LEBANON -- After shepherding 2,217 divorces through his courtroom last year, Warren County Domestic Relations Judge James L. Flannery has a front-row view of American family life.
But it is inside his chambers, with children whose parents are divorcing, that the 48-year-old former prosecutor gains perspective. He's not required to speak to the children, but Judge Flannery appreciates their candor and says it helps him make better decisions on the bench.
That kind of commitment earned Judge Flannery this year's Nicholas Longworth III Alumni Achievement Award from the graduating class of the University of Cincinnati College of Law.
"Jim is one terrific guy," said Warren County Prosecutor Tim Oliver, who has known and worked closely with him since 1974.
"He's concerned about the kids. He listens to the kids. If he believes parents are unfit, he's not afraid to make a referral to juvenile court," Mr. Oliver said. "He is extremely well-respected among attorneys because they know they're going to get a fair shot." The award is named for Mr. Longworth, a graduate of the College of Law who served as representative to Congress from the 1st District of Ohio for 26 years and was speaker of the House from 1925 until 1931, the year he died.
"The award honors a graduate who has set a good example for the profession and the school," said Jim Schoenfeld, assistant dean of the College of Law. "Its general intent is to recognize someone, not necessarily at the end of their career, but midcareer."
Judge Flannery graduated from Bowling Green State University in 1971 and received his law degree in 1974. He was Warren County chief assistant prosecutor from 1974 until 1980, and prosecutor from 1980 until 1986. He was elected judge in 1986. This year, Judge Flannery is president of the Ohio Association of Domestic Relations Judges.
Taking a four-minute break last week from back-to-back divorce hearings, Judge Flannery was characteristically low-key about the honor.
"It's good to live your life and give back, and very flattering to be honored for it," he said.
Ohio Rep. George Terwilliger, R-Maineville, spent Thursday trailing Judge Flannery at work to better assess the impact domestic relations legislation has on Ohio judges and divorcing families. "I was awed by his workload and the time he spent," said Mr. Terwilliger, who sat through five divorce hearings. "I'm still trying to figure how I would have adjudicated those cases if I were in the seat."
He said Judge Flannery painstakingly helped one family of modest means divide up singular items that wealthier people would take for granted.
"These folks didn't have anything," Mr. Terwilliger said. "And he was trying to work through concerns that might seem trivial to you or me, like: "Who gets the lamp? Who gets the toaster?' And he didn't rush it. He was sincerely concerned."
Judge Flannery said he also tries to practice what he preaches. He has been married 27 years to Sue Flannery, an art teacher at Middletown School, and has two children, Andrew, 21, and Angela, 19, both in college.
"He's very, very family-oriented," said Debbie Kilgore, Judge Flannery's court reporter and secretary. She often sits in on the judge's conversations with children.
"He makes them feel comfortable, he asks them questions, like what's their favorite thing to do with Dad, what's their favorite thing to do with Mom," Mrs. Kilgore said. "It's just his way, and it makes a difference."