Franklin County Court of Common Pleas Judge Charles Schneider has presided over thousands of cases, but he traces the start of his judicial career back to Hilliard and one of its former mayors.
Schneider, 70, a former Hilliard law director and safety director, will step down from the common-pleas bench when his term expires Sunday, Jan. 6. An Ohio law prohibits judges from seeking election or re-election upon reaching the age of 70.
"I don't disagree with age limits, but I don't know if 70 is the correct limit," he said. "I like what I do, and I'm still capable."
That capability was demonstrated in 1981 after Hilliard Mayor Roger Reynolds appointed him safety director.
"I can't overstate how important Roger is to me and my family. ... All my career paths are a direct result of my relationship with Roger Reynolds," he said.
It all started in Hilliard's Hillcrest subdivision off Cemetery and Leap roads.
Schneider had graduated in 1976 from law school at Ohio State University and had been living in a campus apartment when a family friend told him about a house for sale in Hillcrest. He moved to Hilliard shortly afterward.
Though he and his wife, Judy, recently moved to the Ballantrae subdivision in Dublin, he still lives in the Hilliard City Schools boundaries and to this day enjoys summer reunions and a Christmas dinner with four other families who met as neighbors in Hillcrest.
Reynolds said he met Schneider through common friends in Hillcrest.
"We all continued to get along very well, and about the same time, I had an opening on the planning and zoning commission and that's what started him off," Reynolds said.
After Reynolds appointed him as safety director, the post eventually was coupled with law director.
Upon becoming safety director, Schneider wrote formal policies and procedures -- firsts for the fledgling department -- and as law director, he played a crucial role in negotiating with Columbus to expand its water-and-sewer service contract, eventually allowing for part of what would become the Mill Run development to be annexed into Hilliard, Reynolds said.
"But most importantly, he has been a friend," Reynolds said, standing beside his family in times of success and personal losses.
Schneider also maintained a private practice and in 1991 unsuccessfully campaigned for Franklin County Municipal Court as its newly created environmental court judge, a seat that Richard Pfeiffer won by election.
He then accepted an offer to join Vorys, Sater, Seymour and Pease, a firm of hundreds of attorneys that laid the groundwork for his appointment in 1996 to Franklin County Municipal Court, a seat to which he later was elected.
In 2004, Schneider said, he was approached by David Johnson, a retiring common-pleas court judge.
"I really enjoyed my time at (municipal court), but I was ready for another challenge," he said. "There wasn't a thing I learned (there) that didn't help me (in common pleas) but the jurisdiction (of municipal court) is limited to less complex civil cases and misdemeanors, so if you want to move on to more complex civil cases and more serious criminal cases, you had to go to common pleas."
Two cases stand out and serve as "bookends" for his time in common pleas, he said, and one of them is a "more serious" case that came sooner than he could have imagined.
In March 2004, Charles A. McCoy Jr. was arrested in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Then 28 years old, McCoy, who became known as the "freeway sniper" during the string of shootings that began in May 2003, entered a plea to manslaughter and other charges in a second trial in connection with shooting at moving vehicles on multiple occasions, primarily in the Interstate 270 corridor in southwestern Franklin County. The shootings resulted in one fatality, the death of 62-year-old Gail Knisley on Nov. 25, 2003.
"I got that case the first week I was here," Schneider said. "I know there are a couple of judges who aren't here now that wanted that case and there was a little bit of maneuvering to see if they could convince me or figure out a way to make a redraw, but I wasn't giving up."
It remains the highest-profile case over which Schneider has presided.
"I've never had a case even remotely like that, with that much publicity. Not even close," he said.
The McCoy trials were covered on TV "from the minute I walked in (the courtroom) to the minute I walked out. ... I had a friend call me from Denver and say, 'Hey, I saw you on the news last night,' " Schneider said.
Every facet of the trial was covered, Schneider said, and it was unnerving at times that it was all broadcasted to a national audience.
"I knew full well what was going on and that I was the rookie judge in the courthouse," he said.
Schneider said he visited McCoy two months ago at the Allen-Oakwood Correctional Institution in Lima, where he remains incarcerated.
S. Michael "Mike" Miller, one of the attorneys who represented McCoy, accompanied him.
"(McCoy) is a different person," Schneider said.
He said he has visited no other incarcerated prisoner whom he had sentenced.
"It was an interesting experience to be in a room without a guard with the person you sent to prison for murder, (but) there was no animosity, Schneider said.
During the trial, McCoy had "no emotion, he just sat there with no expression" but during the visit, he was "engaging," Schneider said.
"They got his medicine balanced and he is a different person," he said.
Miller is appealing for McCoy to be released and although Schneider said he has written a letter of support, "I don't believe the governor will grant it."
Miller said he has asked Gov. John Kasich for a pardon that would end the 27-year sentence McCoy received when he pleaded guilty to manslaughter and other charges in his second trial.
The first trial, one in which prosecutors sought the death penalty, ended in a hung jury, he said.
"(Schneider) said he'd like to go along the next time I visited (McCoy). ... You can see the change (after physiological evaluations and medication to control schizophrenia)," Miller said.
Miller, a Hilliard resident and former Franklin County Municipal Court judge and prosecutor, credits Schneider as a "wonderful judge" who has served well at every level.
And the "bookend" case?
Earlier this year, a civil case over which Schneider presided resulted in a record $44 million medical malpractice award.
At the close of the trial, an attorney for the plaintiff, a young man left paralyzed below the neck from a misdiagnosis, told the jury he wanted them "to meet my client," Schneider said.
"I remember thinking 'He can't talk, how cruel is this?' "
But the man, using a computer with an electronic voice controlled by the man's series of eye blinks, communicated with the jury, Schneider said.
"It was just the most touching and emotional thing I had experienced ... and (it) became the largest med-mal verdict in the state of Ohio," he said. "I started (in common pleas) with the McCoy case and ended with the largest med-mal case. That's a pretty good run."
During his time on the bench, Schneider said, he worked to improve the court both as its administrative judge and as counsel to others who wear the robe.
"I've been flattered by the number of judges on this bench who have come down, unsolicited, and asked me for advice," he said. "I've reminded them they will soon be the judges who others will come to for advice."
As he steps away from a daily judiciary life, Schneider said, he has few regrets but hopes more people will learn the relevance and significance of judges in everyday life.
"I wish there wasn't such a drop-off at the ballot box for judges," said Schneider, referring to the typically fewer number of votes cast for judges compared to other offices on the same ballot. "I hear people say, 'Well, I don't know the judges,' but a lot of information (about judges) is out there. You have to do a little work to find it out but I think it's important. That disappoints me more than anything else."
Still, Schneider won't be long without a black robe and gavel.
He already has 10 weeks booked during the first quarter of 2019 as a visiting judge in Delaware County Municipal Court.