A Tale of Two Judges

May 26, 2015

Hamilton County, Ohio, Judges Jerry Metz and Pat Foley began their careers on a parallel track. Both trace their interest in politics to their childhoods. They even attended the same seminary (though they knew each other just slightly at the time) and then moved on to legal work for the bulk of their careers. And both thank Wellstone for propelling their judicial campaigns.

But it’s their paths to elected office where their stories look a bit different.  

While in law school, Pat began practicing as a legal aid attorney and in private practice. He considered someday running for judge, but job restrictions kept him away from politics. He retired, moved briefly to California, and volunteered for a congressional campaign that reignited his passion for politics. When he moved back to Cincinnati, he heard that Hamilton County was looking for judicial candidates.  

Pat sent his name in for consideration, but the county leaders weren’t certain he would make the best candidate (name recognition and career tenure in Cincinnati are key, neither of which Pat had). He was told to reach out to Jerry. “He was encouraging. He told me all the stuff he learned from his Wellstone training,” Pat said. ‘If you do nothing else, go to Wellstone’, he told me.”

With just 50 hours to go before the filing deadline last winter, Pat was approached and asked if he would put his name on the ballot. “I had such a positive experience,” says Pat of collecting the signatures needed to get on the ballot. “The Wellstone training was coming up, so I decided to go. It was absolutely the right call.” And it reinforced what he knew: “I learned to have a good script, to listen to the concerns of the people you are talking to. Wellstone taught me to focus on where to put my efforts and look to the districts where there were more persuadables.” As the huge underdog in the race, Pat was outspent by his incumbent opponent by at least 6X, but he proved that sticking to his plan and connecting with voters mattered! And he won with 53% of the vote.

For Jerry, the path to running for office was a clearer decision. He began his career as a law clerk for a district judge and fell in love with that positon. He applied for several judicial positions, but never made the final candidate list because he didn’t have the political connections. In 2000, he decided to get more involved and made GOTV calls. And in 2004, while attending a polling place protection training with other lawyers, most of whom he knew, he began to feel more confident taking on the role of candidate.

In the spring of 2008, Jerry headed to Raleigh for a Camp Wellstone. “The targeting session really helped build my understanding for how to talk to people at their doors,” he said. Jerry was surprised at how eager people were to talk to him, and how happy they were that a judge candidate would even bother to come to their door. Jerry’s first race in 2008 was against an incumbent, but his victory proved that hard work and determination pay off.  

Now Jerry and Pat are among four progressives out of the fifteen judges in Hamilton County. Pat knows the huge affect that his role has on people’s lives. “It’s an awesome power only a judge has,” Pat explains. Hamilton County has a reputation for sending more people to prison than other counties – it has a big, often negative, impact on the community. So Pat carefully considers every case before him. “I have to think about how it affects so many other things – it has a negative effect on families,” he says.

For Jerry, the day-to-day work is looking at the bigger picture: “I am here to do what is required to do justice.” Like Pat, Jerry also carefully considers those that stand before him. Too often, poverty is an underlying issue that brings people before him. Though he knows the actions caused as a result are wrong, his philosophy is “I am not here to judge your heart, but your actions.”

Jerry and Pat hold similar points of view about their work. They believe that everyone has the right to be heard, treated fairly, and to seek justice. As Jerry says, his work is “to joyfully work for justice and healing”. “Wellstone Action carries forward the work of Paul and his ideals,” Jerry remarked. “He was very much the kind of passionate person I wanted to be on the campaign.”

Both Pat and Jerry are an integral part of the judicial system, working to uphold the same set of ideals of justice and fairness that we at Wellstone Action fight for, and we know Paul did, too.