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Portrait of Jennifer McTernan
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Jennifer McTernan

Candidate insights
  • Criminal defense attorney certified in representing clients with mental health and developmental disabilities.
  • Says many assume "the worst felony someone can get is a murder charge, but in reality, the worst felony someone can get is their first felony."
Sitting Judge?
Admitted to practice law in Ohio
Previous jobs
Private practice (criminal)

You asked. They answered.

Jennifer McTernan's responses to questions from the community.

As a judge, one tool you have is discretion. In one or two sentences, how will you use it?

It is important to address each case and each individual’s unique needs on a case-by-case basis to best set them up to successfully move on from this case in the future as a productive member of society, and it is important that a judge not be so far removed from the people that appear in front of them that they do not realize when they are imposing sentences/conditions that set a person up to fail. Practicing criminal defense litigation for the past decade means that I have had the opportunity to not just briefly interact with those that would appear in front of me, but actually get to know them at length throughout my representation of them, making me more mindful of the significance/impact of any judicial decision on the parties involved – whether handing down sentences/conditions or even just making every day decisions like whether to continue a court date.

How would you keep your own biases and personal beliefs in check when deciding cases involving people of different races, economic or social backgrounds, identities or life experiences?

As a practicing attorney, I already represent every client diligently regardless of race, ethnicity, gender identity, age, background, financial limitations, politics, etc. and would continue to treat everyone with fairness, respect, and humanity from the bench. I would also hire a bailiff and staff attorney that would do the same.

Practicing criminal defense litigation out of an office in Cleveland's Buckeye neighborhood for the past decade, I handle cases for not just retained clients but also for assigned clients that have been declared indigent. I have had the opportunity to not just briefly interact with those that would appear in front of me, but talk with them at length throughout my representation of them. Ultimately, I think this makes me more mindful of the significance and impact of any judicial decision, even smaller seemingly trivial decisions on the parties involved. For example, even a decision to continue a court date means that I have to go have a conversation with my financially limited client about how they will take off work again, find childcare, find transportation, etc. and the reality is that I have this and similar conversations with my clients far too often. As such, I would bring an additional mindfulness to any decision, understanding just how far reaching an impact any decision might have, because I've had these conversations and seen the impact of these decisions firsthand. A judge should not be so far removed from the people that appear in front of them that they lose sight of the fact that the majority of those that appear in the court system are indigent and very financially limited, perhaps even homeless. Only with further discussions and awareness of someone's circumstances can a judge best find creative and innovative solutions to adequately address an individual's needs on a case by case basis. I have already been doing that through my practice for the past decade and would be prepared to continue to do that from the bench.

In recent years, Cuyahoga has made reforms to its bail system and reduced reliance on cash bail. Have they gone too far or not far enough? Why?

The reality is that the majority of those that sit behind bars in the Cuyahoga County jail merely have pending cases and are still legally innocent. And yet, there is often a discrepancy between who sits in jail simply because they cannot afford to pay a lower bond for a lower level offense compared with some charged with higher level offenses with higher bonds that are able to be out in the community with their families and working simply because they can afford to pay. Ideally, the only people that should be in the county jail while their cases are pending are those that are threats to public safety. I’ve observed more awareness from judges on this issue in recent years, but there is still progress to be made, which I would hope to continue to address from the bench.

Should judges be elected? Why or why not? If not, how do you think judges should be chosen?

Yes. Electing judges is certainly not a perfect system. Qualities that should matter in a candidate like experience and judicial temperament are not necessarily known or considered by those voting. But, appointing judges would be even more subjective and so electing judges is still the better option.

Cuyahoga County has programs to give people a chance to avoid conviction and jail for certain crimes. How well do you think these programs work? Would you like to see any other kinds of programs?

Many people assume that the worst felony someone can get is a murder charge....but in reality, the worst felony someone can get is their first felony, because the second someone gets a felony on their record, it severely limits their employment opportunities and other opportunities available to them going forward. First offender programs that allow someone to avoid a felony if they successfully complete the program or even expungeable felonies that allow someone to potentially get the felony sealed in the future are so incredibly important for this reason. As a criminal defense attorney, I already strive to get my client such an outcome when possible, including educating my clients on applying for expungement in the future once eligible. I would continue to educate those in front of me on these options from the bench and encourage them to take advantage of an expungement opportunity when available.

About a year ago, the county received a grant to go towards revamping the current Mental Health and Developmental Disabilities specialty docket and, in trying to figure out which current issues need to be addressed, they sat down with not just mental health professionals but a few of the attorneys that frequently handle these types of cases. Because I already do extensive work representing those on this docket, I was one of the attorneys that was contacted to provide input. I had the opportunity to sit down with them and give insight into some of the issues I have observed firsthand as well as give advice for how to possibly address them. One of the things I was excited to learn they were considering concerned adding additional mental health and developmental disabilities specific diversionary tract options to those that qualify for the specialty docket, and I look forward to seeing them implemented. I know that they are currently in the process of implementing some of these changes, but I hope to advocate from the bench for increased awareness of any additional issues or opportunities as they arise.

How would you grapple with handing down a decision that would upset a victim or their family, or a defendant or their family?

No judicial decision should be taken lightly. Every day, I see firsthand just how much power judges have over the people that appear in front of them and how far reaching the impact of any judicial decision might be, even seemingly trivial judicial decisions. I think it is important to recognize and be mindful of how significant that impact might be and would treat everyone that came before me with basic humanity and respect. The result might not always be the outcome that someone that came before me hoped for or asked for, but at least they would leave my courtroom feeling like they had an opportunity to be heard.