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Toledo Legal News - News ...And sure enough we got a different lunch lady.

 

photo of Judge Stacy CookArmed with petitions and a willingness to speak up, Judge Stacy Cook is glad to be at Common Pleas

People in the law tend to fall into three categories. There are people who never planned to work in law, people for whom law was just one possible career and people for whom there was never any profession but law. Stacy Cook, a judge in the Common Pleas court, falls squarely into the third category.
Judge Cook circulated her first petition while still attending elementary school in Westland, Michigan. “Once the principal got over his initial shock that he was dealing with the petition I brought him, he listened as I explained that the students wanted a lunch lady who wouldn’t tell us that she hated us every day. And sure enough we got a different lunch lady. She didn’t hate us, we didn’t hate her; lunch was good again.”
Emboldened by that success, Judge Cook then began a letter writing campaign against cruel trapping practices. She also became a playground advocate, defending the rights of the seesaw set. “I was constantly trying to get my neighbor Johnny out of trouble. There would be things like he would run into the parking lot to get a ball and the lunch lady would order him to stand against the wall. Well, he was just trying to be helpful and get the kickball for the girls who were playing. So I argued about it with the lunch lady. Stuff like that. Sometimes I was successful, and sometimes I ended up standing against the wall with him.”
In any other little girl, this would all of qualified as unusual behavior. For Cook though it just seemed like the most natural thing in the world. “I was always the one who told teachers, ‘no, that’s not how the fight started’ or ‘I don’t think he deserves to be up against the wall’. I was always very aware of what I thought was right and wrong, and also feeling that people should be treated fairly. I knew from a pretty young age that I wanted to go into law, so that was the track from the beginning.”
Judge Cook’s certitude in her purpose led her to major in public law and government as an undergrad and then pursue a J.D. at the University of Toledo. “I grew up in Michigan but was accepted by UT. Their in-state tuition requirements were that I need to work full time in Ohio and be registered to vote there. So I moved to Toledo and literally begged a law firm to take me in before I started law school. And they took me in, I think, mostly because they wanted me to stop showing up unannounced.”
As her education at UT progressed, Judge Cook left the law firm and took a position clerking for Judge Gorman of the Toledo Municipal Court. She worked for him up to her last day at UT and then began a successful solo practice. “Literally, I finished up one day at Judge Gorman’s office on a Friday and that Monday I was at a new office where I hung my shingle.”
Two very important things happened to Judge Cook while clerking for Judge Gorman. The first was that she got a lot of the experience necessary to make a go of it as a private practice lawyer. The second was meeting her future husband, Judge Gary Cook, also of the Common Pleas Court. At the time she served as a clerk for Judge Gorman, Gary Cook was working in the public defender’s office. “He was very shy. His big move was to put a note on my desk that said, ‘Will you have lunch with me? Yes/No.’ and it had two boxes on it. So it was all very second grade. But it was cute and yes I had lunch with him and yes we started dating and now we’re married and have three kids.”
As a young attorney practicing on her own, Judge Cook learned a great deal and she learned it quickly. “This community has been an incredible role model. I feel like I grew up here as an adult. I learned a lot from Judge Gorman, I learned a lot from the lawyers I worked with before I clerked for Judge Gorman, but I do feel like this legal community as a whole has definitely served as a role model for me.”
Judge Cook’s time in private practice convinced her that the judiciary would be a good fit for her. While she was a general practitioner, her work was primarily criminal defense, she did a lot of pro bono work. “I did a lot of free work and I liked that. If someone had told me that they had a job where I didn’t have to bill someone but could just answer questions all day long and fix things I would do it. I don’t like the billing aspect but I love the work, I like being involved and fixing things.” Cook began to see the bench as a way of fulfilling her desires to help people without the hassles attendant to being a practicing attorney.
So, when Judge Zouhary moved from Common Pleas to Federal Court and Judge Wittenberg retired in 2006, Judge Cook decided to run. In doing so she drew upon her support in the Toledo community and her experiences with elections from her childhood. “I got involved in elections very early. The lady who lived across the street from me growing up was the secretary to the mayor and so I became very involved, very entrenched and did everything I could as a seven or eight year old. I licked envelopes, dropped flyers and put up signs. I won a little award when I was seven for putting up the most signs with my dad.”
More than nine months later, Judge Cook still brings a sense of wide-eyed excitement and possibility with her to the Courthouse. “I’m probably a little Pollyanna right now. I still believe I can help people fix things. I enjoy the work, but I’m only effective and my job is only done if I can put viable citizens back out there. And that’s best done simply by being decent to people. I’ve always been sensitive to people’s feelings and protective of them, protective of anybody who I think has been wronged. I guess it just never occurs to me not to speak up.”

Michael Davisson, Toledo Legal News Staff Writer

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