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Portrait of Nancy Margaret Russo
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Nancy Margaret Russo

Candidate insights
  • Was 8 years old when she decided she wanted to be a judge.
  • Started Re-Entry Court in 2007 to work with people returning home from prison.
  • Had concerns about a courtwide shift to using more personal bonds but now has found it effective alongside the use of pretrial monitoring.
Sitting Judge?
Admitted to practice law in Ohio

You asked. They answered.

Nancy Margaret Russo'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?

In criminal cases when deciding sentences of prison or probation; and when evaluating people for Re-Entry Court and granting judicial release.

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?

I do that by following my oath, by listening with empathy and utilizing emotional intelligence. For me, putting on the robe is a reminder that I am recommitting to my oath to be fair in all ways, cloaked in neutrality, devoid of any bias. I think the most important thing a Judge can ask someone at sentencing is not,  "What happened in this situation?" But, "What happened to you; what happened that led you to this decision?" By asking that question, the Judge will learn and expand their understanding, but more importantly, it is an opportunity to help.

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?

I have learned a great deal from the reform efforts. When I first came on the bench, bail was almost 100% c/s/p [cash/surety/property bonds]. As I served more years on the Bench, I began to use pretrial services in nearly all cases and found that pretrial services were more likely to ensure success and appearance in cases with all types of bonds. The shift to more personal bonds initially raised concerns about appearance and public safety, but I have found it to be effective. It is a good reminder that all systems, including governments and Courts, need to be open to change and willingness to change should be encouraged and respected. It is the only way we can make things better: listening to the users of our system and implementing progressive change. I have definitely seen the positive change from the reforms. The change has been good.

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

Yes, definitely elected. I believe the only way to create diversity on the bench is by election. By diversity, I mean not only what is assumed to be diversity but also diversity of life experience, diversity of family experiences, diversity of socio-economic background, diversity of race/gender/sexual orientation, diversity of prior work experience. I do not believe appointing Judges creates equal opportunity, nor diverse representation on the Bench.

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?

They work well. As the Re-Entry Court Judge, though, I am disappointed at the lack of attention on the success of Re-Entry Court and of its graduates. Re-Entry Court tends to be overlooked because it is a post-conviction program. It is higher risk but very high reward. The Re-Entry Court and its participants deserve more support from the community; not less because they were in prison.

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

I have had this experience many times. A Judge has to be willing to be disliked, disagreed with, criticized. A Judge can never let fear of criticism deter them from doing what the law requires, or what discretion demands. It is difficult, but necessary, to be brave. A good Judge accepts that people in court are in crisis and conflict; there really are no winners in court situations. The important thing is to be transparent and explain the decision clearly and transparently, and to respect those who disagree.