April 18, 2014

Intermittent clouds

Medina attorney-turned-judge makes all-female court

When Medina attorney Jennifer Hensal, far left, took her seat on the 9th District Court of Appeals last month, she made history: She became the fifth judge on Ohio’s first all-female appellate court.

Hensal achieved the feat in last November’s election by defeating incumbent Judge Clair Dickenson, who had been the lone man on the bench.

The judges on Ohio’s 9th District Court of Appeals, from left: Jennifer Hensal, Donna Carr, Carla Moore, Eve Belfance and Beth Whitmore. The state’s only all-female appellate court handles appeals from Medina, Lorain, Summit and Wayne counties. (PHOTO PROVIDED)

During the campaign, Hensal said she never considered the possibility that her victory would score a first for Ohio women.

“I didn’t know that there weren’t other all-female courts,” she said.

While there are many female lawyers, courtrooms tend to have more men serving on the bench, she said.

“Female members of the bar are not generally judges but I think it’s a good thing we’re here,” she said.

Hensal, 45, of Akron, has 19 years of experience as a lawyer but said she’s never experienced much discrimination.

She has served as assistant prosecutor in Medina and Wadsworth and had a private law practice in Medina.

“I opened my own law office and worked for firms in Medina that were large but never experienced discrimination,” she said.

On the 9th District Court, which hears appeals for Medina, Lorain, Wayne and Summit counties, Hensal joins Presiding Judge Carla Moore and judges Eve Belfance, Donna Carr and Beth Whitmore.

Whitmore, 67, is of a generation that found more barriers to women entering the legal profession. She said she encountered a few men who weren’t ready to see women in the courtroom.

After serving in the Air Force during the Vietnam War and graduating from the University of Akron with a law degree in 1982, she remembers being asked at a job interview what the firm should do if she were to get pregnant.

“My answer was, ‘I’ll carry on,’ ” she said. “Can you imagine if an employer asked that question now?”

After getting the job, Whitmore said she instituted changes some of the male lawyers weren’t used to, including working from home on weekends rather than coming into the office.

“I told them I’ll do the workload but I’m a mother. I’m not coming in on the weekend,” she said.

After 13 years practicing law, Whitmore was elected a Summit County Common Pleas Court judge. She said there were still a few attorneys who weren’t used to seeing a woman on the bench.

She recalled one attorney who was late for a case and angry about being fined.

“He came into my office after we had adjourned and said, ‘Young lady, you can’t do that.’ ”

Whitmore said she responded by quietly asking him to leave before he said anything else. She said it’s likely he forgot he was speaking with a judge.

“They just weren’t used to seeing me as a judge,” she said.

Hensal said she didn’t run into that problem.

“My career path didn’t really take me through any hurdles where being a female were really apparent,” Hensal said. “But I think it’s great we’re making history.”

Contact reporter Loren Genson at (330) 721-4063 or lgenson@medina-gazette.com.

  • Uberliberal

    At times I believe we make too much out of these things. Itu2019s great itu2019s all female, as long as there’s no discrimination against males! It funny that whenever someone is questioned they look at it through their own perspectives without looking at it through other people views. I can imagine that the man who challenged the judge on the fine could of been referring to her age more than her gender, maybe she’s the first to fine him, prior judges may of let him go so heu2019s shocked at the change in handling, maybe itu2019s because of her demeanor, who knows. I personally have seen Sr. Business leaders decision get questioned because of their age(due to limited experience) or how they dressed or even their physical characteristics(overweight u2013 they must not be that smart). Sure some of this can be illegal u2013 discrimination on Race/gender/etcu2026.People getting judge is part of life and its often more complicated. So donu2019t wrap every time your judged as discrimination, using the latest politically convenient hot button, it actually hurts the cause of dealing with the true discrimination. None of these judges likely dealt with true discrimination, get real u2013 itu2019s not unusual to have female judges. Period. nnHumm, I feel the appellate court doesnu2019t reflect the community, there should be some white males on the bench, maybe an article about how unbalanced the bench is should be published. Ha-ha

  • Gregory E. Hoover

    As a practicing attorney in Medina, I wish to congratulate Medina’s proud addition to the bench! Judge Hensal has the intelligence, demeanor and temperament to be a successful judge!