When Keila Cosme's parents gave her their blessing to leave her home and family in Puerto Rico to attend Boston University, she knew she had to do well.
Tomorrow, the 41-year-old will leave her Toledo law practice to join the 6th District Court of Appeals, and she's once again planning to hit the books hard.
The first Hispanic named to an Ohio appellate court, Ms. Cosme has specialized in civil litigation for 15 years.
She has not been a judge, prosecutor, or criminal defense lawyer, but she doesn't consider that an obstacle.
"What makes a good lawyer a great lawyer, and I'm sure what will make a good judge a great judge, is the dedication to crack open the books and to learn what the issues are and to read the briefs," Ms. Cosme said.
"In law school, you're taught to learn where to find the law and how to read the law and … knowing one's own limitations, knowing the limited experience in that area would only make me study or review or become that much more familiar with an
issue that I don't feel comfortable with or that I haven't necessarily practiced in depth."
She plans to spend the next seven weeks assembling her staff and preparing to hear appellate cases with the four other appeals judges beginning Jan. 4. In addition, the Democrat plans to be on the November, 2010, ballot to retain the judgeship to which Gov. Ted Strickland appointed her on Oct. 30.
Judges on the 6th District Court of Appeals are elected by voters in Lucas, Wood, Fulton, Ottawa, Erie, Huron, Sandusky, and Williams counties. Ms. Cosme of Sylvania Township said she hopes to make herself known to area voters as a person, not just a name.
"My job is to reach out to those people in those counties," Ms. Cosme said.
"Whether it will be my driving and meeting with them, whatever it takes to bring that human element, because in the end, they are the ones who will be electing their judge for office on the Court of Appeals. I am fueled by the excitement I have seen by just regular people like you and me, just excited to have a fresh face."
She also is counting on support from Democratic and Hispanic organizations along with businesses and labor unions that her former firm, Cosme, D'Angelo & Szollosi, has represented.
Phones at the North Erie Street law practice are now answered "D'Angelo and Szollosi." After accepting the judgeship, Ms. Cosme severed her ties with the firm she started in 2001 with her husband, Joseph D'Angelo, and state Rep. Matt Szollosi (D., Oregon).
Ms. Cosme and Mr. D'Angelo, a Youngstown native who specializes in labor law, met at Cleveland-Marshall College of Law. They moved to Toledo in 1997 when Mr. D'Angelo took a job with a local law firm.
Ms. Cosme started her own practice in a second-floor office above Urbanski Funeral Home on Lagrange Street.
Mr. Szollosi has known the couple ever since. "Keila is highly intelligent and is deeply principled and has overcome a lot over the course of her life," he said. "She's a very hard worker and really loves to be challenged. Her move from private practice to the bench will certainly be challenging, but I anticipate she'll be an excellent judge."
The mother of two sons - Roberto, 10, and Diego, 6 - Ms. Cosme said she is a private person who prefers to spend her free time with her husband and children.
She said she joined the Toledo Bar Association when she moved to town but apparently let her membership lapse - something the bar president pointed out after her appointment.
"There actually is no reason why. It's just that life happens," she said. "This is one of those things that I find myself now in a political light and people are asking why am I not part of the Toledo bar. I have the utmost respect for them. I think that one day it expired and it wasn't renewed."
Mr. Szollosi said Ms. Cosme's family is her priority. Her parents and two sisters still live in Puerto Rico, and she visits them as often as she can.
"She lives for her family and she takes tremendous pride in raising her boys," Mr. Szollosi said. "She's a great mom, and I think she's well-rounded in terms of intellectual capacity, ability to adapt and learn and process information in very short order, and balance the workload with family."
Besides Ms. Cosme, Judge Mark Pietrykowski is the only current member of the 6th District Court of Appeals who was not a judge in a trial court before his election to the appellate bench.
A former Lucas County commissioner, he said being part of a three-member body that made decisions together helped him assimilate into his new role as judge.
"The appellate court sits in panels of three, so I think it's valuable to have different backgrounds for each of the judges," he said. "When you're discussing cases and conferring, you're bringing a little different perspective."
Ms. Cosme confessed that she never wanted to be a judge before the governor's office solicited applications for the vacancy created when Judge William Skow died in June.
"Looking at my life and how fortunate I have been up to this point - I have a lovely family, I have been very successful in my career - and understanding that where I am today could not have been possible but for all the sacrifices of so many people that came before me, there's a sense that this was a great opportunity to give back. It's just that simple," Ms. Cosme said.
"I never thought of becoming a judge, but I think that I could contribute to the court by bringing diversity of experience, diversity of culture, and I also may be able to contribute to society at large through inspiring younger minds to know that through hard work, the American dream is possible."
Her comments draw parallels to the success story of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who was born in the South Bronx to Puerto Rican parents and was a prosecutor and corporate lawyer before being named a federal district court judge, U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals judge, and, this summer, a Supreme Court justice.
Ms. Cosme said she considers Justice Sotomayor an inspiration for her and for all people.
"I have the utmost admiration for her, but I think she's a role model and I think she should be a role model for anybody regardless of race, religion, gender," Ms. Cosme said. "I think she should be a role model for anyone who believes in hard work, dedication, and that anything is possible."
Margarita De Leon, a friend who is working as an adviser for Ms. Cosme's 2010 campaign, said Ms. Cosme is now recognized as a leader in the Hispanic community.
"We are ecstatic and we are elated across the state of Ohio to have such a wonderful, qualified individual appointed as the first Hispanic to the 6th District Court of Appeals," Ms. De Leon said.
"Her appointment was celebrated throughout the state and in Puerto Rico and in other parts of the country, so it is, for our community, a huge deal."
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