If there’s anyone who has earned retirement, it’s Henry County Family Court Judge Denise McColley. During her decades of experience as a magistrate and then as a judge, Judge McColley has worked tirelessly to enhance the legal system through programs and services for Ohioans. For Domestic Violence Awareness Month, the Ohio Access to Justice Foundation is pleased to recognize leaders like Judge McColley, who help to ensure domestic violence survivors and Ohio families have a productive and supportive experience in court.
Judge McColley’s ability to collaborate to get things done started when she was in private practice. In the 1980s, she served on a Sexual Abuse Prevention Task Force in Henry County. The task force formed when she and her colleagues realized the need for counseling for sexual abuse victims. What started as a grassroots organization has become the Center for Child and Family Advocacy, a comprehensive agency that supports parents and children through different types of counseling, specialized parenting classes, and various other services, including a shelter for domestic violence survivors.
Judge McColley frequently refers families who pass through her court to the Center, bringing it full circle to the agency she helped found more than 30 years ago. “I’m glad the Center is there, and I’m glad I was able to help get it started,” she said.
Judge McColley also helped set up the Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) Program in Henry County, which uses volunteers to represent the best interests of abused and neglected children in court. The need for CASA and for the Henry County Family Court’s Family Dependency Treatment Docket has only grown as the opioid crisis continues.
“With the adults in our drug court, when you see the situation improved so that they have their children back in their home and they’ve stopped using drugs or alcohol, it can be very rewarding,” she said.
In addition to her duties on the bench, Judge McColley has given countless hours to numerous professional organizations. As immediate past co-chair of the Ohio Supreme Court Advisory Committee on Children and Families and current co-chair of its Family Law Reform Implementation Workgroup, she has led family law reforms to guardian ad litem and custody evaluation law. Her service to the Ohio State Bar Association (OSBA) included positions on OSBA’s Board of Governors and Council of Delegates, as well as OSBA’s Limited Scope Representation Workgroup. The Workgroup encourages attorneys to engage in limited scope representation (LSR) and encourages judicial officers to accept LSR.
“LSR can be particularly helpful to those who cannot afford full scope legal services but may be able to hire an attorney to aid them in a discreet task,” she said. “So many individuals in juvenile and domestic relations cases appear on a pro se basis and desperately need legal help.”
A willingness to collaborate with peers and an emphasis on public service have defined Judge McColley’s impressive career. As she prepares to step down from the bench, Judge McColley leaves knowing her efforts have enhanced the legal system and improved access to justice for Ohioans.
“When I’m gone, all of it can continue,” she said. “We’re in a good position for that.”
The Ohio Access to Justice Foundation convenes and collaborates with leaders and stakeholders, including the Supreme Court of Ohio, the Ohio General Assembly, financial institutions, and pro bono attorneys, to enhance fairness, equality, and justice for Ohioans. Learn more about the Foundation’s work on our website.