Ohio justice says she'll leave court at year's end

JULIE CARR SMYTH Associated Press Published:

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) -- Ohio Supreme Court Justice Evelyn Lundberg Stratton announced Tuesday that she plans to leave the court at year's end, with two years left on her term.

Stratton said she has decided to "pursue a different course" helping disabled veterans caught up in the criminal justice system.

"Many of our veterans have sacrificed for our country but may have been wounded mentally or physically," she wrote in her resignation letter. "As a result, they sometimes face a revolving door through the criminal justice system. Jails and prisons have become the de facto mental health system for many of these brave men and women. We must reverse this trend."

The 59-year-old Stratton said she plans to take on a state and national role directing troubled veterans to benefits available through the Department of Veterans Affairs, perhaps as a consultant. Since Stratton created a statewide advisory committee on mental health issues in the state, Ohio has gone from having two mental health courts to 34 such courts and 144 specialized dockets.

She said the intensive workload and ethical restrictions of being a justice have kept her from working on social causes she is passionate about.

"I just finally decided that it was time to move on and let somebody else do this job who really wanted to and loved it and could devote the time to it that I do devote but want to spend elsewhere," Stratton told reporters.

Stratton, a Republican, has spent 16 years on the seven-member high court, which is dominated by the GOP. Republican Gov. John Kasich can appoint a replacement to fill her unexpired term.

Stratton attended law school at Ohio State University. She started her legal career as a trial lawyer in the courtrooms of central Ohio. She was the first woman elected judge of the Franklin County Common Pleas Court in 1989. She was appointed to the state's high court in 1996 and was elected to a third term in 2008.

Her current term was scheduled to end Jan. 1, 2015.

Ohio Republican Chairman Bob Bennett said he supports Stratton's decision, on which he was briefed Tuesday.

"I think that's a good thing she's doing," he said. "She's following her heart."

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Associated Press writer Ann Sanner contributed to this report.