By Rev. Donald L. Perryman, Ph.D.
The Truth Contributor
… A [justice] with relevant non-judicial experience would bring a different and useful perspective to the court.
– Harry Reid
Judge Terri Jamison’s candidacy for Ohio Supreme Court in November’s election provides the community with a rare golden window of opportunity to restore justice.
The U.S. Supreme Court’s recent apparently partisan decisions indicate that the body is out of step with the constitution and most citizens.
However, in America, the SCOTUS is not omnipotent. Instead, the state supreme courts have the “last say.” Thus, the Ohio Supreme Court will ultimately decide over the recently overturned Roe v. Wade ruling and a host of other issues at stake.
In addition to Roe, the Ohio Supreme Court also holds the trump card over redistricting, race, the content of instruction in public schools, sexuality, and employment rights.
Therefore, getting Judge Jamison over the finish line against opponent Patrick Fischer is imperative to shift the court’s political majority. Fischer’s recent remarks declared abortion and slavery were comparable by equating Roe v. Wade to Plessy v. Ferguson.
A self-described Black Appalachian, Jamison climactically ascended to her current position as Ohio 10th district Appellate Court Judge from the underground mines of West Virginia. Her broad life experiences ensure all Ohioans an opportunity to equal justice under the law.
I spoke with Judge Terri Jamison just ahead of her campaign event at Toledo’s Onyx Café.
Perryman: Perhaps, more than ever, people must vote to protect and restore our rights. So please tell The Truth’s readers a little about you.
Jamison: I am a third-generation coal miner. I moved to Columbus from West Virginia after being laid off from working in the mines for more than a year. Having not finished my college degree when I moved here, I started my workforce development through the Comprehensive Employment Training Act program (CETA). Through Kelly Temps, I got my first job with the Online Computer Library Center in Dublin. I’m dating myself, right?
Perryman: I’m truly old school, so I remember Kelly and CETA.
Jamison: After that first job, I worked for Xerox Corporation, and they also moved out of Columbus. So, I landed a job as an office manager for a Black-owned insurance business for two years until I got my own agency. I had a small business for 16 years until I sold the agency. In the meantime, I graduated from Franklin University, sold the company, and enrolled in Capital University Law School.
Perryman: How about your post-law school experience?
Jamison: I did several internships while at Capital. First, I went to work for the attorney general’s office in the Civil Rights section as an intern. And I did an internship with the Bureau of State Hearings as an intermittent hearing officer. I heard Welfare, Medicaid, and food stamp appeals. Then, I moved to an internship with the Franklin County public defender’s office and remained there until I finished law school. After that, I took a brief break while I studied for the bar exam and then went back to work for the public defender’s office, awaiting the exam results. Soon after, I became an assistant public defender.
I stayed there for a short time and decided to hang out my own shingle, Jamison Law Offices, with locations in Columbus, Mansfield, and Springfield. I began to practice in numerous courts across the state, representing men and women in domestic, criminal, juvenile and probate law at the trial and the appellate level.
After about eight years of practicing, I filed to run for the domestic relations and juvenile court in Franklin County in 2012. I was successfully elected and re-elected to that court. I was there for over eight years and ran for the Court of Appeals, where I am currently.
Perryman: You’re also a pastor. Right?
Jamison: I have to go way back. I accepted Christ in 1983 but didn’t become ordained to minister until 2002, so I’ve been at the same church. Unfortunately, my pastor passed away, and in November of 2010, I became the interim pastor and have been there ever since.
The ministry does a lot in the community. For example, during COVID, we did cleaning supplies and hygiene product drives to help meet the needs of those in shelters who could not get out. We provide food and coats for children every year. We also did shoes this year and toy drives. We partner with different people in the community to ensure that we’re meeting the needs of our community.
I also sit on the board at Capital Law School, the board at Franklin University, and I’m a volunteer with The Red Cross. I’m married. My husband and I are a blended family with three adult sons, eight grandchildren, and one great-granddaughter. Oh, and I recently received an honorary doctorate in community leadership from Franklin University for the work that I’ve been doing in the community.
Perryman: Most people know about the influence of the Supreme Court of the United States. However, they underestimate the power of representation on the Ohio Supreme Court. Can you talk about why getting elected to the Ohio Supreme Court is so important, particularly in today’s political environment?
Jamison: All of these issues will be kicked back to our Ohio State Supreme Court, which is important for several reasons.
Ohio’s constitution is not quite identical to the US Constitution. We want to make sure that people understand that when things come back, we get to take an original look at constitutional issues and the effect of our constitution on those things.
So, we will be determining issues affecting all Ohioans, whether it’s redistricting, collective bargaining, workers’ rights, or reproductive freedoms. All of those questions will come before the court, and we must understand redistricting will also be coming up again.
Perryman: What does your life experience contribute to what you bring to the table as a state supreme court associate justice?
Jamison: I bring empathy, understanding, legal knowledge, and the familiarity of being a small business owner and its unique challenges. I also bring the experience of being a person that went to law school later in life and understands how that career change was beneficial to the community that I served.
Having been a member of two collective bargaining units, I also recognize the importance of having your voice heard, whether an individual or a collective issue. I’m aware of living in segregation because we lived in segregation and went to segregated schools in West Virginia until I was in the 2nd or 3rd grade.
So, I bring a lot of life experience that gives me a unique perspective when looking at the facts of a case. I can determine or help bend the room to persuade the justices or judges that there is a factual difference between this particular case and another case.
Lastly, when we started the Ohio Black Judges Association in 2019, only nine of the 88 counties had a black judge. Only 56 black judges in the State of Ohio and six of Hispanic origin.
So, I bring racial, gender, and diversity of thought and lived experience.
Perryman: You were on juvenile court before the court of appeals. One of the problems of concern in our community is youth, particularly youth violence. It costs approximately $120,000 a year to incarcerate a child. So, we’re seeing more kids enter the system than we can afford to detain. Yet, judges are criticized for incarcerating too many. How do we resolve that tension in the system while keeping it fair and the community safe?
Jamison: Crime has several roots. Crime comes from trauma and affects brain development, particularly in young people who experience trauma even as early as the mother being a domestic violence victim while in the womb. There’s reliable evidence that children experience trauma when their mother is under stress. So, we look at how trauma triggers actions. We look at how trauma interferes with brain development, which interferes with reasoning. We look at the socioeconomic climate. We look at underfunding of schools and the disproportionality, and the fact that the funding scheme is unconstitutional.
Franklin County’s Juvenile Court was a juvenile alternative court, meaning we have alternatives to incarceration. Incarceration was our last resort for children unless it was a case where the legislature required the child to be transferred to the adult court for prosecution. In those cases, our hands were tied by the law. So, we put wraparound services around the family and the child to ensure that the child was not without services that could help them and prevent recidivism.
I was a trustee on the Ohio Association of Juvenile Court Judges, and many judges used these philosophies across the state. It saves dollars from incarceration and prepares the child to be more productive in society and to move forward. The intervention says to the child you are more than this mistake you’ve made in your life. We value you and want to see you do well and excel. There are several organizations out here, the Annie Casey Foundation and the MacArthur Foundation collecting data on the use of alternatives.
Perryman: You’re saying, that if we’re going to build a brighter future for children, young people, and families, then rather than incarcerating, we need alternative or diversion programs?
Jamison: We even need to go further than that. You can’t cure a problem from the feet. You have to also deal with the head. We have two generations of parents, I believe, that were victims of the crack epidemic and mass incarceration. We need those same support services for parents. Because a parent with no sustainability cannot parent and sustain a household and having represented children that were homeless, their parents are homeless. You can’t cure a problem from the feet.
Perryman: Let’s discuss your advocacy of the state’s criminal sentencing database.
Jamison: We need the criminal sentencing database and also database access for civil judgments because minorities and lower socioeconomic status individuals typically do not get the same sentences or type of civil judgments in a lawsuit
Perryman: What is the criminal sentencing database system?
Jamison: It’s a contract with the University of Cincinnati to collect data. There’s a pilot program of about 60 judges who have agreed to use a uniform sentencing entry. So they will collect data on race, type of incident, criminal background, and history to determine whether or not one group of people is getting a different sentence from the other. I believe it’s needed. But we also need the civil database. So, for example, if you’re injured in a car or a work-related accident, you should get the same pay or the same settlement, and your race should not factor into it. So, one thing I would like to see going forward if I’m elected is a database that collects that data on civil judgments to know how that’s impacted by race.
Perryman: Finally, what key messages do you want to communicate to our readers about your campaign?
Jamison: I am a proponent of individuals coming to the court to have a voice and to be heard. And, even when the law is not on your side, you should be treated with fairness, dignity, and respect.
Contact Rev. Donald Perryman, PhD, at firstname.lastname@example.org