Westerville News & Public Opinion

Councilwoman advances on goal of serving on bench


After running unopposed to be the Republican candidate for a seat on the bench at theFranklin County Court of Common Pleas, Westerville Councilwoman Jenifer French is one step closer to her dream of becoming a judge.

And while French, Westerville's vice mayor, has only been on council since 2010, the attorney said the move to become a judge has always been a goal.

"It's something that I've wanted to do for a long time, so when the opportunity presented itself at the beginning of this year, I was certainly happy to be able to run for that seat," said French, who grew up in Westerville and graduated from Westerville North High School.

"As a (young) attorney, I always had it in the back of my mind that I'd like to be a judge, but you never know when the opportunity is going to present itself."

French is an attorney with Lane, Alton & Horst LLC, and said that the biggest difference between her campaign for City Council and her campaign for judge was how difficult it was to connect personally with all of Franklin County.

"When I ran for Westerville City Council, I knocked on a lot of doors and went to a lot of little local things," she said. "It's a lot easier to connect with the people of Westerville than it is to connect with the people of Franklin County as a whole. It's just so much larger.

"Knocking on every door in Franklin County just isn't an option."

But while she can't shake hands with the more than 1.8 million residents of Franklin County, she's still trying to keep her campaign as personal as possible.

"I'm attending a lot of events and doing things like that," French said. "Because for me, it's important that people vote for me as a person, so I'm hoping to meet as many people as possible so that they can connect the face with the name and know the person they're voting for."

If she were to win election in November, French said there would be a bit of a transition period, and she would have to get away from making laws and focus on enforcing them.

"City Council is really a legislative position -- that's our primary function," she said. "Being a Common Pleas Court judge is obviously a judicial function. So they're very different in that way, and it's very important as a judge that you recognize that you're not a legislator and that you're not legislating from the bench, and that you're there to interpret the law, not make it."

A win in November would also result in her resignation from Westerville City Council, a change that French said would be bittersweet.

"I really enjoy and treasure my position on council, and the ability that we have as a council to help the city, and I'm really going to miss that," she said. "But the wonderful thing is that my fellow council members are so supportive of me."

But, if elected, French said she wouldn't focus only on her judicial duties. While she couldn't be on City Council, French said she would certainly try to be on one of the city's boards or commissions, and said she was interested in returning to the Parks and Recreation Advisory Board where she began.

"Westerville is my home; it's going to remain my home," she said. "We're raising three children here and we're not leaving, so it's going to be important for me to stay involved."

The Common Pleas Court seat currently is held by Judge David Fais, a Republican who has been on the bench since 1988 but did not seek re-election.

French will run against Democrat Thomas F. Hayes Nov. 4 for the six-year term that commnces Feb. 9, 2015.