By ALLISON REAMER
After serving in Hancock County Common Pleas Court’s Domestic Relations Division more than 15 years, Magistrate Karen Elliott will mark her last day on the job today.
“This has been a wonderful opportunity and I was willing to leave my dream job to come here, frankly because of the respect I have for the judges, Kim Switzer (director of court services) and this court,” said Elliott, who was a law instructor before becoming a magistrate. “I knew they would support me.
“I appreciate the opportunity they gave me and I hope I’ve done it well. I know they’re in good hands as I make my departure,” she added.
Attorney Elizabeth Behrendt will be replacing Elliott. Behrendt was sworn in as a Hancock County Common Pleas Court magistrate on July 6, and will be taking the bench on Aug. 1.
“One of the biggest themes I’ve observed with Magistrate Elliott is that everybody in this process needs to have respect for each other, as well as for the process,” Behrendt said. “…I’ve observed that as an attorney as well. It’s definitely something I will think about when I’m missing her.”
The domestic relations court is a specialized docket of Hancock County Common Pleas Court that hears cases related to divorces, dissolutions, legal separations, child custody and child support, and civil protection order petitions based on domestic violence, stalking or sexually-oriented offenses.
Magistrates Elliott and Robroy Crow are trained in mediation and can also mediate civil cases in Hancock County Common Pleas Court. They also oversee criminal arraignments.
Working with families going through crisis hasn’t been the easiest task during her tenure, Elliott said.
“There are some very sad days,” Elliott said. “There are times I fret and worry about situations.”
But when families get through their worst days, it can also be rewarding.
“There are enough happy endings in this business,” she said. “It’s sad, but you see some great results and people working hard to get there. And there are enough of them that you keep being encouraged that their life is good.”
Elliott, 62, who was born in Rogers in eastern Ohio, received her undergraduate degree from Youngstown State University in 1980.
She served in the U.S. Army in security, the Army Reserve and the Judge Advocate General’s (JAG) Corps from 1973 to 1996, and is currently a retired reserve.
She came to northwestern Ohio for law school at Ohio Northern University and received her degree in 1983. The third-generation attorney initially resisted following the career path of her grandfather and father, but when she took classes like juvenile and business law in college, she found a true interest in the subject.
“I really found the thinking and analytical process with that, and the impact it has on people,” she said. “I just found that very interesting. My father had been a very good example that the law is about serving the community, and so I needed to go do that.”
Elliott practiced general law from 1983 to 1998, until she became a full-time instructor for Ohio Northern College of Law, serving in that capacity until 2004.
Elliott said several of her former students practice in the Findlay area, including Abby Hefflinger, of the public defender’s office; Rebecca Newman, formerly of the Hancock County prosecutor’s office; and Hancock County Prosecutor Mark Miller.
“It’s been interesting to see that growth and development of the attorneys as they come out from (law school) and begin to practice,” Elliott said.
“They’ve done a good job. Not necessarily because I was one of their instructors, but because they worked hard,” she said.
Elliott said the court offered to throw her a retirement party, but she “chose to go quietly, as I arrived.”
Elliott was appointed part-time as magistrate in the domestic, civil and criminal divisions in 2000 when former Magistrate Loretta Carson retired.
In 2004, Elliott was appointed full-time domestic relations magistrate.
“She’s been a dedicated public servant to the job,” said Hancock County Common Pleas Judge Joseph Niemeyer.
“She’s a straight-forward, no-nonsense-type person,” Niemeyer added.
Elliott said there have been several changes during her tenure.
Domestic relations court has seen an increase in the number of civil protection orders filed, she said.
That’s partly because sheriff’s deputies, police officers and the Open Arms Domestic Violence Shelter make that alternative known to people, she said. “People are advised early on in the process that option is available to them,” she said. “So I think that increases our numbers.”
One thing that remains the same in any divorce or dissolution case is concern about the children involved in the matter, Elliott said.
However, there are more shared parenting plans, formerly known as joint custody, going into effect.
“I think they’re (shared parenting plans) better received by people who are becoming accustomed to sharing time and responsibilities for children,” Elliott said. “You don’t have many households where there’s one parent that’s solely responsible for the children. Both parents are often working and just as a practical matter, they need the other parent.”
Working with children was a rewarding part of her career.
“There are some delightful children that despite all of the turmoil going on around them are just going on with their life and having a good time,” she said. “They may be weathering the storm better than anyone else at the time.”
It’s important that families are part of the decision-making process because the “relationship continues long after the case is done,” Elliott said.
“When we go home at the end of the day, they still have to deal with the family dynamic. They need to be involved in the decision-making and have a say in what happens,” Elliott said.
Elliott says though her career has been fulfilling, now is the right time to retire as she plans on dedicating herself to more mission, church and faith-based activities.
“I feel that call again. I feel it’s time, instead of making my faith a hobby and squeezing it in, that it needs to be my priority now,” she added.
Elliott will be moving to Monroe County and hopes to work with the court there.
The youngest of six sisters, she also plans on spending time with family.