Part of the job of being City Manager is that you are always “on” duty. Even on vacation. I took Friday off this past week and took a long weekend trip to Gatlinburg to unwind for a few days. As I’m walking along in the Island in Pigeon Forge, my phone rings and it’s Chief Muterspaw, who knows I’m on vacation and that I shouldn’t be contacted unless something terrible has occurred in the city.
Something terrible had occurred. Judge Wall had died.
The paper has done a nice job of laying out his accomplishments. He was a Vietnam war veteran. He did great work with local military groups and public organizations.
I worked with Middletown Municipal Court to help hundreds of residents get their driver’s license restored by the State of Ohio in the Driver Intervention Program. As a former veteran, Judge Wall had a veteran’s docket that served vets who had come into contact with law enforcement and he connected those returning veterans with services needed to help each person get whatever help they needed to come back to society in a productive manner. As heroin made a raging comeback, he was one of the first municipal courts in the state to introduce a vivitrol program to help heroin addicts beat their addiction. He routinely offered community service through a diversion program when a person needed a break and not a conviction for lesser offenses.
My relationship with him, however, was a little more personal. I considered him a friend and mentor.
I became an attorney at age 40. I worked two years as a staff attorney for the U.S. Department of Labor in downtown Cincinnati. I didn’t like the drive to downtown Cincinnati, and so in 2005 I applied to become a Prosecutor for the City of Middletown.
I had never set foot in a courtroom as an attorney before. Judge Wall was patient and understanding as I got my courtroom feet underneath me. On the bench, he’d offer his rulings in a way that told me that I got it right or that I should have done something a little differently to get the result I was looking for. Off the bench, he was generous with his experience. He made me think through any situation. “I had to overrule you on that motion, but how could you have laid a different, better foundation to get the evidence into the trial that you wanted?” He made me think… and learn.
And I wasn’t the only one. So often, there was a knock at the back door of the court and some Butler County attorney would ask if the Judge was available for a few minutes. He was generous with his time and his wisdom. People sought him out for guidance on the law, for help in making career decisions, or for an understanding of local politics. He mentored an entire generation of Butler County attorneys.
As I moved on to Community Revitalization and then City Manager, we talked from time to time about the ills of the city and how we could work together to make Middletown a better place. He loved this city and he loved the people that came into his courtroom. He saw the person, not the crime, and he saw the good, not the bad that each defendant had in their hearts.
The City has lost a strong supporter and advocate for the best Middletown possible. I’ve lost a mentor and a friend. Rest in peace Judge. I’ll miss you.