Wednesday, June 23

Bill Hedrick Could Become the First Out LGBTQ+ Municipal Judge in Ohio History

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Home to the Ohio state capital of Columbus, Franklin County has been a forerunner in terms of LGBTQ+ representation in local politics, with a number of out elected officials currently serving in various capacities – from city council to school board.

However until last year, the county had yet to elect an out judge. At the time, among the more than 700 judges in the state of Ohio, only one, Mary Wiseman, was openly gay – until Franklin County voters elected both Jeff Mackey and George Leach to their respective posts in 2020.

Later this year, voters in the county will have the opportunity to elect their third out judge and the state’s fourth: Bill Hedrick. A 25-year veteran of the Franklin County Municipal Court – where he’s served a number of roles including Senior Lead Prosecutor, Chief Prosecutor, and Chief of Staff since his last (unsuccessful) bid for judge in 2004 – Hedrick is running for an open seat on the court he’s served his entire career.

The Buckeye Flame chatted with the candidate about how his second run for judge as an out gay man differs from his first, and what he will bring to the bench if elected.

You’ve been working with the municipal court in various capacities for 25 years. What drove you to take the leap and run for judge now?
Actually, this isn’t my first race. I ran in 2004, obviously unsuccessfully, but I always wanted to be a judge, and I felt now was the time to throw my hat in the ring again, with the currently sitting judge unable to run for reelection due to age limits. I’ve devoted my life to public service, both through my job and as a volunteer in my community, and this is just part of my ongoing journey in public service. I was President of Stonewall Democrats and of a group called the Buckeye Regional Anti-Violence Organization (BRAVO). I’ve been doing this stuff for a long time. In 2004, I was one of the youngest judicial candidates, now I’m one of the older ones.

How has your candidacy been received so far?
Very well, though it’s still early. Campaigning during COVID is a lot different, but I’ve already had over 140 donors to my campaign – which is pretty good when you can only do a Zoom event. I also just received an endorsement from the Victory Fund, which also endorsed my 2004 campaign. The screening process for other endorsements are just beginning, but we should start hearing some decisions in June.

I imagine your extensive direct experience in this specific court will give you a boost.
The court I’m running for is the court I’ve exclusively practiced in for the last twenty-five years, which I think sets me in a strong position to pick up the job on day one. You get a lot of people who run for these seats and while they are very capable of doing the job, they haven’t practiced in that area before, whereas I have, and I think that will make transition much easier. Franklin County has the busiest court in Ohio, so it isn’t just about knowing the law, you need to be able to handle the volume of cases – anywhere between 40 and 80 on your docket a day, ranging from speeding tickets to domestic violence cases. It’s a lot to balance, but having handled between 50,000 and 100,000 of these cases over my career, I think the transition will be easier.

What qualities will you bring to the bench?
The attributes I believe I can bring are having not only the experience but also the temperament, commitment to fairness, and respect for people who come into the court for who they are. One of the things we can do in municipal court is find ways to address problems without just throwing people in jail. If someone has mental health issues or drug and alcohol problems, for example, we want to direct them toward services that will keep them from coming back into the court system. I’ve done this for enough years that I’m very good at assessing cases and identifying what each one’s unique needs may or may not be.

If elected, you’d be the third-ever out judge elected in Franklin County, all elected within the the past year. What would this mean to you?
Obviously, it would mean a lot. I think currently we have 709 judges in the state of Ohio, and to my knowledge there are a total of three who are openly LGBTQ+. Last year, we were at one. When I ran in 2004, we were at none. There’s a big difference in the environment between running then versus now. In 2004, I was the only openly gay person running in the entire state of Ohio for anything. That was the same year the Defense of Marriage Act was on the ballot. I had reporters calling and asking me about [then-New Jersey state Governor] James McGreevey, who was outed and resigned that year. I thought, that’s not who I am, but that was all that was out there at the time in terms of gay representation in politics.

But now, there are a lot more of us. In Franklin County, we have a number of out elected officials, and we’ve had out officials. Columbus’s current city council president [Shannon Hardin] is LGBTQ+, so is our city auditor, and of course David Donofrio on the board of one of our school districts. I think we are going to reach the point soon where we need two hands to count the number of out elected officials, where that just wasn’t imaginable twenty years ago. I will say, it’s made campaigning much better. Now that other LGBTQ+ people have been screened for endorsements and elected in Franklin County and done such a great job, people are more focused on my experience and my record than the fact I’m a gay man. 🔥

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Peter Kusnic

Peter Kusnic is a writer and editor based in Cleveland, OH.

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