FAIRBORN — As she cruises the roads of Greene County in her pickup truck with country music playing in the background while the “Game of Thrones” series is on her mind, one wouldn’t guess that Beth Root serves as a judge.
Although she stays busy in the Fairborn Municipal Court with the thousands of cases per year, she still finds time to spend with her children and bake.
On Jan. 1 this year, she marked her eighth year as judge, previously serving for 12 years as the court magistrate — totalling to 20 years of service within the Fairborn Municipal Court. Before she began practicing law, she clerked within the Fairborn Municipal Court as well.
When Root began her undergraduate studies at Miami University, she didn’t see herself being in the position she currently serves. Instead, she planned to go to medical school, but changed her mind and switched her major to political science with the intention of attending law school after she felt more in-tune with writing and English compared to math and science.
“The idea was serving people,” Root said. “It wasn’t so much science versus law. It was more about the idea of service and helping people.”
This led her to attend the Ohio State University Law School, which is when she began interning at the Fairborn Municipal Court. Upon passing the bar exam and graduating, she practiced law out of an office in Beavercreek and worked on special prosecuting at the Fairborn Municipal Court. She ran for the judge position after serving as a court magistrate for a number of years, as the former Fairborn Municipal Court Judge Catherine Barber retired when 2007 came to an end.
Transitioning from such entailed going from behind-the-scenes and dealing with administration work to having a staff and being the face of the court. Because of which, she is sure to attend community functions and take time to visit Fairborn High School to explain the workings of a courthouse. Her favorite part of serving as judge is helping individuals understand the judicial system.
“Hopefully they’re not as scared of the system,” Root said. “I don’t think people in general understand much about the court system, and I like people, so to be able to talk to them and explain it so they know what’s going on, to me is important … If we are successful in helping someone get clean and sober, that is probably the best thing.”
In her time as a judge, she has seen an increased use in heroin and individuals found incompetent and not resortable.
She estimates that a large volume of theft cases handled by the Fairborn Municipal Court are drug-related, and said it is seeing an increase in OVI cases having to do with drugs or a combination of drugs and alcohol compared to being under the influence of alcohol alone.
“In the courtroom, the real challenge anymore is heroin and opiates. It’s hard to beat that cycle. It’s just a ferocious, tenacious addiction,” Root said. “We started our Vivitrol drug docket, which is our way to meet that challenge and help the individual.”
The Vivitrol program was certified last fall and is meant to offer a holistic approach to drug treatment. Participants regularly receive vivitrol as a means of quitting drug abuse, attend consistent court hearings and meetings with a probation officer as well as counseling sessions until they are able to complete four phases within about two years of beginning the program.
After which, Root aims for participants to have stable housing, a sober support system, fixed family relationships and a goal for them to work toward, such as a job or school. It currently includes four participants, who she said are doing well. It is a selective process for beginning the program, as participants must truly want to follow through with treatment and is not a meant for them to get out of punishment for a crime.
“There’s a lot of effort into that program from everyone, not only from the defendant, but also from staff, myself and TCN. You want to use those resources for the right person. I’m proud of the program,” Root said. ” … Honestly the program is being done because I really see the need for it. I really don’t have time for it, but we made the time for this. We made it a priority.”
In 2014, the Fairborn Municipal Court handled approximately 18,000 cases, ranking her within the top five busiest municipal court judges in the state. She said her staff is terrific, expressed praise and feels thankful for those she works with.
As far as her role as she sits on the bench before a courtroom, she said it is to deliver a response.
“You want to get it right, obviously, but usually people walk the path to their sentence, truthfully,” Root said. “I’m just responding to what they’ve done or not done … Sometimes it’s not the charge that tells me about a person, but what they’ve done afterword that really tells me what a person is like.”
Root has no plans to leave the Fairborn Municipal Court, as she loves and feels dedicated to it. And within her time of service, she has learned much about life.
“I’ve learned to not let one incident color a person too much, to see the bigger picture on that,” Root said. “I would say understanding how difficult it is to beat certain addictions — the more you see it, the more you realize how hard heroin and opiates are to kick … I would say in some ways, you learn to become less judgmental because you think sometimes there but for the grace of God goes I.”
Whitney Vickers can be reached by calling her directly at 937-502-4532 or on Twitter @wnvickers. For more content online, visit our website or like our Facebook page.