MANSFIELD — Jodie Schumacher felt the pains of childhood injustice while still in grade school when her entire class was punished for the mistakes of an individual classmate.
It was a childhood moment in time that perhaps helped to fuel the legal career she practices today, including being selected Tuesday night as the new Richland County Prosecuting Attorney.
“I remember coming home from school and telling my mom, ‘It wasn’t fair, mom, it wasn’t fair. Somebody did such-and-such and the entire class got punished,” Schumacher said Wednesday.
“My mom would tell me, ‘Well, you need to be a judge.’ “
While not yet on the bench, Schumacher was selected by the Richland County Republican Party Central Committee to complete the unexpired term of former Prosecutor Gary Bishop through the end of 2024.
Bishop retired on April 13 and then passed away on May 8.
Schumacher, who joined the local prosecutor’s office in 2016 and became Bishop’s First Assistant in 2017, was immediately appointed acting prosecutor by the Richland County Board of Commissioners when Bishop stepped down a month ago.
• Work with law enforcement agencies to pursue convictions for people guilty of crimes.
• Serve as legal counsel for all county and township offices.
• Advocate for crime victims and their families.
• Pursue evidence that may exonerate an innocently accused person or mitigate punishment.
• Support and promote community safety initiatives.
Source: Ohio Prosecuting Attorneys Association
The local GOP Central Committee made it permanent on Tuesday evening, voting 22-19 for Schumacher over fellow assistant prosecutor Matt Metcalf.
Schumacher, who spent Wednesday morning presenting cases to a grand jury, said she had no early plans to become an attorney.
She grew up in a blue-collar family — mom was a nurse and dad was a foreman who then joined the fire services, recently retiring after 52 years.
“There were no lawyers in our family. I didn’t know that was attainable. The only reason or thought that I had of people that went to law school was probably from TV, where they all went to Harvard Law,” Schumacher said.
“Harvard was so elite. I knew that wasn’t probably in my cards,” she said.
Instead, Schumacher was a college athlete, working on her undergraduate degree in liberal arts with focuses on sociology and psychology.
Then came the day she saw a teammate/housemate on a computer, studying for the law school entrance exam.
“I owe me pursuing law school to her. She was the first person that ever introduced me (to the idea of law school). How do you make that leap? How is that attainable?”
Her roommate explained the process and the legal light bulb went on in Schumacher’s head.
“That night I called my mom and I told her, ‘Mom, I’m going to law school.’ And her response was, ‘Well, Jodie, you’re paying for it.'”
Upon graduation, she was accepted into and attended the University of Toledo College of Law. She was admitted to the state bar in 2004.
Schumacher has focused her career on criminal law, specifically criminal prosecution. She had previously worked in the prosecutor’s office in Wayne and Ottawa counties.
She was living in Wayne County while working for Bishop. When he retired, Schumacher made the decision to move into Richland County, making her eligible to hold the elected office.
“I recognized the need the county has for experience and leadership. The complexity of the cases that are coming through, the violence that is coming through and trying to balance the civil responsibilities the office has to its clients and thereby the citizens,” Schumacher said.
“I felt I have that experience (and) it’s time to make that leap.”
Schumacher’s mother passed away in February, a loss that also fueled her decision.
“My mom and dad had plans upon retirement. They had dreams that they wanted to pursue. They were never able to pursue those dreams because a higher power had a different plan.
“So when I’m facing these things, taking a look, caring about the office, being dedicated to citizens for the last seven years, I thought … I can’t wait. If I wait, that opportunity may never come.
“My calling is now.”
Schumacher, who said she plans to seek election to the office during 2024, said her initial plans as the county’s chief legal counsel are recruitment of attorneys and stabilizing the staff.
“We suffer greatly just due to the vacancies that are within the office. It’s not unique to Richland County. It’s something that Ohio prosecuting attorneys are experiencing across the state as vacancies,” she said.
Schumacher said the pendulum has swung away from the time when many sought to work in government.
“(And) if you take a look at law school graduations, those numbers are down. The numbers of people going into law school are down. Further impeding our ability to recruit is also the bar exam pass rate.
“If you take a look just recently, at the April results, you’ll see the pass rate was quite low. So when you’re taking from a finite number and then shrinking that even further, and all of us are wanting and needing (attorneys) recruitment becomes very competitive,” she said.
She said hiring filling vacancies would allow staff members to specialize more and utilize their individual strengths as attorneys.
“We have a great core of attorneys. But if we can bring on more bodies, then we can allow those attorneys to really flourish with their strengths so that we can better serve the citizens,” she said.
Prosecuting attorneys make headlines for murder trials and other serious felony offenses. But the civil work done by the office is just as important, albeit less noticeable.
The county prosecutor’s office has several statutory clients, including elected county officials, townships and certain boards.
“Every single day we are fielding questions, looking for opinions, as it relates to things like, ‘How can we use particular lands? How can we use particular funds? Is this within the parameters of this particular line of funding?’
“Each and every contract that our clients enter into gets reviewed by this office. When you think about the (contracts) that our (county) engineer is entering into … trustees with their township improvements and issues with the roads.
“Roads, bridges … all of those contracts are being reviewed by our office,” Schumacher said.
Since taking over as acting prosecutor, Schumacher said she has thought about recruiting staff with civil law backgrounds.
“That is where one of the places within our office, one of the sections that we have that vacancy, to help beef that up so that we can be more responsive to those clients.
“I think we have great relationships as it is with our clients. We try to be as responsive and as timely as possible,” Schumacher said.
A veteran criminal prosecutor, she also recognizes the need to assist local law enforcement to help curb violence.
“With homicides, it’s not unusual for a prosecutor to get involved in that investigation fairly early to help when there are legal questions that need to be navigated.
“Sometimes it’s just another set of eyes as to, ‘Here’s an available charge. Don’t forget this. Let’s make sure we dot our I’s and cross our T’s with getting sufficient evidence for a particular element (of a criminal case).’
“When we’re involved early on, I think we have demonstrated the statistics demonstrate great success through the duration of that prosecution for that case,” Schumacher said.
Schumacher, who has tried every level of criminal trials, including death penalty cases, led the successful prosecution in the fall of 2022 of John Mack Jr., who murdered his ex-girlfriend and had her body in the trunk of his car.
When Mack was sentenced to life without parole in November, Bishop announced during the post-trial press conference that he had been diagnosed with cancer about a month before the trial began.
That trial is one of the most vivid memories of Schumacher’s legal career, one of the final cases she shared with Bishop, elected as prosecutor in 2016 and re-elected in 2020.
“Maybe just due to the duration of it, the uniqueness of it. That case was very circumstantial. While it was solid, circumstantial evidence, we didn’t have a murder weapon. We didn’t have an eyewitness.
“Some things that are typically key and that maybe tipped the scale in some other prosecutions,” she said.
Bishop informed his staff they would need to take the lead in the case due to his illness. Schumacher took that lead role, just as she has now taken charge of the office Bishop had to leave due to his illness.
“At times, I would say it’d be challenging, but Gary and I often worked together even when he was in office, so I wasn’t necessarily unfamiliar (with) some of the questions and situations (we faced),” Schumacher said after commissioners voted unanimously for her.
“So while it has been challenging at points, I accept those challenges and I promise to continue to give the best to the county,” Schumacher said.