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May 29, 2024

By Rebecca Mohr, Capital University Communications Manager

Switching Sides of the Bench: Judge Mingo's Journey to Environmental Court

Judge Stephanie Mingo's career path is marked by dedication to community and a passion for justice. Born and raised in Canton, Ohio, she pursued a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science from The Ohio State University in 1996, followed by a Juris Doctor from Capital University Law School in 1999. Her journey to the bench of the Franklin County Municipal Court Environmental Division in 2019 was shaped by her diverse experiences.

“There isn’t a day that I don’t come to the office and think of what a blessing it is to be able to serve in this capacity,” said Mingo. “Public service was really what I wanted to do, and I was open to doing that in any capacity that I could. Sometimes you get there by taking risks, by having an open mind and an open heart. Just by the nature of who we are, we think we have it all worked out of what we want to be, where we want to go, and what we want to do. I am so thankful that I kept an open mind when offered the position.”

Mingo's career began with her brother in private practice, focusing on Domestic Relations and Juvenile Court. She served as a guardian ad litem, advocating for children from underserved communities. After having her two girls, she found a new role in the Franklin County Prosecutor's Office.

Her appointment to the bench came as a surprise. In late 2018, she received an unexpected call from the Governor's office, appointing her as the Environmental Division judge. 

“As someone who would never, ever dream of really seeking public office, it was stunning. I am such an introvert, so when I got this call for the position of environmental judge, I thought, you have to be kidding me. I did the screening and thought, I’m really proud of myself. I put myself out there and was prepared,” said Mingo. “I didn’t think anything of it until Christmas Eve when I got a call. It was the Governor’s office asking when I would like to take the bench. I lost track of time, space, everything! I just could not believe it. I’d gone to bed that night a prosecutor, and I woke up the next morning with someone calling me judge.”

Reflecting on her years on the bench, Mingo emphasizes the value of listening and taking the time to make informed decisions. 

“On this side of the bench, I would say probably the most important responsibility as a judge is to be a good listener. As an attorney, you are formulating thoughts as you’re walking through your argument, but as a judge, you just need to sit and listen and take it all in. Don’t form any opinions until you’ve had all of the testimony and evidence in front of you, and that’s hard to do,” said Mingo. “Everyone expects you to lead and to lead flawlessly. That’s not realistic, whether you’re a seasoned judge or new. Sometimes you just need to take a step back, consider what is being argued in front of you, and take the time to arrive at the appropriate conclusion.”

Her approach to justice is rooted in compassion and a deep understanding of the human experiences behind each case.

“Through the work that we do, we see so many families that are in housing crisis, in financial crisis, and in mental health crisis. It’s so important to me that this division, under my leadership, does all it can to reach out to those individuals, to educate them on all resources available to them in Franklin County,” said Mingo. “I have started an initiative called Beyond the Bench. The goal of that initiative was just to be active listeners throughout Franklin County. We wanted people to understand that your judges care. We really want to know about those issues impacting your family. When we come back to the bench, we have those factors in mind when we’re making decisions.

“It's so easy for judges, I think, to exist in somewhat of an ivory tower. You sort of get used to holding that gavel and having that authority and power. For me, it’s always been key that I stay closely connected to the community that I serve. That I never lose sight of those issues that are impacting defendants that are coming before me. I can consider those factors when making decisions,” said Mingo. 

She encourages law students and young professionals to embrace opportunities and take risks. Her own path, from a shy law student to a respected judge, serves as an inspiration to those who may not see themselves in traditional leadership roles but have the potential to make a significant impact.

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