Knows the Law, Loves the People
Bridget McCafferty was born in Lakewood, Ohio on June 22, 1966, the youngest of five children. She attended St. James Grade School, Magnificat High School and Lakewood High School in her senior year.
"I'm the Class of '84 at both Magnificat and Lakewood. Before I became Judge neither one claimed me, but as soon as I was elected they both did." And she laughs her very sincere laugh. She transferred to Lakewood in her final year because of courses they offered towards college credit, that Magnificat did not offer at the time.
She received her undergraduate degree from Miami of Ohio in Psychology and Criminology and her JD in law from Cleveland Marshall Law School in 1991. She had served as an attorney for eight years prior to being elected to the bench. She has been a Common Please Judge since 1999.
She served as Minority Legal Counsel for the Ohio House of Representatives from 1995-1997.
Judge Bridget McCafferty
at the St Patricks Day Parade
Bridget's oldest brother, Phillip Wayne, already had two children when Bridget was born. Her niece is only 8 months older than her. Shortly after Phillip, her brother Jim was born.
Then there was a nine year gap before her sister, Maureen was born. Maureen has twin daughters; one just graduated from Xavier and one from Miami of Ohio.
Her sister, Barb, came next. Barb has a son and a daughter, both very good athletes. Bridget sponsors hers nephew's softball team every year and spends time swimming with them whenever possible.
Bridget McCafferty with her West Park Four Corner's League Team
She tries to instill the importance of education on her nieces and nephews, just as her mother did with her.
"I'm blessed with good family. It is even more evident when you see the kids come through the courts. The bulk of felony defendants are under age 25 and most have no family in court with them."
Bridget knew from early on that she wanted to be a public servant and had narrowed the field down to being a judge or a child psychologist. When she was only 23 years old her brother Jim died while on his second honeymoon in Mexico. To this day they do not know if he was murdered or accidentally drowned.
It was right after this that Bridget made her final decision to aim for the bench and become a judge. She saw what her family went through trying to get answers and working with the Mexican judicial system. "I realized I could do a lot and be there for other families as they go through a crisis."
Bridget's father, John, died when she was only five years old and her mother, Naomi Margaret, was left to raise the five children on her own. She also took in the children of her best friends who died and often had people coming over from Ireland to stay. "This was in the day before Child Protective Services stepped in. Friends and family just automatically stuck together and helped each other."
Bridget McCafferty with mother Naomi,
and a niece and nephew
Growing up, Bridget's mother was always involved in her children's lives. Bridget remembers her days at Magnificat when her Mom was head of the Mothers Club. "Whenever I am faced with difficult decisions I ask myself 'What would my mother do?' She is the strongest person I have ever known."
Judge Bridget McCafferty with County Commissioner Jimmy Dimora, Richard Soclof
and County Auditor Frank Russo
Her mother also taught her about positive attitudes. When Bridget felt she couldn't do something her mother would ask "Why not now? Why not you?"
"I learned early on not to wait for support or approval from someone else before following what I knew to be the right path."
Her mother was not one to judge what a woman could do versus what a man could do, and neither is Bridget. "I do not bifurcate between male and female skills. I look at what is required and who is the best person to make that happen."
She also does not negate the importance of both male and female role models in her life. "Certainly my mother was my most significant role model, but there were others and many of them were men." Senator Patrick Sweeney made an enormous impact on her.
Bridget McCafferty with Councilwoman Stephanie Turner
It is now Bridget's turn to be a role model as she continues to serve as Common Pleas Court Judge. She relishes the opportunity to show children some of the things she learned along the way.
To this end, she has started a program called CHOICES, A Chance for Opportunity and Hope. (Career Hopes and Opportunities In a Creative Educational Setting).
Bridget describes CHOICES as follows, "This program engages youth in educational activities focusing on personal development so they will see the benefits of staying in school and the negative outcomes of destructive behavior. These activities develop socialization, communications, goal setting and decision making skills. The objective is to have youth develop a sense of competence, usefulness, belonging and self-worth. The fact that 80%-90% of convicted felons only have a 10th grade education is a startling statistic."
Judge Bridget McCafferty at St Patrick's Day Parade with her nephew and friends Linda and Paul Avallone
In addition to CHOICES, Bridget sits on the Board of a number of community and civic minded committees including Shoes and Clothes for Kids, New Avenues to Independence (previously known as OVA or Parents Volunteer Association), Harvard Community Center and The External Affairs Committee for Women's Studies at the Cleveland State College of Urban Affairs.
She is also on the board of Lady D's Drill Team. Lady D's is an inner city organization stressing discipline and organization and has a large prayer component.
Bridget McCafferty at the Grand Prix with
Cleveland Council's Merle Gordon
She also participates in Career Days whenever she is able and has grade school classes come to her coutroom to watch the Justice System work first hand. She also promotes the use of interns and allows students to shadow her, giving them the opportunity to learn more than just from a classroom.
"I am where I am because others let me shadow them. Others went out of their way to help me and teach me. It is only right that I pass this on to the next generation of lawyers and judges whenever I can."
Bridget McCafferty with Senator John Kerry
Bridget wants today's youth to understand the importance of hard work and education. "It is not enough to wish something. If you want it to happen you have to make it happen."
She finds great strength from people who have gone before her and looks to them for wisdom. "I would hope that children would pay attention to both the mistakes and the good things their parents and grandparents did and learn form them."
Although she has hope for the future, it is a qualified hope. "The family structure we depended on isn't there. So we all need to step in. If we, as a community, are willing to do that, there is hope. If not, I don't know what will happen."
She sees children as sponges, soaking up whatever is put in front of them, good or bad. She is concerned that children are growing up too quickly as a result.
Bridget McCafferty with members of the
Cuyahoga County Young Democrats
Bridget enjoys juries and trials and would like to stay on the bench as long as the voters will have her. "Of course, if ever there was an opportunity I would enjoy sitting on the bench in Federal Court."
Bridget McCafferty with Rep Dick Gephardt
As for her time now, Bridget plans on spending a lot more of it with her mother who is in the early stages of Alzheimer's. "I want to spend time with her, like she did with me."
Bridget McCafferty and mom Naomi Margaret
She sees the importance of balancing time with her family in addition to time with the community. "Sometimes it is easy to get wrapped up in the community work and forget how important your own family is. You never want to take family for granted."
When she's not on the bench, doing volunteer work or spending time with her family Bridget loves to be in the water. She is a certified scuba diver and was a competitive swimmer as a child.
Judge Bridget McCafferty on the East Side Irish American Club Float
She also loves to read - especially biographies of successful people and John Grisham novels. "My all time favorite book is still To Kill A Mockingbird. Every time I read it I discover something new. The characters are so strong." She's also an avid cyclist.
People may not realize that there is a reflective side to Bridget. "People always see me in action; making a decision or acting on something. I spend a lot of time thinking about my decisions and weighing the information before me. I realize that what I do has very serious consequences and I take that very seriously."
Judge Bridget McCafferty with niece at the Parade
When she first took the bench she was the youngest judge in the State to ever be elected. Her age became an issue "only because I was a woman. A man my age would be looked at differently. With me everyone was waiting to see if it would be a disadvantage."
She has had a lot of high profile cases, but there is not one that was life altering for her personally. "I take each case individually and do what I think is fair."
Bridget is one of those people who seem to be in perpetual motion. Her smile never fades, her optimism never dims. She listens to things on a daily basis that would make most of us cringe or retreat, but it only makes her stronger and happier about her own circumstances.
Judge Bridget McCafferty at 2004 St Patricks Day Parade with her nephew
She is active and she is pensive. She is funny and she is somber. She is busy but she will always make time. It is impossible to talk to Judge McCafferty without feeling a little better about the world.
Judge Bridget McCafferty
The people who come before her in court do not need to worry about a fair trial - she is nothing if not fair. The people who meet up with her outside of the courtroom do not have to worry about a good person - she is nothing if not kind.
Bridget McCafferty gives you the hope in "the system" we are all craving.
Profiled by Debbie Hanson - September 2005
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Update: Judge McCafferty was indicted on September 15, 2010 as part of an ongoing federal investigation into Cuyahoga County government corruption.
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