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Toledo Legal News - News Judge Denise Ann Dartt has blazed many trails

 

photo of Judge Denise DarttJudge Denise Ann Dartt has blazed many trails

Common Pleas Judge Denise Dartt has led the life of a trailblazer. She is a pioneer, in many instances a first: first woman to chair the Ohio Judicial Conference; first woman to serve as president of the Ohio Municipal County Judges Association. She was even one of the first women (girl, really) to work a paper route.

“I was a paperboy before a girl could become a paperboy. Back in those days a girl couldn't have a route in her name. But I had a younger brother. So a nice man from the Toledo Blade came over to my house and signed a contract with him.”

When she wasn't braving the wilds of 1950's and '60's Oregon, Ohio, racing to deliver her customer's papers, Judge Dartt was sitting on her grandfather's knee, listening to him talk about his day and hearing his stories. “My grandparents, who had emigrated from what is now the Czech Republic lived only a few blocks away. I spent a great deal of time at their house. My grandfather was the foreman in a factory and very cultured, very classically the Old European Man who wore long sleeved silk shirts that were monogrammed. He was very special to me. I really admired him.”

After graduating from Clay High School in 1971, Judge Dartt blazed a new, personal path and became the first member of her family to go to college. She attended Bowling Green State University, partly because it was close to home and partly because of the reputation of its teaching school. “When I decided to go to college I wanted to be a teacher, but by the time I actually got there I kind of fell into a group of friends who were all really interested in politics. And they were all planning on going into law and so it seemed like a natural thing to do.”

Her burgeoning interest in politics led her to get involved in student government at Bowling Green as an elected representative at large. She relished her role and responsibilities as an elected official, and in many ways her time in student government was some of her best at Bowling Green. Certainly, she enjoyed it more than her job as a night guard in a residence hall. During her shifts she would frequently fall asleep and once had her purse pilfered. “How could I complain about it though? I would have had to admit that I had fallen asleep on the job!”

Overall though, the Judge had the time of her life at BGSU. She remains enamored with the university and is currently finishing a four year term as a chairman of the board of directors of the Alumni Association.

After graduating, Judge Dartt commenced her studies at the University of Toledo's law school, during which time she worked as an intern in the Public Defender's office. “I really wanted to do criminal law and practice as a public defender. So I interned there. Unfortunately, after I graduated there wasn't an opening available.”

Unable to secure a job with the Public Defender's office, Judge Dartt became a staff attorney for a non-profit called Landlord/Tenant Legal Services. She practiced law there until an opening finally appeared in the Public Defender's office. “I applied then and got the job. I was the first woman in Lucas County to work in the Public Defender's office. There had been other women who worked part-time or did public defender work in addition to their regular practices, but I was the first to do it full time.”

Dartt practiced as a public defender for six years until she was appointed to the Toledo Municipal Court judiciary in 1985 by Governor Celeste. Judge Dartt spent 18 years as a Municipal Court judge, during which time she discovered that, “if you're going to be able to influence someone, you'll be able to influence them in Municipal Court. I had one man appear before me and I ordered him to sober up. Now he stops by every time he gets a milestone coin from AA.”

After nearly two decades at Municipal Court, Judge Dartt decided in 2004 to run for a seat at Common Pleas. She was elected and began serving her first term in January of 2005. Judge Dartt was quick to notice the difference between the two courts, especially as she had her first capital murder case less than six months after taking the bench. “It was a jury trial, and we had only very few of those at Municipal Court. And the nice thing about juries is that you really do see all the wonderful people there are in your community. And that capital murder jury was just wonderful; very hard working and dilligent.”

It's been nearly three years now and Judge Dartt has found a sure footing and a clear path. “My commitment to the community is to do the best job I can. When justice moves slowly, people get frustrated. I pride myself on keeping my docket moving.”

The Judge can also take pride in being a breast cancer survivor. Her experiences combating and beating the disease have led her to get involved and donate her time to others who are still fighting. “I'm on the board of the Victory Center, which offers non-medical support services for people diagnosed with cancer. It's a very unique place and offers very unique services.”

And now that her cancer is in remission this former paper girl, the first female officer in several organizations, can get back to doing what she does best; forging new paths and breaking new ground.

MICHAEL DAVISSON, TOLEDO LEGAL NEWS STAFF WRITER

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