Senior Eric Cox had the opportunity to sit down with Judge Jodi Thomas not once, but twice. Through his interview and day of shadowing, he compiled a thorough profile of Thomas and learned about the core values she defends as the Franklin County judge.
Jodi (Kotzin) Thomas currently serves as a Franklin County Municipal Judge. She was appointed in 2016 by Governor Kasich and was elected to serve the rest of the term in 2017. She is now running for the full 6-year term.
Her career is quite different from the average model of what many see as a judge. Thomas had aspirations of helping people her entire life. Her original plan was to become a physical therapist, but later on, she changed her mind and obtained a Bachelor of Science in Social Work from The Ohio State University and received her degree as a Licensed Social Worker. She did not plan to pursue law originally, but field work experiences during her senior year at a public defender’s office altered her perspective. After her fieldwork experiences, she knew she wanted to pursue law, and graduated from Capital Law School in 2001.
Thomas began working in the public defender's office in 2002 and remained there for her entire career before being appointed as a county judge. Thomas stayed much longer than many in the office -
turnover is 2-5 years, as many view the position as a career stepping stone, not a long term profession.
After working in the courtroom on a daily basis, Thomas understand the impacts judicial rulings have on people’s lives. For her last five years in the public defender's office, she was the lead attorney for specialized dockets. When a judge in the courthouse retired, she decided to put her name down for the appointment.
Thomas recalls an extensive and comprehensive application process, with a 50-page application numerous interviews, and many background checks. Eventually, she was chosen by Governor John Kasich to fill the vacancy, and the rest is history.
Last fall, I had the opportunity to sit on the bench and witness a day in the courtroom with Thomas. The Franklin County Municipal court moves very fast, with around 70+ cases moving through each courtroom a day. Watching the judge take time to individually care and serve proper justice for each person who entered the courtroom was remarkable. She carries these practices outside the courtroom as well - when I shadowed, it was the day before her birthday, and she even attempted to prevent her staff from paying for her lunch!
I truly do not understand how she does it - the case files are huge, yet she knows the specifics for each and every one of the cases that enters into her courtroom. I also witnessed a group discussion with members of HART, Helping Achieve Recovery Together. Thomas was selected by her coworkers to administrate and run this program. HART is an opiate addiction specific drug court. The participants of HART were showing true steps in recovery, and I was absolutely blown away by their important dialogue. Each individuals' success through HART is different. Thomas told me the story of a member who did not graduate the program, but still remained cleaned and found a job. For many participants, the goal of the program is to demonstrate the necessary responsibility to regain custody of their children.
From a lifelong career of public service, it was hard for Thomas to pick out just a few memorable stories during my interview. She mentioned helping a homeless man get off the street and helping him get housing, as he had been living in a tent in the dead of winter. Additionally, she advocated on behalf of breaking courthouses' reputations as places of fear. According to Thomas, judges will show compassion and understand the situations people are in. Whether someone agrees with her decision or not, she wants everyone to feel respected and fairly treated.
Thomas is a proud graduate of Gahanna class of 1993 and was inducted into the Gahanna Lincoln Hall of Fame in 2016. When asked about her time at Gahanna, she happily shared with me accounts of the excellent teaching she received from Gahanna's many dedicated educators. She was very involved at GLHS, participating in tennis, dance team, B'nai Brith Youth Organization (a Jewish students organization), and making honor roll.
For anyone interested in the legal path, Thomas recommends being well rounded. It is important to be able to recite law, she says, but also to have conversations about its significance. Getting involved in the local community is important to Thomas, who mentioned that any student is always welcome to contact her about spending a day in her courtroom.
Through a dedicated life of service, Thomas has showcased what it means to believe the best in people and to fight for what is right. After seeing firsthand how her courtroom works, I know our legal system needs more judges like Thomas. Her ability to fight for justice and for the good in people is unmatched, and we are lucky to have her here in Franklin County. Thomas lives in Gahanna. Her daughters, Abby and Brooke, attend GLHS and High Point Elementary, respectively. Her husband Jamie works at Thomas Tool and Mold Co. Thomas is running this November for reelection so she can serve a full 6-year term as municipal Judge in Franklin County.