Retired major general and visiting judge calls himself "no nonsense" with high-profile Erie County cases
A retired military general and Lucas County judge, James Ronald Bowman loves his work and doesn't plan on giving it up anytime soon.
Now an Ohio Supreme Court visiting judge, Bowman was born in Bucyrus and moved to Toledo when he was 8 years old and has lived there ever since. But Sandusky residents may have seen Bowman around these parts.
At 76, Bowman has been retired for three years and continues to work regularly in Lucas, Erie, Ottawa, Sandusky and Huron counties.
"I just get along real well with the judges in that area," he said, adding that he likes to stay close to home.
In particular, Bowman has seen a need for visiting judges in Erie County with the number of cases each week.
"Their dockets have just exploded," he said.
Bowman's service locally has included presiding over several high-profile Erie County cases during the last month. These included granting an early release from prison to both James Fitzpatrick, former Sandusky police officer and sex offender; and arsonist Lynn Holdren.
Although Bowman hesitates from going into much detail about specific cases, he said he follows certain guidelines before offering an inmate early leave.
"Judicial release is done a lot with somebody you think has the possibility of becoming a good citizen again," he said. "I've been real successful over the years with the vast majority of judicially released people following the conditions."
Bowman said he not only reviews the case file, but also talks to prosecutors, attorneys and victims before the hearing. He also looks at an inmate's jail conduct record.
"If they have write-ups, I usually don't release them from prison," he said. "I get all the input I can and make a decision based on that."
Bowman said he hopes he makes good decisions, "but you can't look inside someone's head."
City prosecutor Kevin Baxter first worked with Bowman when he served as a special prosecutor in Lucas County 10 years ago.
"He got a very good reputation around the state as a no-nonsense judge," he said. "I think he's got a very good judicial temperament and a keen sense of the law. I think that's one of the reasons why the Supreme Court will appoint him on these high-profile cases."
Visiting judges are brought in when there is any hint of impartiality among the county's home judges, according to Judge Roger E. Binette.
Conflicts may include family relations or previous interactions with a partner or client in a case. When a visiting judge is needed, the local county administrative judge sends a request letter to the Ohio Supreme Court.
The Ohio chief justice then assigns a judge based on a uniform set of state guidelines, according to Chris Davey, spokesman for the Ohio Supreme Court.
The guidelines include factors such as the status of the court's docket and the experience and proximity of the judge. Bowman is just one of the 142 retired Ohio judges who can preside over cases.
Despite a judge's age, continual education is required by the state through the Ohio Judicial College, Bowman said. A minimum of 40 hours of schooling is required of both sitting and visiting judges every two-year period.
But Bowman's initial education goes way back. A 1959 graduate of the University of Toledo Law School, Bowman began his practice that same year, starting Bowman, Able, Raitz & Cox Law Firm, where he worked representing banks, insurance companies, contractors, title companies and corporations.
In addition to his law practice, Bowman served as part active duty and part guard for the military, including serving in the Korean War and in the National Guard during the civil disturbances of the 1960s and 1970s.
Bowman was commander of troops in Northwest Ohio during the blizzard of 1978, and before retirement, Bowman was a judge in Toledo Municipal Court and the Lucas County Court of Common Pleas for 17 years.
When he's not in the courtroom, Bowman spends time with his wife of 53 years, Joan. And health willing, Bowman says he plans on continuing judging through the legal cap-off in Ohio -- age 80.
"I enjoy it very much," he said.
Local cases handled by Judge Bowman
* Marc LeDuc, Ottawa County doctor guilty of pandering obscenity involving a minor. Bowman sentenced him to six years in prison.
* James Fitzpatrick, former Sandusky police officer guilty of sex offenses with a minor. Bowman sentenced him to three years in prison and granted his judicial release after 11 months.
* Lynn Holdren, convicted arsonist who burn his home down. Sentenced to nine years in prison. Bowman granted judicial release after six years.