STEUBENVILLE - Judge Tom Lipps, who will be presiding over the rape trial that begins Wednesday in juvenile court at the Jefferson Count Justice Center, is known for his hard work ethic and his knowledge of juvenile law that even led to him testifying before Congress.
Lipps spent his entire career in Hamilton County Juvenile Court, retiring after 37 years of service.
Trent Mays, 16, of Bloomingdale and Ma'Lik Richmond, 16, of Steubenville have been charged with rape in connection with an incident that allegedly happened Aug. 11-12. Mays also faces a charge of illegal use of a minor in nudity-oriented material for allegedly having a picture of the victim in an outgoing text message on his cell phone. Attorneys for both defendants have denied the charges.
The case has garnered state, national and international media attention since it first broke in August. That attention is expected to be focused on Steubenville when the expected three-day trial begins.
Lipps was appointed by the Ohio Supreme Court to handle the case after Jefferson County Juvenile Judge Sam Kerr recused himself. His colleagues say they always have been impressed with his hard work.
Mark Reed, currently clerk of the Court of Claims of Ohio, worked as Hamilton County Juvenile Court administrator with Lipps when Lipps was a judge.
Reed remembers coming into work at 8:30 a.m. and there would be e-mails from Lipps dated at 3 a.m.
Reed said Lipps was first in his class at the Salmon P. Chase College of Law at Northern Kentucky University, graduating in 1981. Lipps also received numerous awards at the law school.
"He is an excellent judge and even a better man," Reed said.
Reed said the American Bar Association undertook a study in the 1990s about child abuse and neglect in the country and how children were falling through the cracks. The ABA selected Hamilton County as a model court for the nation. Reed said Lipps wrote the court's resource book on how the court dealt with abuse and neglect cases, adding the court employees were proud of the selection.
"It had a national impact beyond the state of Ohio," he said.
Reed said Lipps is a legal scholar, who, unlike other judges, doesn't rely on a staff attorney.
"He did all the (legal) research on his own," Reed said.
Lipps was known as a judge who let everyone in the courtroom have their say.
"There was a joke that he would let everyone talk and there would be lengthy hearings. Everyone had a chance to talk. They felt like they had their day in court. It may not go the way they wanted, but at least they had a chance to have their say," Reed said.
"A lot of courts don't have credibility because the courts don't listen to everyone," he said.
Reed said Lipps worked nights as a juvenile corrections officer while he was attending college at the University of Cincinnati, where he majored in psychology and political science. Lipps then attended law school in the evenings, working during the day as a juvenile court probation officer.
"He has done every job in juvenile court," Reed said. "He worked his way up. It is a very unusual story."
Reed said Lipps worked on writing the state law concerning how a juvenile is bound over from juvenile to adult court.
"He had a large role in that," Reed said.
Lipps also was influential in how guardianships are handled today in Ohio, Reed said.
Kerr said Lipps has been a presenter on various topics at seminars conducted by the Ohio Association of Juvenile Court Judges.
Kerr said Lipps has a lot of experience in more serious cases as a judge in one of Ohio's most populous counties.
"He really is a perfect choice to handle this matter," Kerr said of Lipps.
The Ohio Supreme Court reported Lipps in 2012, and so far this year, has been assigned to hear 29 specific cases throughout the state as a retired visiting judge. Lipps also was appointed by the Ohio Supreme Court six times to sit as a judge for periods ranging from two days to three months. He has heard cases in his home county of Hamilton and in the counties of Butler, Cuyahoga and Warren, including Jefferson.
Lipps has worked almost every job in Hamilton County juvenile court, including detention unit supervisor, community service work detail supervisor, clerk, probation officer, referee, magistrate, chief magistrate and court administrator.
Ohio Gov. George Voinovich appointed Lipps as a Hamilton County juvenile court judge in 1998. He was elected by the voters there to the juvenile court bench in 1998 and 2004, retiring in February 2011.
According to Lipps' resume, provided by the Ohio Supreme Court, he has presided over more than 120,000 cases involving juvenile delinquency, child abuse/neglect, paternity/child support and other types of cases.
Lipps was one of 24 national judges on the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges, where he served as lead judge on issues involving juvenile delinquency and child abuse and neglect.
He served on the Ohio Supreme Court's Rules Commissioner and the Advisory Committee on Children, Families and the Courts, as well as the Editorial Board of the Library of Reasoned Orders. Lipps has testified before the Ohio Legislature and the U.S. Congress to advise on laws related to children.
Lipps also served as director and member of the executive committee of the Ohio Association of Juvenile Court Judges, as a member of the Ohio Judicial Conference Juvenile Law and Procedure Committee and as a member of the Governor's Council on Juvenile Justice. He has served as a frequent instructor of the Judicial College, Ohio Supreme Court and the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges.
In Hamilton County, Lipps was a board member for the Cincinnati Red Cross, youth soccer and basketball coach, founding member of the Child Advocacy Center at Cincinnati Children's Hospital and the Golden Gloves Boxing Board.
Lipps, who is married and has four children and several grandchildren, was the Hamilton County Juvenile Court administrator and chief magistrate from 1984-1998, served as chief legal counsel and adviser to the juvenile court as chief referee from 1983-88, probation supervisor from 1978-79 and Stay Center coordinator from 1979-1982, where he decided which children were placed in four homes as an alternative to juvenile detention and coordinated with the court and other agencies on the placement of the children.