyers, didn't want to hear that you had been to Vietnam in those days. There were questions like, 'What did you do over there”. As a result, Skow formed his own law firm with a good friend called Tom Schlachter. “ I was doing a lot of trial oriented stuff and Tom did a lot of real estate and probate work. Between the two of us we pretty much covered the waterfront.” Judge Skow stayed a private practice attorney until 1976.

During America's Bicentennial, Judge Skow got involved in the re-election campaign of 9th District US Congressman Thomas “Lud” Ludlow Ashley. “I put my practice in cold storage for a month or two to help get Lud re-elected against Carty Finkbeiner, who at the time was a republican.”

After the win, Ashley's chief legislative assistant was given a position in President Carter's administration and the Congressman asked Skow to fill the now empty seat.

“I spent four years in Washington with Lud. It was an exciting time. He was a senior democrat, chairman of the Housing and Community Development sub-committee.”

During his four years on Capital Hill, which came to an end when Ashley was defeated in 1980, Judge Skow married his wife Felicia with whom he has had two daughters.

“I stayed in Washington for a few months after Lud lost to get things squared aways. But there was never any question that I'd return to Toledo.”

Upon his second return to Toledo, the Judge resumed his private practice work for a couple of years until Governor Celeste appointed him to a seat on the Toledo Municipal Court Bench. After three years he was again appointed to a bench position by Governor Celeste, this time in the Common Pleas Court. He would remain a judge there for 19 years. “At the Common Pleas Court I had a lot of civil trials with no monetary limits and criminal cases up to and including murder. It was very intense. There's a manic aspect to Common Pleas Court, you're in trial all the time, you're very busy.” Indeed, Judge Skow was so busy that he was hardly anywhere but the courtroom. For the last ten years of his tenure at the Common Pleas Court he spent more than 300 days a year in court.

Even with a busy docket and long, demanding work hours, Judge Skow still found time for philanthropic work and relaxation. An avid reader and golfer, Judge Skow can, as often as not, be found reading a mystery or watching a game on TV. Additionally, the Judge has also been very involved for years in the Junior Bar Association's annual Gridiron Show. His dedication to young Toledo lawyers has earned him both the Order of the Sole and the Order of the Heel.

After nearly 20 grinding years in Common Pleas Court, Judge Skow was endorsed to run for Appeals Court in 2004. It was a race which he won, but not before putting some serious miles on his car and attending 39 parades. “It was fun, it really was, but it was a lot of hard work and I'm thankful to everyone who helped me win.”

With two years under his belt now, the Judge has become rather taken with the Appeals Court. “Appellate court is a different art from from trial court. The decibel level is lower here. You don't hear people screaming in the halls. It also requires a lot more research and writing. Which is fine because I really like both of those.” Not only does the Judge enjoy research and writing, he's good at it too. A number of his opinions which have been published and received commentary both locally and nationally.

For the Judge though, the real joy of being on the judiciary comes not from hading down rulings or seeing his name appear in legal publications. What the Judge really enjoys are the people he works with. “I've been very lucky in terms of the support staff I've had working for me. My bailiffs and court reporters too have always been top notch. My staff attorneys here are of the highest caliber. Also, I've found that both judges and lawyers in Toledo to be a pretty interesting class of individuals, interested in things well beyond the practice of law.”

Michael Davisson, Toledo Legal News Staff Writer

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