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Judge Deborah Turner

As a child, Judge Deborah Turner had the opportunity to watch legendary Cleveland attorney Stanley Tolliver work with one of her family members. What she saw at age 12 made Deborah Turner want to become a lawyer.

“Someone who looked like me had helped my family,” Judge Turner says. “And allowed us to move forward with life.”

The journey to the bar exam was not a quick one. Judge Turner worked her way through college, earning her degree and teaching certification. She then spent 20 years teaching in high school classrooms, while also earning her master’s degree. In 1991. Turner was among ten teachers selected for a year-long legal education program at Cleveland-Marshall College of Law. After that year, she knew she wanted to take the next step.

Judge Turner began taking law school night classes, while still teaching at Cleveland Heights High School. Once the law degree was in hand, she began working as a bailiff and magistrate for Judge Janet E. Burney in the Cuyahoga County Juvenile Court, the first African American female elected to that Bench. After nearly five years, she then transitioned to various positions in Bedford Municipal Court, including city prosecutor for both Bedford Heights and Warrensville Heights.

In 2015, she lost a close race for Bedford Municipal Court Judge, and set her sights on Common Pleas in 2018. She was elected in November of that year and joined the Bench in January 2019. Judge Turner also spent time as a member of the Court's Mental Health and Development Disabilities Docket, which was very important for her.

Judge Turner now sees herself as a role model to young African Americans, especially those who may want to enter the legal field. “If you have a dream, even if it’s delayed, that doesn’t mean that it’s denied. You can’t ever give up.”

As for Black History Month, Judge Turner says it is a chance to look at where we have been as a society, where we are, and where we are going. She is one of four African American Judges currently on the Common Pleas General Division Bench, along with Judge Shirley Strickland Saffold, Judge Wanda C. Jones, and Judge Cassandra Collier-Williams.

Judge Turner notes that it has been 50 years since Martin Luther King, Jr., spoke of his dream. “We still haven’t reached it. 50 years and we still haven’t reached it. We still have a lot of work to do.”

“But,” Judge Turner adds, “I think it can be done.”

To learned more about Judge Deborah Turner, you can stream the entire interview below!