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Toledo Legal News - News Judge Christiansen trades drum sticks for gavel

 

photo of Judge Robert G. ChristiansenA solidly built man who moves with the confidence that comes from possessing a powerful frame, Municipal Court Judge Robert G. Christiansen has the weather beaten looks, cheeks blown raw by the wind and burned red by the sun, of a man who spends plenty of time on a boat. Which, of course, he does. “I'm a boating nut, and anybody who knows me knows that.” And even if you didn't know him, you could guess. In his office hangs paintings by Marblehead resident Ben Richmond depicting light houses and boats being restored by men who love the nautical craft.

Of course, even some of his close friends are unaware that just underneath Christiansen's judicial robes beats the hear of bar band, rock and roll drummer.

“All through college at BGSU I was a drummer for a band called East-West Relation. It was the late 1960's, early '70's. We played the Rascals and the Rolling Stones at bars and fraternity dances. We made a lot of money, we spent a lot of money.”

Even as a wild man beating out a mean tattoo of rebellion music, Judge Christiansen never raged against the machine, per se. If anything his was more a complaint lodged with his academic advisor.

It would not be unfair to state the Judge Christiansen was not happy about his liberal arts education at Bowling Green. He found many of the courses uninteresting and knew even then that a majority of them had little practical value. But he wanted to be a politician, and his academic advisor had told him that a solid liberal arts course load was the way to go.

“I was always fascinated in politics. And back then most good politicians were lawyers. So when I was a senior in high school, I told my counselor I wanted to be an attorney and he told me to major in liberal arts. That was stupid advice.”

Judge Christiansen is a plain speaking man whose directness is often times refreshing.

His frankness is no doubt at least partly due to the nature of the work that formed him as a youth. Growing up in North Canton, Judge Christiansen worked a number of hard, physically demanding jobs that served as an inspiration for going to college. “I had any number of physical labor jobs, all of which drove me towards college because I knew I didn't want to wake up every day of my life thinking, 'Oh, all these back problems.” However, he did learn to work hard. He had one job as a helicopter and small plane mechanic. After he finished working on a bird, the pilot would immediately take him up for a little ride, just as an extra incentive to make sure he did top quality work!

After graduating from North Canton Hoover High, Judge Christiansen attended BGSU, drummed up a little attention for himself as a rock and roller and majored in political science and history, even though, “if I had to do it again, I'd have majored in business or education, something I could have fallen back on.”

From there he moved to Toledo proper and began attending classes at UT's law school. He kept food in his kitchen by working in the china department at LaSalle's Department Store located in Westgate. Between his studies and his work, the Judge found precious little time for drumming and was reluctantly forced to hang up his sticks. “I put my drums in their cases during law school and didn't take them out them for ten years. When I decided to take them out again, I found that my hands wouldn't move as quickly as my mind. It's like anything else, if you don't practice it goes away.”

Drumming was soon the last thing on Judge Christiansen's mind though. He graduated from UT in 1972 and a bright future in politics began to unfold in front of him.

He got his first post-law school job when then Probate Judge Willis E. Ludeman hired him to serve as an assistant clerk for the Probate Court. Shortly afterwards, the Court's chief deputy clerk left and Judge Christiansen was promptly promoted.

He spent three and a half years with the Probate Court before starting his own private practice firm with Marty Mohler, a former president of the Toledo Bar Association.

Judge Christiansen spent five years in private practice, during which time he became very active with the National Arthritis Foundation when a member of his family was afflicted terribly with arthritis. “I've held many offices with them, both locally and nationally. The last office was as one of the national vice-chairman, which kept me traveling constantly.”

At the same time, Judge Christiansen began making plans for turning his political ambitions into action.

In 1980 he ran for County Recorder knowing he would lose (which he did), but hoping to make a name for himself. From there he planned to run for City Council and begin his political career.

What he hadn't counted on was being appointed to the Municipal Court bench in 1981. At the time he was 32 years old, and the youngest serving judge in Ohio.

Then, in 1983 Judge Christiansen was appointed to the Lucas County Common Pleas Court following the unfortunate passing of Judge George Kiroff. “I received a call at 8:00 P.M. from the governor's office saying that they wanted to make me judge and they gave me a day to think about it. Well, I took it. And I found out I like the job.”

From that point Judge Christiansen knew that he would never be able to be a politician like he fancied when he was a younger man. “You can't go down a political track and a judicial track. If you run for a political office as a judge, you have to resign. And I could never afford to resign, besides, I enjoyed it too much.”

Judge Christiansen spent 22 years on the Common Pleas bench before moving to Toledo's Municipal Court in 2005. After more than two decades of felonies, three week long trials and more than his fair share of cases that ended in capital punishment, Judge Christiansen is happy to be serving on the more hectic Municipal bench. “People who are involved in civil lawsuits want to be heard and how they're treated is very important. I have an opportunity to treat them fairly and respectfully. I have a direct effect on my community. I can help protect the victims.”

The Judge is also wants to help protect his community against breast cancer. “My mother died of the disease. I have a wife, two daughters and a granddaughter and that stuff scares me to death.”

The concern, and love, displayed on his face is stark and clear as the Judge talks about his growing family. In addition to his young granddaughter, Judge Christiansen has also welcomed a grandson into his heart. “I get a kick out of my grandson, because I had daughters all these years. Now I have someone to buy toy cars for.”

With his growing family, hectic docket and involvement in the fight against disease, Judge Christiansen might not have as much time as he would like to sit on his boat, named “Court Ship”, and let the hours of the day slip past him. And while that must be a hardship for this avowed, “Boat nut”, Judge Christiansen doesn’t complain. He’s too busy looking out for his family and neighbors.

Michael Davisson, Toledo Legal News Staff Writer

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