Judge Andrea Nelson Moore - The Person Behind the Robe

By Ed “Flash” Ferenc

On November 2, 2021 Andrea Nelson Moore was elected to a full six year term on the Cleveland Municipal Court, becoming the 18th judge to occupy that seat since it was created by the Ohio legislature in 1916.   

You grew up in Cleveland, any people or places come to mind that you connected with as a child and can you share some of those memories?
My family recently buried my maternal grandmother, so I have been thinking a lot back on times spent with her during the summers.  I remember being surrounded by aunts, uncles and cousins at her home on in Akron, Ohio at our weekly Sunday dinners.  I remember the children being the sources of entertainment. We had a weekly talent show in her home and if you didn’t have a talent, you were going to make something up.  At the time, the house seemed like a mansion and I remember playing hide and seek with my cousins and getting in trouble for running up and down the stairs, hiding in and out of closets.   My grandmother was a fantastic cook and I remember Thanksgiving dinners with ham, turkey, mac and cheese, greens, cornbread dressing, cabbage, potato salad, green beans, canned cranberry sauce and pastries galore.  Just good times.

I remember Christmases at home with my parents in East Cleveland.  I was very inquisitive and would get into everything trying to find out what Christmas presents my parents were going to give me.  My parents would have to hide my presents in a small storage area in our basement.  I was petrified (well still am) of bugs and I was afraid to go into that storage area because it was dark, damp and spooky.  Hiding my toys and gifts in closets, attics, under beds, etc. was not enough to keep my little nosy self from finding them but the dark storage space in the basement was effective.

I remember the birth of my brother.  He was my very first baby.  I remember taking my little allowance and purchasing his outfit to wear home.  To this day, he and I are still very close.

Your interest in the law came at an early age, around eight years old.   Can you take us back to that time?  What was it that eventually propelled you to seek a legal career?
I come from a very large family and my late uncle suffered from mental illness--schizophrenia with psychosis to be precise.  In the late 1970s mental health discussions within families were taboo.  He was convicted of murder in Summit County and sentenced to double life.  At his sentencing, the judge made some very harsh and disparaging personal remarks about my uncle. The remarks were quoted in the Akron Beacon Journal -- snippets were shown on the news and I remember hearing and reading them as a young child.  Holding my uncle accountable and separating him from the public at large was not problematic because the act was wrong and another family was suffering because of his actions.  The personal disdain and vitriol the judge spoke with in addressing him is what bothered me most. I made the decision then that one day I would become a judge and vowed I would treat everyone who appeared before me with a level of kindness and civility– including defendants.  

You went to Cleveland Heights High School.  What kind of activities were you involved with there?   Was student government part of that list? 
Ironically, I was not involved in student government. Government was one of my courses I studied, but I was not active in leadership roles in high school.  I was involved in gospel choir, cheerleading, and street law.  

Talk to me about law school.  Was it as hard as many people say it is?   
Law school was difficult for me.  I was a young law school student and still wanted to do what young adults my age were doing. I quickly found out that was not possible.   As a first to attend college and pursue a higher education degree, I did not have access to some of the resources my law school colleagues had access to, i.e. family members or family friends that were judges, lawyers, personal laptop computers, etc.  I had to learn how to think critically and many times outside of the box.  If I was going to finish law school, I had to buckle down and sacrifice engaging in activities a lot of my peers would indulge in.  Law school required a discipline that I did not have in undergrad.  I was able to make it through because my support system was the best.  My parents and extended family members’ constant encouragement and prayers got me through it.  There were times I wanted to quit and/or didn’t think I had what it took to see law school through, but my family was always there reminding me of who I was and most importantly whose I was.  

What was your reaction when you found out you passed the bar?
The funny thing is, my friend called and told me I passed the bar.  I had intended to check when the names were posted at 7am, but somehow I overslept.  I was excited and relieved.  The bar was grueling and I did not want to retake it.

You’ve been a judge on the Court for one year now. Is the job what you expected?  Any stories come to mind that make you feel you’re in the right place and you’re making a difference in people’s lives?
The job has been everything I expected and I can honestly say I am enjoying my time on the 
Judge Andrea Nelson Moore Finalbench.  I enjoy interacting with people.  There are a couple stories that come to mind that let me know I am in the right place.  One case involved a gentleman who was charged with aggravated menacing in the arraignment room on a Monday.  I gave him a personal bond and placed him on CSR with a GPS and specifically instructed him to not return the particular  area or contact the protected people.  Well low and behold he was back in front of me, in jail on Wednesday for violating the protection order.  Needless to say, he stayed in jail over the weekend and ended up on my personal docket the following week.  It would have been easy to take a punitive approach and throw the book at him for defying my order and picking up the new charge; but I preferred to talk more with the prosecutor and defense attorney to see if there was an underlying issue. As it turned out, the defendant was a military veteran and really needed help connecting with the VA for medication, housing, and other services.  The irate man I encountered initially was a completely different person by the time the case was resolved.   There are other stories that remind me that this experience and responsibility is larger than me.  I am convinced this bench is where I am supposed to be.  

You have one daughter.  Raising a child and working full time had to be challenging.  Can you reflect on that?  Also is your daughter considering a legal career, or something else?
Often, as a single mom, I struggled to maintain a work and personal life balance.   Nonetheless, raising my daughter has been the most challenging and yet rewarding experience I have ever undertaken.  My daughter, from the moment I gave birth, was my priority. I did everything within my power to make sure she understood she was safe, loved, supported and would always be well taken care of even if we did not have everything other families may have possessed.  I instilled the importance of God, family, education and a good work ethic.  She knew that despite my work responsibilities, mom was present to help with homework, at every performance, and her safe place; even if it meant I was awake until 2 am responding to discovery demand or answering work emails.  Honestly, I gave up litigating in the early 2000s when my work load began interfering with my bonding time with my child in those formative years.  I have no regrets because as a result of my decisions, my daughter and I have an awesome relationship.

My daughter would say one downfall of having a parent who works within the justice system is I am overly protective.  Things I witnessed as a practitioner at times probably caused me to become overly vigilant in my efforts to keep her safe. I make no apologies though because she is my most prized gift and her safety i.e. emotional, physical and/or spiritual safety, is paramount in my opinion.  Whenever the time comes for me to give account of my stewardship of the gift God provided in the form of my daughter, I want to say I gave my all. 

My daughter told me at an early age that she does not want a legal related career.  She is her own person who truly dances to her own beat.  According to my daughter, I was always focused and working on something which did not appear very fun through the lens of a child.  My daughter has reiterated on many occasions that she intends to enjoy her time and have fun right now.    Time will tell where she is going.  Wherever it is, I am in full support because I know it will be great.

What do you like to do to relax?  Any favorite places to vacation?
It may seem far-fetched but I am really reserved, laid back and quiet.   My best ways to relax are traveling, getting massages, going to dinner, karaoke nights, and just hanging out with family/friends.  Right now any place with palm trees, sunshine and warmer temperatures are my favorites.  Some of my favorite places to vacation include Jamaica, South Florida, the Carolinas, and Savannah, GA.  I hope to get to Ghana and South Africa very soon as well.

Now that you’re a judge, I’m sure a lot of people look up to who you are and what you accomplished.  Any advice you can give young people today?
Everything is possible when you believe in yourself.  My advice to young people today would be the following: 

1. Rid themselves of any sense of entitlement because nothing is owed to anyone. 
2. Set a goal and be patient with yourself.  If you want something, you must be willing to put time into your goal, nothing is given - everything is earned.  In the face of adversity, remain committed to your goals, understanding that things are sometimes difficult but difficulties are not permanent. 
3. Find a mentor who has successfully navigated the path you are interested in pursuing, ask questions, and listen to the sage advice. 
4. Network, network, network!!! You want to make friends before you ever need them.
5. Embrace technology without discounting the importance of human interactions.  No one lives on an island by themselves so we must learn how to live and work with one another.  
6. Enjoy life – smile and laugh more! We only get one shot at this thing called life so we may as well embrace and enjoy the journey.

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