Work Every Day to Move Goals Forward
When Beth Gill became a lawyer 26 years ago, she went into family law.
“As a result, I became very passionate about upgrading our level of representation for people in family crisis,” said Gill, a 2013 CSG Toll Fellow.
That passion hasn’t wavered since Gill became a judge. She sits on the bench in the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas, Ohio Domestic Relations Division and Juvenile Branch.
“As I got more and more experience practicing law,” Gill said, “I realized the importance of having judges on the bench that knew the field that was being practiced in front of them.”
Before she ran for the bench, Gill became involved in judicial races in Franklin County, of which Columbus is the county seat. She hadn’t really thought about running herself.
That was until about nine years ago, when a long-time judge in Franklin County was retiring and asked her if she was interested in running for the post.
“I never went to law school thinking I would be a judge,” she said.
In Ohio, when a judge retires or leaves the bench midterm, the governor appoints an interim judge, who then has to run for the seat. Some of the appointees, she said, had little experience in family law or even had no experience in the field in private practice.
“I felt that the way the cases were being handled in the courtroom—timelines, things like that—were getting lost in the shuffle because there were people on the bench that didn’t understand the implications of the hourly rate on both sides of the coin,” she said.
If, for instance, an attorney was required to wait three hours before a hearing even started, that could be costly for the client or for the attorney, if the attorney chose not to bill the client for that time.
Now into her second term, Gill strives to make a difference. “I’m passionate about bringing some changes to the bench and to improve the services (of) the court …,” she said.
That’s important, especially in family law, she said, because of the types of cases brought into it.
“No one comes to our court for any kind of happy circumstance,” she said.
Family court, she said, is like the emergency room of the court system.
“People come to our court in crisis, whether it’s because their marriage has fallen apart, their kids are in trouble, because they’re unable to take care of their kids or they need child support,” she said.
“As an ER, all we can kind of do is put bandages on and give people advice and then refer them out, like an emergency room,” said Gill.
She always tells people she can’t fix their problems; she can only help them find their way.
Gill makes changes in her courtroom and hopes that sets an example other judges will follow.
“You lead by example and as a judge, I’ve been trying to make some changes on (the) domestic side … moving cases along faster, having people look at alternatives and resolving their cases as opposed to fighting it all out in court,” she said.
It seems to be working.
“I put certain practices in my courtroom, certain work ethics, certain ways to handle cases and put them out and spread them through the day and gradually others have picked up on that and done that,” she said.
Gill, a graduate of the University of Cincinnati and the Marist College of Law at The Ohio State University, is a strong believer in public service—but only if it’s for the right reasons.
“If somebody is doing it because they want that name, because they want to move to the next step, because they want the prestige or some reason like that, I don’t believe it’s going to be a satisfactory experiment for them,” she said.
She’s learned an even greater lesson after her re-election to the bench in 2012.
When she was first elected, she thought six years was a long time to serve. By the time the term ended, she was wondering where all the time went.
“So I entered into my second term absolutely just hellbent on making sure that absolutely every day I do something to move this system forward and to make a change, because I may not be re-elected in six years,” Gill said. “That’s the reality of our system. So while I’m here, I want to make a difference. Every single day, I try to go home and say, ‘Did I do one thing that moves my goal forward?’”
She follows that philosophy in her personal life as well. Gill, a runner and an avid traveler, believes in the power of travel to help enhance her work.
Her parents, Robert and Roberta Gill, had a special philosophy related to travel and knowing your surroundings: “Learning and experiencing new cultures is the best way we can come home to where we live and understand that all people are connected and we all love our children, we all go through strife and we all really have a lot of the same life goals,” Gill said her parents told her.
“Knowing that that is the way it is around the world brings a lot to the empathy and compassion I try to have in my work and my personal life.”