As a child, Sharon Kennedy wanted to be a police officer. When she was a law clerk in Butler County Common Pleas Court, her mentor told her she could go all the way to the Ohio Supreme Court. Justice Kennedy has now realized both milestones.
The 50-year-old Liberty Twp. resident was sworn in as a justice of the Ohio Supreme Court earlier this month, 31 years after she became a Hamilton police officer. In between, Kennedy, a graduate of Northwest High School in Colerain Twp., graduated from University of Cincinnati with a degree in social work and the university’s law school, and was elected Butler County domestic relations judge.
“I do have one regret,” Kennedy said Friday while waiting to swear in staff members at the county recorder’s office. “That I didn’t say at the department long enough to be a detective.”
Kennedy said she loved the daily variety that patrolling the streets brought, “but I marvel at detectives who are working on cold cases … who can figure out what happened and bring closure to families.”
At age 27, Kennedy left the police force after four years to enroll in law school. While pursuing her law degree, she became a clerk for Common Pleas Judge Matthew Crehan, who is now retired but serves as visiting judge.
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“That opened up the world of civil cases for me. I had the criminal piece, but it was great training in the civil law,” Kennedy said.
It was Crehan who told her she had the drive, energy and talent to develop a practice and he also planted a seed that would later become reality.
“He told me, kid you can do anything. You could even go to the Supreme Court,” Kennedy said. “I remember I laughed when he said that.”
Kennedy served as common pleas judge in the domestic relations division from 1999 until her election to the Ohio Supreme Court.
When Ohio Supreme Court Justice Thomas Moyer died in 2010, Kennedy began to think about the direction of the state and the court. As a conservative with the belief the job of judges is to uphold the law, not re-write it, she decided to run.
She did not make the decision alone. She consulted her family and then political leaders that she trusted.
“I asked the question: could a former cop, a domestic relations judge and working class kid run for political office and win?” Kennedy said.
All encouraged her, but told her the campaign trial would be a busy one.
“I have been to all 88 counties in the state,” Kennedy said, noting she would drive to events, return home in the wee hours of the morning, and then get up and go to work.
Her hard work brought her victory in November over incumbent Justice Yvette McGee Brown, she said.
The Ohio State Bar Association did not endorse Kennedy for Ohio Supreme Court.
“I guarantee it did not hurt me,” she said with a smile. In fact, she said it was a help because the majority of voters are not attorneys.
Kennedy said she will continue to be a Constitutionalist at the supreme court level, meaning “judges have to do what the law says. You do not get to make it up as you go.”
“When judges start tinkering or meddling in the law, no one can gage what the law is,” she said. “I am not a law maker. I uphold the law.”
Butler County Prosecutor Mike Gmoser knew Kennedy as a young attorney and said her work ethic and intellect rivaled that of more experienced lawyers.
Determination and hard work, along with “a real solid foothold on the law,” got Kennedy elected to the highest court in the state, he said.
“She got elected through hard work, grit and persistence,” Gmoser said.
Nancy Nix, Butler County treasurer, who has known Kennedy professionally for a number of years, said, “she is the hardest working person in political service I have ever seen.”
Kennedy showed leadership skilled in the county along with being a full-time judge.
“She is a worker and a leader and won’t be stopped,” Nix said, noting she believes there is even more in Kennedy’s future.
Kennedy will be bunking with her niece in Columbus while the court is in session. She said she would not have sought office if it meant leaving Butler County.
When not on the bench, Kennedy cooks, gardens and eventually would like to learn to make furniture and stained glass windows.
She is a also the proud owner of a new puppy, which was a Christmas gift.
The poodle is named Reese Joy, “because she is a joy,” Kennedy said.