The reins of the Defiance Municipal Court have changed.
Longtime Defiance Municipal Court Judge John T. Rohrs III officially retired December 31. Troy Essex, the Defiance City assistant law director, was elected to replace Rohrs in November.
Rohrs said that after six terms, it was time to retire. He pointed out that the Defiance Municipal Court was established in 1958 and that the first eight judges only served an average of 4.25 years each. “When I finish my term on December 31, 2023, I will have completed 30 years of service on the bench,” he stated, adding that six terms “is enough for me to retire and have some time to enjoy my retirement.”
Before taking the bench, Rohrs had a private law practice in Defiance when he was asked to run for the city law director position. The city charter, which states that the law director be appointed by the mayor, had not yet been passed. “At the election, I was elected to be a law director and the city charter was also passed,” Rohrs reflected. He was elected to a four-year term, but the mayoral appointment was to take effect two years after the election. “Therefore, I was the last elected law director of the City of Defiance and the first appointed after my initial two-year term,” Rohrs commented. He served as law director for 10 years before deciding to run for municipal court judge.
“With the experience I acquired, I thought I would do a good job as a judge and serve our county in some better ways than I had experienced,” he stated, adding that he feels he has accomplished everything he wanted. “I feel I am leaving a better situation than when I started and have made improvements to the justice system in our county,” Rohrs commented.
He is most proud of the work the county has done in the area of domestic violence – “making that offense a serious issue and developing procedures that law enforcement agencies treat domestic violence as a criminal offense and investigate as such. Thirty years ago, that was not the case and many people and family members were hurt and became dysfunctional until all of the parties involved got together and followed a protocol regarding domestic violence,” he stated. “Defiance County had a great group of people at the table and received grants from the federal government to help this important situation that needed to be addressed. I was able to present to the Judges Conference with our local people for Defiance and surrounding counties to get the word out and how it had an impact that is still helping to this day.”
Looking toward his retirement, Rohrs said he has a lot of plans. He had been asked if he would act as a substitute judge after retirement, but that’s not the plan right now. “People ask me what I will do now and I say ‘soccer, baseball, football, lacrosse, basketball and swimming.’ Having four grandchildren in the area will keep us busy,” he boasted. “Also I will hope to get into a routine of exercise that will be beneficial to keeping up with all those sports.”
Rohrs said he feels comfortable handing the reins to the municipal court over to Troy Essex.
“Mr. Essex has been in Defiance Municipal Court as the assistant law director for six years and is well aware of what cases come before the court and the timelines that must be met for resolving those cases,” Rohrs said. “I’m sure he’ll find his own routine in accomplishing his docket.”
Essex has learned several things from Rohrs during his time as judge. He said the most important thing he learned was “there needs to be order and structure for the system to work effectively and that a person’s belief in whether justice was done has to do with more than just the outcome of his or her case.”
Essex said he wanted to become municipal court judge for several reasons including that his legal experience had been “heavily concentrated” there as the assistant law director for the city.
“As the years went by, I developed the desire to serve as municipal court judge because I believed that my experience prepared me well for the position, and I wanted to do my part in the administration of justice and working with the citizens of the community,” Essex stated.
He said his time as the assistant law director has really helped him prepare to be a judge.
“With my primary role being the municipal prosecutor, I handled the prosecution of all of the criminal matters that regularly come before the court,” he said. “This experience has been valuable in preparing me for what to expect on a day-to-day basis. I also have had the opportunity to interact with many people appearing in the court which provides perspective on interacting with people currently dealing with a difficult situation, which will help me be a better communicator which is an important aspect of being the judge.”
Essex said he is most looking forward to the entire justice process and “being able to use my experience and skills to help do my part to make Defiance County a safe and desirable place to live, work and visit.”
One thing he isn’t looking too forward to is interacting with people who are not happy to be involved in the system. Essex said it is important to have and keep a “proper perspective and attitude” during those times.
Going forward Essex said he hopes “to continue with the fair and timely administration of justice....As I have learned through my position as assistant law director, many of the individuals that come before the court are involved in the process due to issues with mental health, substance abuse, or both,” he commented. “I think an important element of dealing with these individuals is recognizing these issues and using the process to address these issues and provide the guidance and assistance necessary to avoid these issues in the future.”