An Ohio Supreme Court justice endeavored last week to shed a little light on the inner workings of the court for the members of the Grove City Rotary Club.

An Ohio Supreme Court justice endeavored last week to shed a little light on the inner workings of the court for the members of the Grove City Rotary Club.

"We're sort of this dark, mysterious organization," Evelyn Lundberg Stratton admitted.

In the process, Stratton, who was first elected to the state's highest court in 1996 and is up for re-election, also shed considerable light on her own intriguing background and how it shaped her legal career as well as influences her approach to the office she currently holds.

Stratton was born in Bangkok, Thailand, where her parents were missionaries. In a strange way, a tie with Ohio existed for Stratton even before her birth. Her parents -- her father a Minnesota farm boy, her mother a native of New York City -- were required to raise $1,000 on their own in order to go on their mission to Southeast Asia. This was difficult on their tiny salary with a church in the South, but a donation from a woman in Toledo made it possible.

Many years later, when Stratton was in private practice, she spoke of helping a client's sister out of an insurance mess that would have prevented the elderly woman from getting much-needed surgery.

As it turned out, Stratton told her Rotary audience, the woman she assisted was the very same person who had made the donation 35 years earlier that enabled her parents to go to Thailand.

When she was 6 years old, Stratton's parents sent her to a boarding school in Vietnam. She was there for eight years before completing her education in Malaysia.

Although her parents longed for her to follow in their footsteps and become a missionary, Stratton said that when she came to the United States to attend college in Texas as an 18-year-old, she became interested in the law and dreamed of one day becoming a judge.

In a way, the justice quipped, she did become a missionary of sorts. Every time she sentences someone to prison, Stratton said, they write to say they have been saved and, if allowed to go free, will sin no more.

While attending college in Texas, Stratton met her Ohio-born husband. She would eventually earn her law degree from Ohio State University.

In 1989, Stratton became the first woman elected to the Franklin County Common Please Court bench.

She's now been on the state Supreme Court for a dozen years.

"The bench itself has been fascinating," Stratton told the Rotarians. "It is absolutely a wonderful job."

And while her duties, strictly speaking, only require her to be in the office four days out of the mouth, that sounds deceptively like easy duty, according to the justice. In fact, she and her six colleagues must each read through a stack of legal briefs five feet high every two weeks.

"That's because lawyers don't understand what the word 'brief' means," Stratton said.

The mornings when the Supreme Court is in session are given over to oral arguments in the cases that have been accepted for review. In the afternoon, operating under a fairly strict protocol, the justices confer among themselves before a vote is taken, according to Stratton.

"Sometimes we have cases that a very, very gray," she admitted.

Sometimes, too, in spite of all the case law in the court's history, a case will crop up that raises issues for which no precedent exists, Stratton said.

The justices, she added, negotiate with one another in order to develop as much of a consensus as possible.

"It's just an enormous privilege to be on that bench," Stratton concluded.