Longtime Judge Carla Moore to receive St. Thomas More Award
Reprinted from the Akron Legal News
Legal News Reporter
Published: April 22, 2016
When Carla Moore began her undergraduate studies at The University of Akron in the early ‘70s, she had no intention of going to law school, let alone being a judge. But fast-forward to today and not only did she become a lawyer, she’s spent more than 25 years on the bench, first as an Akron Municipal Court judge and currently as administrative judge on the 9th District Court of Appeals.
When she retires in February 2017, she’ll do so having received many accolades, including this year’s prestigious St. Thomas More Award.
The annual award pays tribute to St. Thomas More, the patron saint of lawyers. The Catholic Diocese of Cleveland presents the award during Red Mass as part of the Akron Bar Association’s celebration of Law Week. The honor goes to a member of the legal community who has shown outstanding personal integrity, community service and professional excellence.
“I am so humbled,” said Judge Moore. “I know so many of the people who have received this award. It did not occur to me that I would be the one to celebrate this year.”
Eve Belfance, former 9th District Court of Appeals judge and current law director for the city of Akron, said Judge Moore is “the perfect choice” for the award.
“I got to know Carla around 2004 when we were both running for judge,” said Belfance.
“She is first and foremost a person of faith,” said Belfance. “It is her rock and the compass which guides her life. When one becomes a judge he/she is called ‘honorable’ and I think that word describes Carla perfectly. She is honorable in every sense of the word along with being very compassionate and highly intelligent.”
Born and raised in Akron, Judge Moore started studying German in fifth grade. At Buchtel High School, she took both German and Latin. When she enrolled at The University of Akron, she said her proficiency tests allowed her to opt out of the first two years of German.
“I continued to study German but I also took courses at the college of education, thinking that maybe I would teach or interpret,” said Judge Moore. “Although I was fluent in German at the time, I really did not have a clue about what I wanted to do.”
Then one day while a senior she said she spoke to a law student who was studying in the library and he suggested she consider law school as an option.
While the idea did pique her interest, she said it was not until she was assigned to student-teach that she realized teaching was not the right career choice.
“I did not have the patience so I decided to take the LSAT,” said Judge Moore, who also credits her decision to the interest and guidance provided by her mentor, the late 9th District Court of Appeals Judge Mary Cacioppo.
She received her juris doctor from The Ohio State University School of Law in 1977, landing a job in Columbus as an assistant attorney general in the Ohio Attorney General’s Office.
“I spent three years in the civil rights division enforcing Ohio’s anti-discrimination laws,” said Judge Moore.
Afterwards, she spent eight years working for the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Ohio, where she was assigned to the civil division. “I defended federal agencies against charges brought by residents.”
During her final two years at the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Judge Moore served as chief of the appellate division.
In 1988, Judge Moore joined Buckingham, Doolittle & Burroughs as an associate, focusing primarily on representing hospitals and physicians in medical malpractice cases.
“I was so taken by the aptitude of the lawyers and the wonderful atmosphere that I planned to make my career at the firm,” said Judge Moore.
But after being at Buckingham for just 10 months her mentor, retired Summit County Common Pleas Judge James Williams, invited her to lunch telling her “it is time to start grooming you for the bench.”
At the time Judge Moore said Akron Municipal Court Judge Harold Stubbs was ill.
“Judge Williams knew that the illness was terminal and encouraged me to seek the appointment when it became available,” said Judge Moore.
It was Judge Williams who had hired her to work in the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Ohio. At the time, he served as the U.S. Attorney.
“I knew Carla’s family since she was a little girl,” said Judge Williams, a former recipient of the St. Thomas More Award. “I knew she was a good student and a good person. I recruited her for the job at the U.S. Attorney’s Office and I promoted her to chief of the appellate division because of her good work.
“She is very bright and very talented and I knew she would make a good judge. She has done an outstanding job.”
Judge Moore said she never aspired to be a judge. “I loved being a trial lawyer and I did not want to leave Buckingham.”
However, when Judge Williams asked her to consider the bench she said, “My husband and I prayed about it and we decided it was the right thing to do.”
Once she agreed, she said things moved at an accelerated pace.
“Sixty days after Judge Stubbs passed away, I was appointed to the bench by former Gov. Richard Celeste,” said Judge Moore.
“I took the bench in May of 1989 and had to run for office in November of the same year,” said Judge Moore. “It turned my life upside down, but from the first day I put on the robe and sat on the bench I knew I was exactly where I belonged.”
At the time, she said her children were 3 and 5.
To allow her to focus on campaigning for election, her husband Dr. Dan Wilson said he agreed to care for the children.
“I admire everything about Carla,” said Wilson, a dentist with offices in Akron and the village of Warsaw, where the two have a farm. “I’m probably her biggest supporter.
“She is a beautiful person and she has always supported me and all of my idiosyncrasies,” said Wilson, who serves as pastor at their church, the Supreme Council of the House of Jacob.
The two got married in 1982 and have lived in Bath Township since then. They have grown children, Dan Wilson Jr., an accomplished jazz guitarist and Michelle Wilson Latting, a physician who is completing her ophthalmology residency at Wills Eye Hospital in Philadelphia.
“My mother is the most loving and giving person that I know,” said Wilson Latting. “When I tell people that my mother is a judge they envision a person who is strict and stern, when in fact, she is the embodiment of compassion. She has used her career as an opportunity to serve others.
“On numerous occasions while out grocery shopping, we’ve run into people who she convicted years ago and they’ve said to me, ‘I was in your mother’s court and she changed my life.’ That is the kind of woman she is and the effect that she has had.”
Judge Moore spent 15 years at the Akron Municipal Court. She is the first African-American woman to be elected to a judicial seat in Summit County. In 2004, she ran for and won the open seat on the 9th District Court of Appeals. She is currently finishing a second term.
“Sitting on the Akron Municipal Court was like being part judge, part social worker and part pastor,” said Judge Moore. “I dealt with all types of people who were broken and I attempted to help them become whole again.”
Moore’s former bailiff at the Akron Municipal Court, Patricia Williams describes her as “very devoted and respectful of anyone who came before her,” said Williams. “She was compassionate and always took the time to listen.
“As long as you told the truth you were fine,” said Williams. “But if we saw her glasses come down, we knew someone was in trouble and going to jail. She and I became best friends.”
Judge Moore said moving to the court of appeals was a major transition.
“The municipal court was like an emergency room, something was always happening,” she said. “The court of appeals was so quiet. There were no witnesses, no attorneys; it was just an incredible amount of reading. I am constantly working on opinions, writing and revising and the phone almost never rings.”
Ninth District Court of Appeals Presiding Judge Donna Carr said Judge Moore “has been blessed with many gifts and abilities. She exudes grace and poise.
“She treats everyone she encounters in and out of the courtroom with dignity and respect. She really cares about people and has a calming effect on those around her. I have truly grown to cherish her not only as a colleague but also as a good friend.
“She is extremely devoted to her faith, her family, her profession and her community.”
Judge Moore has received numerous awards over the years, including The University of Akron’s Distinguished Alumni Award, The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law’s Distinguished Jurist Award and the Akron Bar Association’s Judicial Pioneer Award.
She’s served as a board member at a variety of organizations ranging from the Akron Area Association of Churches, Akron Children’s Hospital and the Akron Bar Association to the Akron Community Foundation, Leadership Akron, the national board of the Christian Legal Society and the Ohio Judicial College, where she was also president of the board of trustees. Judge Moore also taught at the Ohio Judicial College for years and was an adjunct law professor at the Cleveland-Marshall College of Law.
Judge Moore currently volunteers at the Greenleaf Family Center in Akron and ministers to congregations throughout the country.
Recently, she and her husband took part in a humanitarian mission in Frome, Jamaica.
“It was primarily a medical mission and my husband provided dental services,” said Judge Moore. “It was a real awakening for both of us. I am contemplating doing more of this type of work once I retire. I will be praying on it.”
Judge Moore will receive the St. Thomas More Award on Friday May 6 during Red Mass, which takes place at noon at St. Bernard Catholic Church in Akron.