A long-time Wood County magistrate has stepped down from the bench.
Pamela Heringhaus retired in February after serving as a magistrate in the Wood County Domestic Relations Office for 25 years.
She started her career in private practice and has made the decision to not go back into that field.
“I’m just figuring it out at this point,” she said about what she is going to do with her time.
Heringhaus is a 1971 graduate of Bowling Green High School. She attended law school at the University of Toledo.
She said when she was in government in high school, she read “Gideon’s Trumpet.”
“Even if I didn’t end up in criminal law, that teacher, Esther Hayhurst, inspired me to lean in that direction.”
“Gideon’s Trumpet” describes the story behind the 1963 landmark court case Gideon v. Wainwright, in which the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that criminal defendants have the right to an attorney even if they cannot afford one.
When Heringhaus went to law school, she planned on focusing on estate planning and business.
Instead, she fell into family law, with the encouragement of Judge Dale Parson, who was the juvenile court judge at the time.
“That’s where I primarily focused and ended up in domestic relations.”
Formerly, each common pleas judge had their own part-time magistrate. When she started, the decision was made to have two magistrates for the three judges.
The first three judges she worked for were Charles Kurfess, Robert Pollex and Alan Mayberry.
She was not referred to as Judge Heringhaus, as judges are elected and magistrates are appointed.
Heringhaus said being a magistrate in domestic court can take a toll, “because the cases can be pretty traumatic.
“You hear things about people you think doesn’t go on in Wood County. You hear about child abuse, you hear about sex abuse, domestic violence, pornography. You hear a lot of bad stuff that covers all types of human behavior.”
She doesn’t hear cases where charges have been filed.
Her decisions need to be approved by one of the common pleas court judges.
The Domestic Relations Court has jurisdiction to grant a legal separation or to terminate a marriage by divorce, dissolution or annulment. The court also has authority over the children of the marriage until they have turned 18.
“Divorce and dissolution and the attendant circumstances of those legal situations, particularly child custody disputes, are difficult,” said Wood County Common Pleas Judge Matt Reger. “Pam handled those matters with professionalism and wisdom that benefitted many families in Wood County.
“Pam stands out as one of our great attorneys and magistrates. I am deeply grateful that I was able to work with her during the time I’ve been a judge and before that as an attorney,” Reger said.
Heringhaus’ husband, Allen, is deceased. They have three children and three grandchildren.
She said having her own children helped her with understanding various situations.
“It gives you empathy,” Heringhaus said. “You try not to let your bias play in. You’re not trying to hold people to the same lifestyle that you live.”
She recalled a young couple who used an online program her office offers before finalizing their dissolution.
“You want to try to help parents get along after their divorce.”
After taking the program, the couple told her they learned so much from it and if they had taken it before filing for dissolution, they wouldn’t be there.
they did complete the dissolution, but Heringhaus said she has wondered if they ever got back together.
“I did enjoy feeling like I could make a difference in people’s lives, and maybe make a traumatic court experience a little easier to get through,” she said. “I enjoy working with people and trying to find solutions … and make sure everybody has access to justice.”
Changes have included a state and national push to more of a family court and make it less adversarial for domestic relations.
“It is such an emotional time for everybody, mainly kids,” she said.
Another big issue has been the access to justice and making it easier to people to come into court and represent themselves when appropriate.
Heringhaus has served as past president of the Ohio Association of Magistrates and has served as a trustee of the Ohio Association of Domestic Relations Judges’ association. She also was a member of the Ohio Judicial Council Domestic Relations Law and Procedure Committee
She said she is proud of the fact her office really tried to help people when they came to her courtroom and, if they couldn’t be helped, point them in the right direction.
She helped train her replacement, Jill Varnes-Richardson.