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Published: Tuesday, 3/6/2007

Juvenile Court's Judge Ray to step down after 18 years

BY ROBIN ERB
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Presiding Judge James Ray brought innovation and respectability to the Lucas County Juvenile Court  as well as a $24 million new facility during the 18 years he served. Presiding Judge James Ray brought innovation and respectability to the Lucas County Juvenile Court as well as a $24 million new facility during the 18 years he served.
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After presiding over Lucas County Juvenile Court for 18 years driving it toward new programming, new technology, and, most obviously, a new $24 million facility Judge James Ray is putting away the gavel.

Judge Ray, 67, who has been on the bench for more than 30 years, will hear his last case as a full-time judge March 30.

Judge Denise Cubbon, who was elected in 2004, will take Judge Ray s place as presiding Juvenile Court judge, and Democratic Gov. Ted Strickland will appoint her replacement.

Meanwhile, Judge Ray will return as a visiting judge. Among the cases he ll oversee is that of 15-year-old Robert Jobe, who is accused in the shooting death of Toledo police Detective Keith Dressel Feb. 21. Judge Ray is considering whether to order the teenager to stand trial as an adult.

Yesterday, inside the state-of-the-art juvenile justice center that six years ago replaced the decrepit Child Study Institute, staff, attorneys, and other court regulars dropped by Judge Ray s courtroom to wish him well.

And that meant that his decision to retire Judge Ray said he filed his retirement papers more than a month ago began to take a bittersweet turn, despite having four small grandchildren to visit, a golf game to tweak, and a garage to clean out.

The danger, he said, has never been in leaving the bench. It has been in leaving the creative dynamic we have with our people here.

The citizens take what we do for granted and think that our Juvenile Court is like every other Juvenile Court in the country. It s not.

Under Judge Ray, Lucas County Juvenile Court was one of the first in the nation to hold a family drug court, has one of the most comprehensive sex-offender treatment programs in the state, and operates one of a few local lockups to house serious felons for long-term, intensive treatment.

On a national level, the judge was president in 2003 of the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges, and Lucas County is known nationally as a model system that is open to innovation and change, said national council president, Oregon s Multnomah County Circuit Court Judge Dale Koch.

He and others conceded that it s easy for aging judges to set justice on cruise-control.

After a while you ve got your system and it s, It works good enough for me. he said. That s not Jim Ray.

Judge Ray also has overseen cases that have snagged national headlines, like Johnnie Jordan, who killed his foster mother in 1996, and a group of kids who tortured a Vietnam veteran the same year.

In 2005, the judge was the first to test the state s new Serious Youthful Offender, ordering a young felon out of juvenile prison and into adult prison after the teenager repeatedly fought with prison staff.

But of all the things that marks his tenure, the former Lutheran minister takes most pride in something that s not measured by legal precedent, headlines, or the square-footage and polish of a new juvenile justice facility.

It s a ratchet-hard adjustment years ago of court staff who believed that simply warehousing youth was the answer to juvenile crime.

The problem with that philosophy is those kids simply become adult criminals, he said.

Deb Hodges, who oversees the court s probation services and was among the judge s first appointments, agrees: We ve been given this awesome responsibility of trying to change kids and their lives, and of protecting the community.

Judge Ray stressed that much of that success is in building relationships and trust, she said.

In the end, Judge Ray said, it was simply time to go.

Yesterday, he recounted a conversation with his daughter-in-law last year, while he was trying to decide whether to run for election again.

We were standing in the kitchen, and she said You know, you re going to have to let it go someday, and they re going to have to let you go.

Contact Robin Erb at:robinerb@theblade.comor 419-724-6133.



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