"I can't imagine any job being better"

COSHOCTON − Van Blanchard II said there’s no other job like being a court judge and there’s nothing he’d rather be doing. However, he also realizes it’s time to hang up his robe.

Blanchard will shortly be turning 65 and plans to retire from the bench at the end of April. A new judge to Coshocton County Probate and Juvenile Court will be appointed by Gov. Mike DeWine. The Coshocton County Republican Party has been collecting candidate names to send to the governor’s office.

Blanchard was appointed to the bench in November 2011 upon the death of Judge David Burns. Blanchard was an Assistant Coshocton County Prosecutor at the time. The Coshocton native has been in the field of law for nearly 40 years.

He doesn't have any concrete plans for retirement. Blanchard just believed it was time considering where he and his wife, Nancy, are at in life and where the court is at.

"At this point, it just feels right for me and right for this court," Blanchard said.

Many people aren't quite sure what Blanchard's court does. The probate divisions is easy to explain. It mostly deals with property and belongings of people who died and didn't leave a will. The court helps to figure out who gets what. It also oversees trusts, wrongful death claims and minor settlements.

The juvenile division isn't only about dealing with delinquents, but families involved in custody issues. Sometimes these are issues brought by another family member and other times by children services.

"It's a terrific opportunity to have people come in and talk to you about their concerns and problems and have some involvement, some ability, to hopefully help make them better," Blanchard said. "From that standpoint, I can't imagine any job being better than this job."

Positives and negatives

When asked about accomplishments and what he's most proud of, Blanchard is quick to give credit to the staff and foundations laid by Burns and Judge C. Fenning Pierce before him.

Blanchard said he's been judge during a time of great change, when many more people are representing themselves. To that end, they've tried to make the court more user friendly. This includes service provided by employees, an enhanced website with forms and information regarding various court matters and pro se legal clinics and other types of legal services.

"I think we have essentially evolved to what the community needs from its court. I think, overall, what I'm proudest of is that this court has an outstanding reputation," Blanchard said. "To have a place people can go and have their issues heard objectively and independently and decisions made by disinterested judicial officers; I think we still offer that. I think we still offer that in the face of an ever more chaotic world. I like to think because we do that, we're some place people would still go to with their most important problems and be treated in that manner."

Blanchard admits his greatest disappointment is when he can't provide a satisfactorily resolution for everyone involved in a case. Problems brought before the court are complicated, but he doesn't want to make that an excuse.

"I think anyone who has come to this court and been disappointed by an outcome, whether it been an actual decision or the way lives went by something we did here, I can honestly say for myself and everybody else in the building we've always given their problem, their situation, our best effort," Blanchard said. "Not everything has been successful and you feel that. You know that, you observe, you're in the community and we see sometimes people's lives haven't been made better. That's clearly a frustration."

He'll have people approach him in public from past cases. Sometime they thank him for what he did and say things worked out great. Other times they have criticism and Blanchard said he's always tried to listen to those and thank people for their feedback.

"I'm going to learn more about what I should be doing if you tell me those things you're critical of that you didn't like, that you thought were unhelpful to you, other than telling me I did a good job," Blanchard will say to folks. "I hope one thing I don't have or have expressed to people is some type of ego where they think I'm unapproachable and can't take criticisms. I'm never going to improve as a judge or a person if I act that way."

Advice to future judges

Blanchard is part of an orientation program for new judges through the Ohio Supreme Court. He usually tells them that being a judge is like nothing they've ever done before and it's not like what one thinks it will be. He would give the same advice to his successor. Take time and figure out the bench, don't go into the job with preconceived notions.

"The idea that he or she, this person gets to put on a robe and go into a courtroom and have a significant amount of control over a case, participants in it and what gets decided; I think that can be be overwhelming from any number of perspectives," Blanchard said. "Simply allow yourself, before you make any hard and fast decisions about how you're going to conduct yourself or how you're going to be as a judge, to allow yourself to get that little bit of experience and remember, above all, what the people need from you is a place to go to someone who can be objective and open."

As he becomes philosophical toward the end of his tenure, Blanchard reflects on how appreciative he is of the community. This includes all the agencies and government bodies he's worked with. He's traveled and worked elsewhere and, no matter where retirement takes him, Coshocton will always be home.

"There's not any place I've enjoyed more, the people that I meet, felt more appreciation from the people, than Coshocton County. It's a beautiful place to live," Blanchard said.

Leonard Hayhurst is a community content coordinator and general news reporter for the Coshocton Tribune with more than 15 years of local journalism experience and multiple awards from the Ohio Associated Press. He can be reached at 740-295-3417 or llhayhur@coshoctontribune.com. Follow him on Twitter at @llhayhurst.

This article originally appeared on Coshocton Tribune: "I can't imagine any job being better"