SIDNEY — Former Shelby County Probate-Juvenile Court Judge William Zimmerman Sr. feels, with the vital assistance from his staff and local officials, over the years, the person following him is inheriting a good situation.
His last day in the local office was Friday, as he prepares to sit as judge on the Third District Court of Appeals in Lima on Thursday. (See story on Page 11 regarding the interim oversight and the future appointment for Zimmerman’s unexpired term)
The appeals court is comprised of 17 Ohio counties in northwest Ohio. Other sitting judges include Stephen Shaw, Vernon Preston and John Willamowski.
The 63-year-old Zimmerman was first elected to the local judgeship in 2008, and re-elected in 2014. Prior to being elected judge, Zimmerman practiced law for nearly 30 years in Lima, Dayton and Sidney. He also served Shelby County Public Defender for more than 20 years, and was a partner in a Sidney law firm.
Zimmerman and his wife, Debra, have four children and nine grandchildren.
Wrapping up his final day on the job at the Shelby County courthouse, Zimmerman told the SDN it took a variety of people, and involved departments, to develop positive programs for teenagers facing tough times and questionable decision-making,
“Everyone makes mistakes and they need a chance to redeem themselves. We (court system) need to give them ways to learn to make things better. Then we have to decide if they are not taking the carrot (at the end of the stick) to do the right thing,” Zimmerman said.
Joining with various community service groups, the court developed programs at the Salvation Army, Alpha Center and the local animal shelter. The plan implemented juvenile offenders into afterschool care, tending to a garden, and caring for animals.
“It’s not all about punishment, but rehabilitation.”
Redirection, detention among youth options
Zimmerman said many times youth merely need redirected towards a more positive experience or relationship. However, those choosing not to participate, and continue to behave in the same manner, have no regard for authority, and fail to develop proper manners, a harsher punishment awaits.
“I hate to say it, but sometimes putting a person in detention is the only thing that works. For some, it takes that to get their attention.”
Zimmerman commended efforts regarding school resource officers, local foster parents and government officials looking out for the care of children.
He said the personnel located in schools “are not normal police officers”. The judge noted “great success” in students having a good response to the officers involved in their academics, social issues, family life and having an overall positive influence in their behavior.
With Probate Court handling adoptions, he praised groups that develop foster care families for local children. Combined with the courts, local law enforcement and county services personnel, Zimmerman is proud of the local care provided for youth.
Financial rebound strengthened county
Financially, Zimmerman recalled when he took office in February 2009 it was during the recession. County commissioners faced the daunting task of cutting budgets for all departments.
“When I walked in, the bottom fell out (financially). The message I sent was we were still going to run a court, and I wasn’t going to ask for more than we were entitled too. I feel all the county departments came together at that time to deal with this problem, and we all came through it together. I feel that really makes this a strong county.”
As the finances began to improve, Zimmerman said his court, Common Pleas and Sidney Municipal Courts joined forces to create the current online public records program. Through grants and other resources, Zimmerman covered his $100,000 portion without any use of the General Fund.
Zimmerman said his successor will inherit a dedicated staff, positive credibility with local law enforcement and school districts, and a good budget report. For the past two years, the courts have returned unused funds to county commissioners. A total of $26,000 was returned from 2016.
On Thursday, his six-year term begins on the appellate court bench. He said the position requires him to oversee lower court decisions confirming the letter of the law was followed. He feels with 25 years of experience as a criminal defense attorney, he will be able to offer good advice to the court.
Zimmerman was uncommitted regarding retirement. If desired, he would be eligible to seek re-election to another term. Judges cannot seek re-election once they turn 70.
Bringing it back to Shelby County, the judge said that the growing drug epidemic and bad parenting is “ground zero”.
“When parents have drug problems, the kids are the silent victims. With the local Children’s Services and law enforcement, there is hope for these kids.”
The writer is a regular contributor to the Sidney Daily News.