Richard J. Rinebolt; 1922-2014: Hancock Co. judge gave 2nd chances


FINDLAY — Richard J. Rinebolt, 91, who became a lawyer as he intended from childhood, then a Hancock County prosecutor and a common pleas judge, died Monday in Birchaven Village, Findlay.

The cause of death was heart failure, his son David said. “He was vibrant and driving until a month ago,” his son said.

Judge Rinebolt retired in 1990 from Hancock County Common Pleas Court after consecutive six-year terms. After that, he was a visiting judge by appointment of the Ohio Supreme Court to venues across northwest Ohio until 1997.

He tended to allow second chances when fitting.

“It’s a small town,” his son said. “It’s kind of a collective social contract down here. I think he believed people were basically good and certainly would be as good as the society they lived in, and he was willing to give them that chance.”

But he was harsh on those who murdered children and committed other heinous crimes.

“You didn’t want to run into him if you’d done something really wrong,” his son said.

A graduate of Ohio Northern University, Judge Rinebolt was admitted to the Ohio bar in 1948 and joined the practice of a veteran Findlay lawyer. He continued a general law practice as he became the first Findlay Municipal Court prosecutor in 1956 and later a Hancock County assistant prosecutor and county prosecutor, all part-time positions. Gov. James Rhodes in 1976 appointed him a judge of Findlay Municipal Court.

“He spent most of his life in public service,” said Judge Allan Davis of Hancock County Probate and Juvenile Court.

Off the bench, Judge Rinebolt could be a droll raconteur about lawyers and judges he’d known.

“He could enthrall you forever with those stories,” Judge Davis said. “There’s not many people around any more who remember those people.”

He was born Sept. 14, 1922 in Bradner, Ohio, and grew up in Findlay. He was a 1940 graduate of Findlay High School and attended Northwestern University.

“He always wanted to be a lawyer,” his son said.

In the Army Air Corps during World War II, he flew a P-51 Mustang fighter on 30 missions over France and Germany. A landing accident grounded him, and he was an instructor stateside afterward.

“He was proud to have served and lucky to have come home,” his son said.

His brother, Harold, was killed in action at age 19 in early 1945. Their mother in 1949 helped create a county war veterans’ memorial.

In 2003, Judge Rinebolt was keynote speaker when the renovated memorial was rededicated. He was a former president of the Association of the 4th Fighter Group and served in the Air Force Reserve, retiring as a lieutenant colonel in the Judge Advocate General department.

He and his wife, Ruth, married Oct. 1, 1955. She died in December, 1989.

Surviving are his sons, David and Tom; daughter, Ann Brownfield, and seven grandchildren.

Visitation will be from 3-5 p.m. and 6-8 p.m. today in the Kirkpatrick-Behnke Funeral Home, Findlay. A memorial service is set for 4:30 p.m. Thursday in the second-floor courtroom of the Hancock County Courthouse.

The family suggests tributes to the Washington Township Fire Department; Howard United Methodist Church, where he was a member, or the Findlay-Hancock County Public Library.

Contact Mark Zaborney at: or 419-724-6182.