Every young girl dreams of someday becoming a princess living in a castle, attending tea parties and wearing a gold studded crown. Well, almost every girl. For Anita Laster Mays, this was not the case. At the age of 6, Mays says she knew she wanted to do great things, but they involved the courts. Mays’ passion, which led to her becoming a judge, stemmed from her father, who was active in the political arena and would often bring her along to political functions.
In an interview at a local coffee shop, Mays was very open to talking about her background and career, as well as details about the current election. Her voice sounded inviting, calm and friendly, and she seemed excited to share information about herself. It was easy to see her enthusiasm and passion for being a judge. Her face lit up any time she talked about helping those that come into her court to become better citizens, rather than just punishing them for their wrongs.
When asked who had most influenced her career, Mays credited her parents, specifically her father. She recalled that he would talk to his children about the importance of voting and being involved. “You can’t complain if you didn’t vote!” he would say.
In the upcoming Nov. 4 election, Mays will continue to live out her dream, as she runs unopposed for the Ohio 8th District Court of Appeals. In last May’s primary, she defeated opponent Brian J. Corrigan for the Democratic nomination. Mays currently presides over the Greater Cleveland Drug Court, which is within the Cleveland Municipal Court System, where her term is scheduled to end on Dec. 31, 2015.
Mays graduated from The Ohio State University with a degree in accounting and management information systems. Post-graduation, Mays took a job as a management trainee at State Savings Bank, but only for a little while. In 1985, one of her brothers fell victim to a homicide in Cleveland. That, she said, is what prompted her to begin her career as a prosecutor.
“I want to work for the people, so that victims have their say,” she said.
Mays went on to attend Cleveland-Marshall College of Law and was first elected into the Cleveland Municipal Court in 2003. She was re-elected in 2009 for a six-year term.
When asked why she was running for the Court of Appeals, Mays replied, “I like to write and review cases. It will give me an opportunity to correct a wrong or affirm a right.”
She acknowledged that her biggest challenge in replacing Judge Kenneth A. Rocco, who is retiring, will be distinguishing herself from him. Mays recognizes that Rocco is a good judge and has been in office for 30 years. She therefore worries that the public will expect her to be him.
Even though she is running unopposed, Mays admitted that assuring the “naysayers” that she will do a good job has been difficult, as some people believe municipal court judges cannot handle complicated issues. Up to now, Mays has served as a Cleveland municipal court judge. Municipal courts deal with preliminary hearings in felony cases, have jurisdiction over traffic and non-traffic misdemeanors, and may hear civil cases involving a dispute of less than $15,000. The Court of Appeals on the other hand, deals with more complex cases.
Mays admitted the primary election was a tough one for her, however, there was an assurance in her voice when referring to her upcoming position and her ability to succeed. After winning the primary, she knew people accepted that she had won, since she is unopposed in the actual election.
Mays said she feels her previous offices helped to prepare her for the upcoming one. Working as a prosecutor, she had to write a lot of opinions and briefs for the appeals court and, as a municipal court judge, some of her cases were appealed.
One of the changes she said she hopes to bring to the Court of Appeals is to use her background in management information systems to assist with a new computer system for the court. This will not only help bring the courtroom into the digital age, but also will assist judges such as herself, she said.
Although her career has had its ups and downs, Mays says her greatest moment serving as a judge so far has been “being on drug court, definitely. It has allowed me to transform individuals who have an addiction (to) become productive citizens.”
Her favorite aspect of Cuyahoga County, she said, is the diversity. She claims that at first, it was difficult running for judge as an African-American. People would often shut the door on her while campaigning. However, once in office, she said she began being judged for her work and not her race.
Mays has had an effect in her years in office, said her bailiff, Michael Fields. He has been involved in Mays’ political campaign since 2007, and agreed to comment on Mays as a judge. Fields described her as “very hardworking, honest, caring and concerned.” He said that she has compassion for people, and that he has learned a great deal from her.
When asked if he would continue to follow Mays’ political endeavors, Fields confidently responded, “As always. She is a part of me. It’s never ending; we are inseparable.”
With the election just around the corner, Mays admits she will miss the trial court, and helping people to get the help they need to become better persons. However, she is looking forward to the intellectual aspect of the Appeals Court. At this time she said she is unsure whether or not she will run for a higher office one day.
Mays may not be living the traditional fairy tale, but by trading fancy princess gowns for a courtroom robe, and a wand for a gavel, she believes the Ohio 8th District Court of Appeals is the ideal kingdom for her.