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Justice: Prep for change

Northview group urged to seek opportunities

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Ohio Supreme Court Justice Judith L. French introduces herself to a group of students in the Leadership Academy at Sylvania Northview High School.

THE BLADE/JETTA FRASER
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To be successful, Ohio Supreme Court Justice Judith L. French advised students to stay open-minded and to overcome that negative voice in their head that says, “I can’t.”

“The only regrets I have in my career are the moments I was afraid,” she told Sylvania Northview's Leadership Academy on Friday afternoon.

About 200 students heard the justice tell how she climbed to Ohio’s highest judicial tribunal.

In 2002, as an assistant Ohio attorney general, she argued the constitutionality of Ohio tax dollars spent on vouchers for private or parochial schools before the U.S. Supreme Court. She also served on the 10th District Court of Appeals.

Justice French, whom Gov. John Kasich appointed last year to the Ohio Supreme Court, is running for election to a six-year term. She is unopposed on the Republican primary ballot May 6, but Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Judge John O’Donnell, a Democrat, is challenging her in the Nov. 4 general election.

Jordan Ross, 18, who plans on attending Indiana University to study business, said he found Justice French’s story interesting.

Learning how to campaign was part of the transition from lawyer to judge, she said — a transition that required her to improve her public-speaking and interact with the media.

In taking the next career step or making a change, do not question what happens “if I fail,” she said: “Instead, recall an encouraging supportive voice.”

She urged students to always be prepared to welcome a new opportunity.

“Perfectly ready to stay, but ready to go anytime,” is a motto she lives by. At each career level, the justice, age 51, kept a résumé updated.

Her career started at the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency as an environmental lawyer, a position she thought required a “science-y” background.

A highly regulated area, she said the work instead called for legislative work and communication, two of her main interests.

She urged students with an interest in law or the environment to stay in Ohio, as energy and the environment are hot issues with shale exploration and wind turbine use.

She said college is a time to explore interests, and get an inside peek at different career fields. “If you want to be a journalist, join the school newspaper. ... If you want to get into politics, volunteer on a campaign,” she said.

Freshman Caity Hoffman, an aspiring writer, said, “She had helpful information and applied real-life examples for something I want to do in the future. It’s good to see different methods of success.”

Justice French said it is “critically important” for a young woman to see women in leadership. “I want them to not think about it. I want them to see women in leadership positions and automatically assume, ‘Of course this is something I can do,’” she said.

Contact Natalie Trusso Cafarello at: 419-206-0356, or ntrusso@theblade.com, or on Twitter @natalietrusso.

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