Baldwin Details Her Journey to the Bench

Baldwin Details Her Journey to the Bench

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – At the 2018 Mahoning County Law Day Luncheon, Municipal Court Judge Carla Baldwin advised high school students to separate themselves from the crowd to succeed, even if it might not be the popular thing to do.

Elected last year to the city court, Baldwin outlined her journey to the bench during her luncheon speech, which was presented by the Mahoning County Bar Association in collaboration with the Youngstown Lions Club.

“If you want to be successful in life, you have to learn to separate yourself from the crowd, and that is not an easy thing to do,” she cautioned. “It is not a popular thing to do.”

Baldwin’s journey began in first grade, she said. After raising a list of career descriptions in the dictionary, she told her mother that she had settled on two: model and lawyer. She chose the former not because she thought she was “the cutest thing ever,” she clarified, but because the career description said models traveled around the world and people took pictures of them.

“I think that’s a pretty good gig,” she remarked. Told by her mother that she probably wouldn’t have time to do both, she chose becoming a lawyer.

In sixth grade, she wrote an essay for a contest in commemoration of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, and wrote down for the first time that she wanted to be a judge someday.

She urged the students attending the luncheon to do the same and write down whatever dream they had, so they can look at that piece of paper and decide whether any decision they make would further their dreams or kill them.

“You have to write it down. You have to commit to it because there are going to be days where you don’t feel like doing it,” she remarked.

Several years later – 23, to be exact – a friend came to her and said she needed to run for municipal court judge, she recalled.

Her first reaction was that her friend was “nuts” – Though she was a Democrat, she wasn’t engaged in party politics and, working as an assistant Mahoning County prosecutor, she didn’t have money. The friend continued to urge her, saying Baldwin would be good at the position.

Baldwin came to agree. “Not out of a place of arrogance,” she said, but based on what she learned while serving as a magistrate in county juvenile court.

“Once you start to ask ‘why’ and really care about what the answer is, you get some amazing results,” she said. “You start to see some changed behavior, which is the goal of the criminal justice system.”

With 66% of the votes, Baldwin was elected over Mark Hanni last November. She is the first African-American female judge to serve on the Youngstown Municipal Court.

The “key factor” in her decision, she said, was the point that she recognized that it was going to be uncomfortable. “Once I accepted the fact that it had to be uncomfortable – because no successful people had to go where they are because they stayed comfortable – that’s when it clicked for me,” she said.

She also offered a bit of advice that she acknowledged might not be popular for when things get uncomfortable: Suck it up.

“There are days I don’t fell like doing what I have to do. Suck it up,” she remarked. “Do you want to be successful? Suck it up. It’s worth it, I promise you.”

During her remarks, Baldwin also praised the new home for the Youngstown Municipal Court, the recently renovated City Hall Annex. The courts moved into the building Monday.

“If you see us walking around court, you see everybody is just smiling,” she remarked. “We’re smiling because it’s an absolutely beautiful facility, but most important it looks like a place where justice happens. And we didn’t have that before.”

Students attending the luncheon were impressed with Baldwin.

“It was really inspiring that she had a dream so early in her life, and now she’s a judge,” said Gillian Pirone, a junior at Struthers High School and a member of its mock court team. “It’s really awesome.”

Daniel Turillo, a junior at Boardman High School and winner of the top prize in the Law Day essay competition, appreciated the advice that struggle is necessary to achieve a goal.

“Most people don’t realize that there is going to be some adversity,” he said. “That was a very important point that the judge made.”

Copyright 2022 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.