Stephens sought and received the county Republican endorsement and was on the the March primary ballot. But when Oney retired a year early, Stephens was appointed by Gov. John Kasich to fill the vacancy.
On March 16, Stephens was sworn in and was on the bench March 21 to hear a full docket of cases.
“Was it strange, yes,” Stephens said with a smile. “I wouldn’t say I was nervous, but I knew I had to be well-prepared.”
Stephens has served as assistant county prosecutor for Butler County since 1997. He earned his bachelor’s degree in business finance from Miami University in 1991 and his juris doctorate from the University of Dayton School of Law in 1995. Stephens served as a special assistant United States attorney from February 2012 to November 2013, and is a member of the Ohio State Bar Association, Butler County Bar Association and the National District Attorney’s Association, according to the governor’s office.
The judge said his experience as a prosecutor at both the county and federal level and even a short stint as a private practice attorney have prepared him to pick up the gavel.
“I knew we were losing a judge who had been on the bench a very long time and was very well respected in the community. I knew the person who would succeed her had to be a person who was familiar with the courtroom, who was familiar with the community and proven in public service, which I have tried to be for 18 years,” Stephens said. “I felt I had a reputation as a even-handed prosecutor, as someone with good temperament, and I felt the legal community would be well served by those qualities as well.
However, Stephens said his now role is not to be “the second prosecutor in the room.”
“I am not here to judge people. I am here to judge fact scenarios,” Stephens said. “Nothing about this is ever personal.”
When not in a courtroom, Stephens, 45, is pastor at First Baptist Church in Ross Twp. He does not receive pay for his role at the church, something that would be prohibited for a full-time judge.
Stephens also said those two roles will not cross professionally.
“Never made a practice of discussing cases from the pulpit nor will I be sermonizing from the bench,” he said.
Stephens, 45, and his wife, Heather, have two teenage children.