Behind the gavel: Judge Michael Oster Jr. is soccer coach, golfer, fisherman

This is the second part of the Journal-News’ “Behind the gavel” series featuring Butler County judges. It takes a look at those who make difficult decisions daily and how they live outside of the courtroom.

In Hamilton, Michael Oster Jr. spends his time wearing a judicial robe, but in Monroe, shorts and a coach’s whistle are essentials for spending time on the field with young soccer players.

Oster, 45, was elected to the Butler County Common Pleas general division bench in November 2014, after 11 years prosecuting cases in the county prosecutor’s office — with seven years leading the appellate division.

“It’s funny, most people in Monroe know me as coach, but in Hamilton as judge,” Oster said. “I really think more people recognize me from my coaching than my day job.”

The native of Berea, Ohio, a suburb of Cleveland, Oster began his love of soccer there, going on to play at Malone College (now university) where he was twice an Academic All-American in men’s soccer.

These days, he is still “playing” while coaching the Monroe High School men’s soccer team.

Credit: Nick Graham

Credit: Nick Graham

“I still get out there with them,” he said with a laugh. “Albeit a bit slower with my new hip (which was replaced last year).”

Oster and his family lived in Monroe but are now residents of West Chester Twp., which is closer to his wife’s job at Cincinnati State as chair of the law and paralegal department.

His children, Grayson, 15 and Cordelia, 12, are also athletes. Cordelia is a soccer player and a Grayson favors golf these days after a head injury ended his contact sports participation.

“So after about 12 or 15 years of not playing, I am out there with my son playing 18 holes,” Oster said.

Credit: Nick Graham

Credit: Nick Graham

Completing the family is rescue pup “Mr. Flinton” who previously was a service dog to a hearing impaired child.

“He is the best trained dog. He knows sign language, and if you put a basket in the middle of the room and tell him to pick up all his toys, he will,” Oster said. “Don’t know where the name came from. He was named when we got him, but we are less formal, we just call him Flinton.”

Oster said he sees his coaching job as a way to affect young people positively, which is often different from his job in the courtroom.

“And, I mean, try to make them better people,” he said. “My coach philosophy is, ‘build the person and the athlete will follow’.”

But the Monroe athletic department knows his job as an elected judge comes first.

“They are great about it, they know if there’s a jury out of something like that, I can’t make it even to games,” Oster said.

And there have been times when the law and soccer overlapped.

“I have signed search warrants on the bench at a soccer field before games because this job comes first,” Oster said.

Fishing, especially on family vacations, is also a hobby, and maybe reading an occasional history book. But watching courtroom dramas are a no-go.

“I will watch some of the movies. The TV shows I can’t do. I used to love ‘Law and Order,’ even back when I was in law school. Now all I can say is ‘you can’t do that’ when I watch,” he said.

Oster met his wife while in law school at the University of Cincinnati. She is still a crime drama fan, but not with him around sucking all the fun out of it, he said.

The family did really love the recent hit Netflix show that shares his wife’s unusual name — Wednesday.

“Oh yeah we all four got into it,” he said.

Oster said while the job of judge can be isolating due to the ethical considerations they must follow, especially about cases, for the most part they walk around in anonymity when he is not wearing the black robe.

“I did have someone ask me, after realizing I was a lawyer, what I thought of that Judge Oster,” he said. “I said I don’t know, but you are looking at him.”

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