Retiring Ohio Judge Shares Inspiring Stories of Transformation in Juvenile Court

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Cindi Morehart, a retired judge from Franklin County in Ohio, is bidding farewell to the judicial system after a long and successful career, with the majority of her time spent in juvenile court. Throughout her years on the bench, Morehart has emphasized the importance of addressing mental health concerns in the justice system.

Morehart’s journey in the legal field started as an art teacher in juvenile prison before she pursued law school at the age of 35. She then went on to work as a city and county prosecutor before eventually becoming a judge.

One of the highlights of Morehart’s career was spearheading the L.I.N.C program, which stands for Learning to Identify and Navigate Change. This program, focusing on mental health, flourished under Morehart’s guidance and impact during her decades-long career.

“These are individuals whom you get to know very well, individuals who face some of the biggest challenges our defendants face. To see them emerge successful at the end is truly rewarding,” Morehart shared.

Morehart’s passion for working with young people was a driving force throughout her career, and she considers herself fortunate to have had the opportunity to make a difference in their lives. With each case, her goal was to send a powerful message.

“That they’re part of this program because they’re worth it, because their lives are worth the change,” Morehart explained.

She believes this message is crucial for the youth involved in criminal activities today.

“As I watch these cases, it truly frightens me. I wish I had all the answers,” Morehart admitted. “Sometimes, as a court, we have to take on the role of a parent when these kids don’t have supportive families. We must approach it with this mindset; we have to teach them about the consequences of their actions and instill in them a sense of self-worth.”

Morehart firmly believes that change is possible, and she has witnessed individuals transform their lives. It is these success stories that motivated her to continue working diligently.

“In juvenile court, there was a young man, and I won’t mention any names. He kept getting into trouble. Finally, I sent him to juvenile detention for a week. That seemed to be the turning point for him, and over the years, he blossomed. I didn’t always see the progress firsthand,” Morehart recalled.

She added that the young man went on to attend medical school and returned to her courtroom one day to share the good news. As Morehart hugged the young man to congratulate him, the mother of another defendant in her next case approached them.

“This mother walked up to him and said, ‘You know, this boy, he used to be you. So, if you pay attention, you can be him too.’ That had such a profound impact on me. I don’t think I ever saw that young man again at the defendant’s table,” Morehart shared.

Reflecting on her career, Morehart acknowledged that she learned from those who stood in front of her.

“One thing I’ve learned is that you always have to be mindful of what you say to someone. Most of the time, they might not pay attention, but you never know what will click and when it will click,” Morehart observed.

In her retirement, Morehart anticipates missing the daily interactions with her colleagues the most. She believes that the more effort she put into her work, the more success stories she witnessed.