Judge Zone - The Person Behind the Robe

The Eagle that Landed at Cleveland Municipal Court

By Ed “Flash” Ferenc

Elected in 1999, Judge Joseph J. Zone is the Senior Judge on the Cleveland Municipal Court and in May he joined the 2022 class of “Legal Eagles” at St. Ed’s High School.   I had the opportunity to sit down with Judge Zone to chat about that and much more.

1.      A favorite childhood memory:

A great part of growing up was going to Cleveland City Council meetings with my dad every Monday night to watch democracy in action.  We’d watch the meeting then go home and see the delayed broadcast on WVIZ at 10:00 p.m. with Hugh Danaceau’s commentary.  I spent all that quality time with my dad and had the excitement of seeing history live.

2.      The St. Ed’s decision:

My older brothers both went to St. Ignatius and I always assumed I’d go there too.  Then the football coaches at St. Ed’s said they’d pay my tuition, so my parents and I agreed that St. Ed’s would be great too…and it was!

3.      St. Ed’s Legal Eagles Man of the Year:

It was truly an honor to be so recognized.  St. Ed’s has had Ohio Supreme Court Justices, Appellate Court Judges and many Common Pleas and various Municipal Court Judges.  The number of highly successful and distinguished lawyers welcomed me into their “Man of the Judge Zone St. Ed's Man of the Year Year” ranks.  My family, college friends and roommates and high school friends came to the luncheon where I was awarded the honor, as did many of our Court personnel.  Sharing that day with those people, and receiving the distinction, was much more emotional than I could have imagined.

4.     The pandemic:

The pandemic brought me closer to my neighbors, and our bond and mutual affection has continued.  In many ways we saved each other.  Also, my wife turned it into the Pandemic Boot Camp and inspired me to work on my diet and fitness.  Professionally, the pandemic forced all of us at the Court to be more efficient and streamlined and to consider at a higher level the needs of the public that we serve.  Zoom is here to say, and in many ways that is a very good thing, but I certainly miss seeing our staff all the time.  I also miss seeing the attorneys who I’ve come to know over my twenty years of private practice and twenty-two years on the bench.

5.     Joan:

She’s a saint!  First, she puts up with me.  I think I have a reputation with the Court of being pretty easy going and laid back.  Actually, I am a loud and over-bearing ogre. 

Second, we have a lot of common interests.  We both love travel and working out.  Most of our vacations include a race at an exotic location or some kind of physical competition. This past summer we went to Utah, where I competed in the Huntsman International Senior Games (2 gold medals!) and then to Las Vegas where Joan competed in a desert half marathon.  We are both each other’s biggest cheerleaders. 

Third, I still think she’s beautiful.

Fourth, she’s very good hearted.  She donated a kidney to a stranger (who, in a crazy coincidence, turned out to be a St. Ed’s classmate!).

As for how we met:  we had a law school class together, struck up a friendship and decided to start a law practice together.  After eight years we went on a date and then got married four days later.  That was thirty-five years ago this November. 

6.      Politics:

I was always encouraged to be active in my community.  I worked on many campaigns as a teenager, and was a member of the Young Democrats while in college.  I joined our Democratic Ward Club and eventually became president. 

I was appointed to Cleveland City Council in 1996, and immediately ran, successfully, to keep the seat.  I served until 2000.  During my tenure the Browns were brought back to Cleveland and the stadium deal was made.

7.    The Browns Game Day:

Big Brownie, our seven foot tall inflatable, will greet you at our door on game day.  It’s an open house, and we never know how many people will show up.  There may be a shot of tequila involved with each Browns touchdown, and we always have plenty of dogs and burgers.

8.     City Council to Judge:

As a kid I always knew I wanted to be a Judge.  Judge Calandra was a close friend of my family’s.  His demeanor and fairness inspired me to seek this office.

9.      My Job:

I really like the people with whom I work.  Our staff is very professional and there are so many great and interesting people.  As for my least favorite part of the job…all the meetings.  They are a necessary but burdensome task.

10.  Places to go in Cleveland:

I love the Metroparks.  I’m down there at least a couple times a week.  Proximity to the Metroparks was a major factor in choosing our home’s location.

I also like Impett Park, because that’s where the Cleveland Rovers Rugby Club has played for many years.  I was one of three co-founders of the team, and I still get a kick out of showing up for games and watching the team flourish and evolve.  We now have our own pitch but still return to Impett for games and practices.

11.      Go-to Place to Visit:

Amsterdam.  Joan and I participate in a program called the Council of International Programs that brings in international professionals who are housed in people’s homes for two to three weeks at a time.  We’ve hosted people from Serbia, Russia, the Republic of Georgia, Moldova and a few other places.  Our first guest was a twenty-one-year-old from the Netherlands.  He ended up staying with us for months.  It was such a great experience that we got totally committed to the organization.  Actually, Joan’s family participated in the program while she was growing up, and now she’s on the Board of Directors.

The young man from the Netherlands is now in his forties and lives in Amsterdam with his wife and two young daughters (our Dutch granddaughters!)  We visit them every chance we get.  Amsterdam is a vibrant and very interesting city that holds, for us, the added bonus of our Dutch family.

12.  My plans for Retirement:

Travel and act like a kid.

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