CLEVELAND — After 17 years serving on the bench of Cuyahoga County Commons Pleas Court, Judge Dick Ambrose announced his retirement, effective Dec. 31.
Before Ambrose was appointed to the bench in June 2004, he spent 17 years as an attorney in private practice. Before that, he spent 10 years as a Cleveland Browns linebacker.
“I never foresaw myself as a judge when I was a player with the Browns, you know, but that's how things did develop... I'm just very grateful and thankful that I had the ability to play and to, you know, enjoy a lengthy career in the NFL," he said.
While his term in office has not yet expired, Ambrose wanted to retire on his own terms, something he says injuries did not allow him to do in the NFL. He said the coronavirus pandemic made him consider what he wants the rest of his life to look like.
“It's a matter of the environment that we just got through, COVID, causing a lot of changes in life and causing me to really think about, you know, the rest of my life and you know what I want to do with it," he said.
During his time on the bench, Ambrose presided over several high-profile and memorable cases, including over the trial of convicted serial killer Anthony Sowell in 2011.
Ambrose has been active in the community, assisting with programs such as the Fugitive Safe Program, speaking to church and community groups about Ohio’s record sealing law and the collateral consequences of criminal convictions. He was a member of the Judicial Advisory Board for the McDonnell Center, a community-based corrections facility.
When he was still a player for the Browns, he learned early on that a career in football wouldn’t last forever. He recalled how his journey to law school wouldn’t haven’t happened when it did if it wasn’t for the NFL work strike. Ambrose went through career counseling, which directed him to a career in law, so he did everything necessary to gain admission to law school.
Ambrose was admitted to Cleveland-Marshall College of Law in 1982 during the same year there was a player’s strike.
“I would have never been able to start my career as a lawyer in law school had it not been for that strike. I'm not sure that things would have turned out exactly the same if there wasn't that strike, because then I would have just kept putting off law school until possibly the end of my career, which came three years later.”
When asked what advice he would give to someone who wants to pursue a career in law, it would be something similar he would have told himself 17 years ago when he joined the bench.
“To go after your passion, you know, whatever it is that really excites you, really, you know, pique your interest in the law. That's where you should go in terms of developing a career in the law. In other words, should never be stuck doing something that you really don't enjoy doing. And that's probably true for any career,” he said.
As he says goodbye to the bench, he will also say goodbye to his office overlooking FirstEnergy Stadium, a view he said he didn’t have as a newbie judge.
“When one of these courtrooms came available on the north side of the courthouse, I certainly jumped at the opportunity to throw my hat in the ring, and I had a little bit more seniority then, so I was able to get the transfer over to this side of the building and have this wonderful view, not only of the stadium but of the lake, and that this part of the Cleveland skyline," he said.
Before he hangs up his robe, Ambrose has some parting words.
"I do believe in our system of justice. I do believe that it will do the right thing. You know, in the long run. And that's one of the things I take away from the job is just that it was a great place to be, a great place to work and great people here who are dedicated to their jobs. And I'm happy to be a part of that," he said.
Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine appointed Mark R. Majer, of Gates Mills, to take over for Ambrose. Majer, who will begin on Jan. 3, 2022, served as a magistrate at the Cuyahoga County Juvenile Court since 2020 and served previously in this role from 1999 to 2005. He also worked as a Cuyahoga County prosecutor.
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