Judge Francine Goldberg was elected to serve on the Cuyahoga County Domestic Relations Court in November 2014. She previously served as an assistant Cuyahoga County prosecutor for 24 years. She successfully advocated for victims’ rights as a member of the office’s major trial unit and director of the Ohio Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) task force, and successfully prosecuted elder exploitation crimes. She was a three-term University Heights councilwoman, including four years as vice mayor. In 2009, Judge Goldberg was inducted into the Beachwood High School Gallery of Success. In 2013, she received the University Heights Public Servant of the Year Award. Judge Goldberg has been married to her husband, David, for 27 years, and is the proud mother of four children.
AALM: What do you love about your job?
Goldberg: I am honored and privileged to serve the families of Cuyahoga County. Being a judge in Domestic Relations Court is not a job for me, but a mission. I have invested in family issues my entire career, and now I strive to assist in creating long-term solutions for families in crisis. Making a difference for a family or a child is incredibly impactful. I meet with many families, and have learned each one has distinct issues that must be resolved uniquely to ensure the future integrity of that family.
That’s what first drew me to the law – the opportunity to make a difference in our community. My ambitions to join the legal profession were solidified when, as a freshman at Ohio State University, I interned for State Senator Lee Fisher. I have always been motivated to pursue just resolutions that preserve and protect the integrity of our families.
AALM: Describe your style in the courtroom.
Goldberg: I take a proactive approach to assist families in volatile, troubled times. I am dedicated to making our court more family-friendly and accessible. At the first pre-trial, I meet each litigant to discuss their case. This leads to a more efficient case resolution so the parties can begin the next phase of their lives. To accommodate litigants who cannot travel to court, I have conducted hearings in parties’ homes, at nursing homes and at assisted living facilities. Compassion, fairness and good judgment are qualities I bring to the bench every day to make the judicial system more civil and more responsive to the litigants. I believe this is a unique approach in our court.
AALM: Do you have any advice for attorneys trying a case before your bench?
Goldberg: Come to court prepared. It is imperative that court dates are meaningful. At the initial pre-trial, I meet with attorneys and litigants in my courtroom because every case involves the important resolution of family issues. At the beginning of the process, I review a checklist of potential trial issues that include child custody, parenting time, child support, spousal support, real estate, pension evaluations and financial forecasting. After a pre-trial, parties should leave my courtroom feeling some trial issues have been resolved. For children, parenting issues and a parenting plan are always our first priority. If parenting time is an issue, parties will immediately be referred to our mediation department to establish a parenting schedule that meets the family’s best interests.
AALM: Are there any changes in your court that you’re excited about?
Goldberg: By the end of 2016, I anticipate the e-filing system will be fully implemented, which will make our court more efficient. I am also initiating a financial literacy clinic. Attendees will learn to improve their financial stability. I am also intending to pilot a night court to help meet the scheduling needs of working families.
AALM: Do you have any mentors? What are some of the most important lessons they taught you?
Goldberg: Albert Ratner, co-chairman emeritus of Forest City Realty Trust, Inc., is my hero – there is no one like him. He loves Cleveland and this community like a father loves his child. He is my mentor and role model because every day he makes the world a better place for all of us. He has a relentless commitment to all that is good in people, and believes in giving people opportunities. Albert always gives me words of encouragement and invaluable advice. His picture is in my office to remind me to be humble, kind and patient.
The late Congresswoman Stephanie Tubbs Jones was my political mentor. She gave me my first opportunity in public service when she hired me as an assistant prosecutor in 1991. She instilled in me the importance of community engagement and hard work. She always said if I was determined enough that anything is possible, and believed in my potential to run for political office. I try to emulate her qualities of compassion, energy and love of people from diverse backgrounds to make Cuyahoga County a better place.
AALM: Tell us a funny story from your days on the bench.
Goldberg: The first week I was on the bench a couple was set for a divorce hearing and they were smiling, holding hands and giggling. After asking a series of questions, I told them I didn’t want to divorce them – that they were happier than 95 percent of my married friends! They told me they couldn’t live with each other anymore and wanted to move forward with the divorce. They also said they were going to celebrate their divorce by going out to dinner that night. I requested a picture with them since I didn’t think I would come across another “happy” divorced couple. This provided the genesis to establish the “Wall of Happiness” to acknowledge how couples can solve potentially contentious issues during difficult times. My goal is to promote solutions that preserve and protect family issues in the future, and celebrate successful outcomes
AALM: Beyond the bench how are you involved in the local community?
Goldberg: I am a member of several local judicial committees and associations, including the Ohio Judicial Conference and the Ohio Association of Domestic Relations Judges as well as several local bar associations. On numerous occasions, I’ve had the pleasure of participating in the Ohio high school mock trial competitions. Personally, I am a board member of Project Love and Camp Stone and am a member of Green Road Synagogue. Also, I try to schedule time to get in front of as many schools, students and organizations as possible to talk about issues surrounding domestic relations, including the impact of domestic violence.
AALM: What do you do in your spare time?
Goldberg: I love walking in the Cleveland MetroParks with my husband, David, and our kids. I participate in an early morning (5:45 a.m.!) pure barre exercise class three times a week and nothing beats a good five-mile run on Sunday morning.