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Portrait of Joan Synenberg
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Joan Synenberg

Candidate insights
  • Appointed twice to the bench by Republican governors.
  • Freed Joe D'Ambrosio, formerly on Ohio's Death Row in high-profile case.
  • Started collaborative that has brought free legal help to more than 1,000 defendants.
Sitting Judge?
Admitted to practice law in Ohio
Previous jobs
Judge in another court

You asked. They answered.

Joan Synenberg'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?

The evidence in a case, the law governing a case, the pleadings and arguments of counsel, the victim’s allocution (if any) contribute to my exercise of my discretion.

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?

Statutory guidance is provided when passing judgment in a criminal case, which does not include race or social background or identity. It is appropriate to also consider case precedent. I make every effort to help every person in my courtroom move to a positive path forward regardless of their station in life.

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 setting of bail is made on a case by case basis considering the factors set forth in Criminal Rule 46, presentations of counsel, and any person permitted to speak pursuant to Marsy's Law. It is a complex issue that can only be evaluated when more time has passed to consider the changes that have been made.

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

Cuyahoga County is a one party county today. All but one of the over 50 elected judges in Cuyahoga County are from the same party. As a result, judicial elections are not based on merit, experience or ability but on political association. One alternative may be to appoint judges by a bipartisan committee and have them run every 10 years in an unopposed election to retain the seat.

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?

I presided over a Mental Health Developmental Disability docket for 5 years. I presided over the first Ohio Supreme Court certified dual diagnosis specialized docket for over 9 years. Since August 2023, I have presided over the first felony human trafficking Ohio Supreme Court certified specialized docket in Ohio. People who participate in a drug court, even if they do not graduate the program, have a lesser likelihood of recidivism. So, yes, I do believe that these programs work.

Born out of the needs of the people we serve on those specialized dockets, and in partnership with the Legal Aid Society, the generous volunteerism of civil lawyers, and the Nord Family Foundation, I created the Pro Bono Collaborative. We are in our sixth year. We meet once a month in my courtroom with multiple social service agencies on site to also assist our clients. Lawyers meet with clients largely from a criminal docket to assist with their non-criminal matters. We have helped over 1,000 clients with the assistance of hundreds of lawyers. A consumer debt docket would be a welcome addition to our court as I see impoverished people taken advantage of in a disproportionate number.

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

It is common for people to seek different outcomes in cases. The process is adversarial in nature. In striving to achieve a fair decision I consider every person's position, deliberate carefully and explain my decisions thoroughly.