Michael P. Donnelly

An Interview with Judge Michael P. Donnelly

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Judge Michael P. Donnelly has served on the Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court since 2005. He believes the ideals of fairness, transparency and accessibility are the most important in guiding disputes toward a just resolution.

AALM: Describe your style in the courtroom.

Donnelly: I think the lawyers who appear before me would agree that I am a judge who lets them try their cases. I work very hard to provide them with the highest degree of trial date certainty possible and an even playing field should the case go forward to trial. Most of all, I want all of the lawyers and their clients to feel welcome in this court where their dispute will be resolved in a fair, just and efficient manner.

AALM: What advice do you have for attorneys considering the switch to the bench?

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Donnelly: You must accept whole heartedly that you are leaving behind your former position as an advocate. You must work every day to not only be fair but to also appear fair before the public. The position can be isolating at times but you are fulfilling a vital role. I have often said that the greatest insult to a judge is to be labeled a prosecutor’s judge or a defense-oriented judge. Likewise plaintiff or defense oriented. You are there to be neutral and call the balls and strikes right down the middle.

AALM: Describe your relationship with your staff.

Donnelly: I cannot speak more highly of my staff including my bailiff, staff attorney, schedulers and secretary. They are all true public servants who through their hard work make me look good on a daily basis. They all treat the attorneys and members of the public with the highest degree of respect and I am truly grateful for their assistance.

AALM: Do you have any advice for attorneys trying a case before your bench?

Donnelly: You will never receive any strong arming from the bench to encourage you to settle your case for anything less than you believe justice demands. Therefore, the only requirement I seek to impress among the attorneys is to be prepared should the matter need to go forward to trial. I need to be here at the courthouse whether they try their case or whether they settle it. In a trial court, parties deserve to be certain their trial will go forward if they cannot resolve the case otherwise. Also, this court prides itself on being accessible from the day the case is filed until the case is resolved. Therefore, should you encounter a discovery dispute, please do not spend unnecessary time and expense with motions to compel. Contact my staff attorney and you will be provided with a hearing or a teleconference with me within 48 hours.

AALM: What do you love about your job?

Donnelly: I regard the position of being a judge for exactly what it is – a true privilege to serve the citizens of Cuyahoga County and this state. From my days at St. Ignatius High School, I was taught that we were placed on this earth to serve others. As a Cuyahoga County judge, I have the opportunity to do this on a daily basis with the parties who appear before me.

AALM: Are there any changes in the legal community that you are excited about?

Donnelly: As a member of the ethics committee for the Ohio Judicial Conference, I am excited that the Supreme Court’s Rules Commission recently passed a proposed rule governing negotiated pleas in criminal cases. The rule will provide more transparency and protect the integrity of the plea negotiation process by helping judges determine what pleas are consistent with the principles of truth and justice.

AALM: Are there any challenges that you believe need to be corrected in the legal community?

Donnelly: I believe there is always opportunity to improve the justice system. I firmly believe that when every party in our adversarial system is doing their job correctly, the system will produce just results. The only way to ensure parties are doing their job correctly is to provide the highest degree of transparency possible. For this reason, I try to engage with the parties as much as I can on the record. I also believe that there are procedural improvements we should impose within the justice system to ensure that claims of actual innocence for the wrongfully convicted are treated with the highest level of expediency possible. The fact that the system is fallible is not a matter in dispute. Everyone must work extremely hard to avoid the greatest injustice which can occur which is the conviction of the innocent.

AALM: How are you involved with the local community?

Donnelly: I am proud to serve on the board of the Cleveland Baseball Federation one of Cleveland’s oldest charitable organizations who helps the inner-city boys and girls of Cleveland play baseball and softball in the summer at no charge. I also am involved with the Western Reserve Fire Museum which will be a great asset to Cleveland protecting the history of our fire safety forces as well as educating children on fire safety.

AALM: Do you have any mentors?

Donnelly: My father, Judge John Donnelly was a respected probate judge in Cuyahoga County for many years. He instilled in me the importance of fairness and treating everyone with respect. My mother Ellen Spitzer Donnelly instilled in me the importance of challenging myself and setting high goals. I am also extremely fortunate to be married to my wife, Nancy Howe Donnelly, who in addition to being a great mother to our two children is an excellent attorney for Steris Corporation. I would not be in the position I am in without their support.

AALM: What do you do in your spare time? Hobbies?

Donnelly: Believe it or not in my spare time, I play guitar and sing in a local classic rock band called Faith & Whiskey. The band consists of 10 great guys who have helped me achieve my dream of standing on a stage and watching people enjoy the music that I loved growing up. The Rolling Stones, Lou Reed, and so many more!

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