Cuyahoga County Domestic Relations Court Magistrate Eileen T. Gerity was appointed to the position of chief magistrate by Administrative Judge Leslie Ann Celebrezze in September. We sat down with Magistrate Gerity to discuss her career.
AALM: Describe your relationship with your staff?
EG: As the chief magistrate I manage the magistrates that handle the court’s support docket and the domestic violence docket. In addition, I oversee the court’s mediators. I have a good working relationship with the magistrates and mediators.
AALM: What are the type of cases presented in Domestic Relations Court?
EG: Domestic Relations Court deals with the termination, dissolution, or annulment of marriages. Issues presented to the court concern allocation of parental rights, division of property, spousal support, and child support. Cases may include complex business valuations, tax implications, mental health issues and substance abuse issues. I handle post-divorce motions. The motions that I hear are those seeking to modify or enforce terms of a parenting order or to enforce property division orders.
AALM: What do you find most challenging as a magistrate?
EG: The majority of my cases deal with the allocation of parental rights and responsibilities – custody of children. Therefore, when parents are unable to agree on with whom the children should reside or the time the parents spend with the children, I have to make those determinations based upon the evidence presented. I realize that the decision I make impacts the life of the child and the ultimate relationship a child may have with a parent. Cases where one parent wants to relocate with the children out of state or out of the general region of Northeast Ohio are often the most difficult decisions.
AALM: How important if the function of the court’s rules committee?
EG: The court has local rules of practice. The role of the rules committee is to ensure that the court’s rules are updated as necessary. The committee may suggest modifications to current rules based upon changes in legislations or amendments to the state Rules of Superintendence or Rules of Civil Procedure. The committee may also propose new rules of practice that we believe will provide litigants and attorneys guidance in appearing in the court. Once the committee completes a proposed rule it is presented to the judges of the court for review. Once approved by the judges the rule is put out for public comment before being adopted as a new rule of court. The rules are a guide to navigating the court process, therefore it is important that the rules are clearly written.
AALM: What do you feel has been the most important/impactful decision to come from this committee while you’ve served on it?
EG: Last year legislation was passed in Ohio that altered the court’s jurisdiction over parents who were married but separated and are seeking child support or an allocation of parental rights. It is not often that legislation alters a court’s jurisdiction. The committee worked through how the cases would be processed through the court and in certain cases consolidated into divorces cases pending or completed. The committee created a rule that provides guidance to attorneys and self-represented parties on how these new cases will be considered by the court.
AALM: Tell us how the practice of law has most changed throughout your career.
EG: When I first was appointed as a magistrate the majority of the parties were both represented by legal counsel. Over the years there has been an increase in cases where one or both of the parties are self-represented. Cases with self-represented litigants are often challenging due to a lack of understanding of how to gather evidence and present evidence at trial. Self-represented parties often do not understand that the court is not going to seek the information, rather it is their responsibility to present the necessary information to the court.
Additionally, the domestic relations practice has become more form driven. Legislation has required specific language be included in judgment entries and as a result the court and the state of Ohio have created forms that encompass all necessary language.
AALM: How is the dominance of technology changing your role in the courtroom?
EG: Prior to the pandemic I would have said that the dominance of technology was not changing my role in the courtroom. When the governor of Ohio issued the stay-at-home order the court needed to convert its hearings from in person proceedings to telephonic or virtual hearings. The court was able to make that transition relatively quickly. To the extent possible, much of the business of the court is now conducted telephonically and virtually. I recently completed a multi-day trial via Zoom. Prior to March the court did not have the capability to conduct a video hearing with two parties in different remote locations.
AALM: How is it altering the procession of justice?
EG: I believe the use of technology especially a platform that allows everyone to appear for a trial or court proceeding remotely will be here to stay. In most cases the parties are local but occasionally there will be a case where one or both of the parties have relocated out of the area. Allowing them to participate in a court proceeding remotely may be more efficient and economical for the litigants.
AALM: What do you do in your spare time? Hobbies?
EG: In my spare time I enjoy reading and listening to podcasts. I like to travel. I am a sports enthusiast. I have attended the U.S. Open Golf Championship, the Ryder Cup, and the Presidential. I have been to the U.S. Open Tennis Championship, the Indianapolis Five Hundred and the Daytona Five Hundred and all three legs of the Triple Crown – the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness, and the Belmont Stakes. I have been to a Cleveland Indians playoff games and a World Series game and a Cleveland Cavs championship series game.