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Richard W. Knepper (1947-2017): Longtime jurist known for keeping an open mind

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    Judge Richard Knepper presides over a hearing on the sentence of Frederick Dickerson in Lucas County Common Pleas Court in 2007. Judge Knepper passed away Wednesday in his Perrysburg Township home at the age of 70.

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    Knepper

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Richard W. Knepper, a former judge of the Ohio Sixth District Court of Appeals who stepped down as a Lucas County Common Pleas Court judge to run for county prosecutor, died Wednesday in his Perrysburg Township home. He was 70.

He learned 2½ weeks ago that he had cancer and that it had metastasized, his wife, Jackie, said.

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Judge Richard Knepper presides over a hearing on the sentence of Frederick Dickerson in Lucas County Common Pleas Court in 2007. Judge Knepper passed away Wednesday in his Perrysburg Township home at the age of 70.

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Judge Knepper was appointed to the appeals court bench in December, 1996, by Gov. George Voinovich.

He started his tenure on the court of appeals Jan. 1, 1997, and was elected in 1998 to a full term. He did not seek re-election in 2004.

He looked at matters before the court “with a very open mind and an ability to listen,” said Peter Handwork, a judge on the Sixth District bench from 1983-2013. “He wasn’t a judgmental person, but he was capable of making sound judgments based on all of the facts and law. I had great respect for him in that regard.”

Afterward, Judge Knepper set up his own mediation and arbitration service. For several years, he also sat as a visiting judge on cases across northwest Ohio.

“He took it all very seriously and never took for granted his position, that he was serving the people,” his wife said.

Judge Knepper, a Republican, was on the Lucas County bench for more than 13 years when he entered the political arena hours before the 1996 filing deadline. Longtime prosecutor Anthony Pizza, a Democrat, was retiring. Julia Bates, an assistant prosecutor, was the endorsed Democrat.

“That was very risky,” his wife said. “He really did want people to have a choice. He didn’t want someone to just walk into the office.”

Mrs. Bates was the victor and remains county prosecutor.

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Knepper

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He was born Jan. 30, 1947, to Elizabeth and Charles Knepper and grew up on Erie Street in North Toledo. He was a 1965 graduate of Woodward High School and was a 1993 inductee to the Woodward Hall of Fame. He received a bachelor’s degree in finance from the University of Toledo. He had another path in mind.

“He just knew from a young age — he never told anybody — that he wanted to be a judge,” his wife said. “He was determined to work hard. Plus, he was a pretty smart guy, so that helped.”

He received his law degree from UT and was admitted to the Ohio Bar in April, 1974. He was a graduate of the National Judicial College and taught at Ohio Common Pleas Judges Association and the Ohio Judicial College.

Judge Knepper formerly was in private practice and served as city of Toledo prosecutor and assistant city law director. He also was program director for the United Auto Workers Legal Services Plan.

He served on many community boards through the years, including of the former Riverside Hospital, Substance Abuse Services Inc., the Lucas County Alcohol and Drug Addiction Services, and Maumee Valley Broadcasting, which operates WPOS-FM.

“My husband was a man of great faith,” his wife said. He recently completed a book, Darwin and the Constitution, subtitled, “The secularization of American law schools and the American legal world view.”

Surviving are his wife, the former Jacqueline Knowlton; son, Andrew; daughter, Katherine Heinold; his mother, Elizabeth Knepper; sisters, Carol Fritz and Janet Peart, and six grandchildren.

Visitation is pending at Witzler-Shank Funeral Home, Perrysburg. Services will be at 11 a.m. Monday at Grace United Methodist Church, Perrysburg, where he was a member.

The family suggests tributes to Grace United Methodist Church, Perrysburg, or a charity of the donor’s choice.

Contact Mark Zaborney at mzaborney@theblade.com or 419-724-6182.

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