Toledo Legal News - News Energetic and committed to kids, Judge Connie Zemmelman shines in Juvenile Court

 

photo of Judge Connie ZemmelmanJudge Connie Zemmelman, of the Juvenile Division of the Lucas County Court of Common Pleas likes bold, bright colors. This is obvious. You know that about her even before she tells you. You can see it in her lively walk and eyes that shine surprisingly bright.

As one of the more outgoing and energetic judges in Lucas County, Judge Zemmelman is often clever and rarely without a smile as she talks about her life; the goals and passions and history filled with busy years that start in her hometown of Cincinnati.

The daughter of a two high school math teachers, Judge Connie Zemmelman found her initial academic strength lay in foreign languages. “I majored in Spanish at Bowling Green State University. At one point I was going to minor in math, but we had calculus and I couldn’t do it. My math professor offered me a C in the class if I promised to drop it as my minor.”

Like many attorneys and judges, Judge Zemmelman did not actively pursue a career in law. Rather than charge full steam ahead, she approached the law obliquely and almost didn’t recognize her calling until it was right in front of her. After graduating from Bowling Green in 1976, looking for a job and broke from paying her way through school (three summers at King’s Island Amusement Park plus a year as a resident advisor), Judge Zemmelman accepted a position with the Ohio Migrant Legal Action Program. “I was hired to interview migrant workers since I could speak Spanish, but I ended up working as a paralegal helping the lawyers translate documents. Well, what happened was I became more interested in the law part of it than the Spanish part. That was when I decided I wanted to go to law school.”

Judge Zemmelman began taking night courses at the University of Toledo’s Law School in the Fall of 1978 while working during the day as a clerk and bailiff for common Pleas Judge Reno Riley, Jr. “That was a good job. I think I learned a lot about evidence just by osmosis, by hearing it over and over.”

After two years of attending University of Toledo’s Law School at night and working all day, Judge Zemmelman realized that she could earn her degree after only her third year if she just went full time. “I figured out that if I took a five thousand dollar loan and worked part time, I could finish in one more year rather than two.”

The part time job Judge Zemmelman ended up taking was a clerking position with the firm of Britz & Zemmelman. It was there that Connie Zemmelman would meet her future husband, Lucas County Domestic Court Judge Norman Zemmelman. “I interviewed with Harlan Britz and Norm came in and introduced himself. That’s how we met.”

Judge Zemmelman graduated from law school in 1981 and stayed with Britz & Zemmelman until her marriage to Norman in 1987. “We got married in ’86, and I left a little after that. I just thought that would be too much; to live together and work together, you know?”

In 1987, Judge Zemmelman returned to UT, this time in a teaching position. “UT’s Legal Clinic had an opening for a staff attorney supervising third year students who would represent low income people.”

She loved her job at UT but, at the request of Judge Puffenberger, left it in 1994 to become a Probate Court Magistrate. Judge Zemmelman would hold that position for four years before returning to her old stomping grounds at Britz and Zemmelman. “I liked being a magistrate, but Probate doesn’t have a lot of contested hearings and I like being in trial. So when my husband became a judge and Harlan Britz needed help running the office, I joined him. I called it Britz & Zemmelman, new and improved.”

During her second go-around as a private attorney, Judge Zemmelman used what she had learned as a Probate Court magistrate to build a healthy, well-regarded practice. “When I was at Probate Court, the adoption laws changed and I was asked to get familiar with the new laws and start teaching the staff and local attorneys about the changes. So I got really involved and I loved it. As a result, when I joined Harlan, adoption and surrogacy law became my areas of concentration.”

Judge Zemmelman’s practice grew, as did her reputation. She began to get surrogacy case referrals from as far away as California and New Jersey. In fact, anytime there was a surrogacy case in Ohio it would get referred to her. “I loved what I did. It was a really fun practice and I could have stayed there forever and been happy.”

As a result, Judge Zemmelman never really considered being a judge until Judge James Ray retired from the Common Pleas Juvenile Division. “Judge Ray had been elected to a six year term but decided to retire. When that happened, I thought about it and thought, ‘well, we have a democratic governor and I’m a democrat, who knows?’”

And even though Judge Zemmelman had never really thought seriously about being a judge before the position on the Juvenile Court opened up, she’s tremendously glad to have the job. “I didn’t expect this to happen, but I love it. As rewarding as my private practice was, this is ten fold. I’ve been here five months and have already seen progress from some kids. If there was ever a judgeship I would have wanted, it was this one.” The Court suits her temperament, it suits her experience, and if her friends have anything to say about it, it will suit her wardrobe as well. “The big joke when I became a judge was people would ask if they could make me a pink robe, or one with sequins. The closest I came is a blue robe, and I have a black one too, but people tell me, ‘You don’t dress like a judge!’”

Michael Davisson, Toledo Legal News Staff Writer

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