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Toledo Legal News - News Judge Yarbrough, a man of change


Photo of Judge YarbroughWhen the voters of Lucas County elected Judge Stephen Yarbrough to the 6th District Court of Appeals in late 2010 they elected not just a new jurist, but a businessman, an attorney, a judge, a politico and a family man as well. Cliché as it may be to say, change just might be the only constant in Judge Yarbrough's life.

Stephen Yarbrough was born and raised in the publicly and privately tumultuous Birmingham, Alabama of the 1950's. “I was born in Birmingham, baptized in Montgomery. I grew up in south Alabama. Integration was a very difficult problem, Bull Conner was sheriff, George Wallace was around, we were Scotch-Irish Catholics so we weren’t the exactly the most well-accepted group. My mom was sick for about a year when I was young, so all the kids got chores and mine was cooking. I couldn’t play much after school, but when the meal was done, I was done. No dishes, no taking out the trash."

Yarbrough's father job sent him to Toledo so the family in between the Judge's junior and senior years of high school. Toledo suited the future judge and Yarbrough stayed in town, attending the University of Toledo for both his undergraduate degree and his MBA. Although he briefly left Toledo at that point for a job with Firestone in Chicago for a year, he ended up returning to Toledo, and UT, to teach business administration, then later decided to practice law. I got interested in law as a result of the Kent State shootings. It felt like there should be some way for these issues to get resolved, there ought to be some resolution. I had friends who were students at Kent. I had friends who were in the Reserves. I could see both sides and it got me interested in justice.

After obtaining his Juris Doctor, Yarbrough first worked at Toledo Trust as a loan officer as the director of marketing and a loan officer before moving on to hang a shingle as a private litigator. As a litigator in private practice he took both civil and criminal cases as well as some domestic and juvenile cases and even insurance defense work.

In 1986 Judge Yarbrough ran and was elected to the Toledo City Council. "I decided to run for city council because I was interested in numerous council actions regarding zoning issues, eminent domain and some budget things that kind of bugged me." During his two years with the council the Judge became an early focused much of his energies on rehabilitating the warehouse district "I was very interested in the warehouse district. This was before Fifth Third Field and all the restaurants. I felt, and anyone who looked at it would have felt the same, that the warehouse district had great opportunity for development and it turned out that it did."

1989 heralded another new start for the businessman/attorney/councilman. That year Yarbrough was elected to the Lucas County Domestic Relations Court. "A seat opened up and Judge Robert Dorrell, who was a tremendous man with great passion and great compassion urged me to run."

Judge Yarbrough enjoyed his work and time at Domestic Relations, saying, "By that time I had been a trial lawyer for so long that I was getting tired of the adversarial nature of it, of the fighting. I thought there was room for me to do more justice as a judge than an attorney." To this day he maintains that he might have remained a Domestic Relations judge had a new judgeship seat not been created for the Lucas County Common Pleas Court in 1993. "I liked Domestic Court very much and probably would have stayed, but when Common Pleas opened up a new seat I thought, "you know, I've got the experience as a judge and Common Pleas has a wider, broader jurisdiction, so I ran and was elected."

In 1995 Judge Yarbrough resigned from the Common Pleas Court in order to chair the Lucas County Republican Party. "There was a vacuum of leadership at the time. That was pretty sad. There were a lot of people who would have done a better job than me but wouldn't do it. No one would step, so I left the Common Pleas Court and tried my hand at party politics.

His time with the Lucas County Republican Party ended a year later when he was appointed to the Ohio Senate. When that appointment ended a year later, Yarbrough returned to his career as a judge, although this time as a visiting judge.

As a visiting judge, Yarbrough traveled and heard cases throughout 40 counties in the state. He logged thousands of road miles and quite possibly heard more jury cases than any other judge in Ohio "A visiting judge goes into try cases, while a regular sitting judge has a trial docket and a criminal docket, but they don't hear trials everyday like a visiting judge does."

The changing scenery, the new people, the different trials all suited Yarbrough and it was as a through constant travel that the judge seemed to settle down. Judge Yarbrough remained a visiting judge for 13 years.

All that changed in 2010 when the Judge decided to run for the 6th District Appeals seat left behind by the passing of Judge Skow. "After more than ten years as a visiting judge, you know, I became older, I had a wealth of experience in municipal court, domestic relations court, juvenile court, probate and general trial division. I had really served as a judge in all of the lower courts. I felt like I had something in my experience and background to offer to the people".

Since assuming the bench in February of 2011, Judge Yarbrough has enjoyed his time at the Appeals Court. "I feel like I'm in the right spot right now. I really like what I'm doing and I like the people I work with. The level of collegiality is really quite good. As judges we disagree, but always professionally. We may disagree with each other, but we're never disappointed."

There has been one constant in Judge Yarbrough's life; his family. He met his wife Carol at UT in 1964 while still in college. "Carol decided immediately upon meeting me that I was not the sort of person she wanted to be with. I managed to persuade her to at least go out with me at least once. She's my best friend" Together they have 4 children and numerous grandchildren. "I enjoy my children and grandchildren a lot. The majority of my time away from work is spent with my family. Family events, dinners, kids' sports. You ask what I do with my time? I spend time with my family."

Michael Davisson, Toledo Legal News Staff Writer

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