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Judge Shirley Strickland Saffold

Judge Shirley Strickland Saffold

Judge Shirley Strickland Saffold is one of the veterans on the Common Pleas General Division Bench, now serving in her 27th year. The Montclair, New Jersey, native has seen a lot in her legal career.

After graduating from Central State University, Judge Saffold moved to Cleveland, primarily to attend the Cleveland-Marshall College of Law. She joined the bar in 1977 and set to work primarily as a public defender. Her goal was to return home to New Jersey, but her fellow public defenders talked her into staying.

“I represented indigent defendants for 13 years, and then I decided to run for office,” says Judge Saffold.

Judge Saffold knew it would not be easy, but she understood how politics worked from watching her Baptist preacher grandfather network the politics of their church and congregation.

In 1985, Judge Saffold took her first shot at office, narrowly losing a race to an incumbent Cleveland Municipal Court Judge. She ran again two years later and won. After serving a full six-year term, Judge Saffold turned her attention to the Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court, joining the Bench 1995.

Black History Month is meaningful to Judge Saffold because she has been involved in civil rights since she was young. She cites journalist and civil rights pioneer Ida B. Wells as a major influence, along with civil rights activists Malcolm X, Coretta Scott King, and Edwina Moss, wife of Cleveland pastor Otis Moss. She also notes the legal influences of Judge Sara J. Harper, Judge Lillian Burke, Judge Ann Aldrich, and Professor Gale Messerman.

Black History Month is important to Judge Saffold because of what is not always taught in schools. “When you’re growing up in the 50s and 60s and hear “history,” and you were always left out of the equation, you said to yourself,’ What role did my ancestors play in that?’”

She was heartened to learn of the African American people who were working to make a difference, trying to be free. “It’s exciting to know. It builds your character to know. When you can understand the history of a people, you can find out that people are the same.”

As for the next generation of attorneys, Judge Saffold says they need to have the desire and dedication to be the best lawyer you can be. She does note that there is more support for women and people of color in the legal field now than when she was rising through the ranks.

Judge Saffold is pleased that there are more women on the Bench now than when she joined, but she note that true justice can only be achieved when we have even more African Americans Judges, along with those of other minorities.

And what about being a quarter-century veteran of the Bench? “The young people on this Bench are very nice to me and look out for me. I know I get treated like ‘the old Judge,’ but I like it!”


To hear more from Judge Shirley Strickland Saffold, you can stream the entire interview below!