Byers-Emmerling takes hands-on approach through legal system path
EAST LIVERPOOL — Melissa Byers-Emmerling believes in offering plenty of opportunities to those willing to change to law abiding citizens.
She is running for re-election as East Liverpool Municipal Court judge against Dominic Frank in November.
An Wellsville High School alumni, she has served as judge since 1990, after graduating in the top five percent of her class at University of Akron law school and working as an assistant felony prosecutor for Columbiana County. During that time, she was responsible for the child abuse coordination efforts and took extra pains to assure a child would have the same prosecutor with her from the beginning to save her repeatedly having to recount her story over and over again, something that was very novel at the time.
Byers-Emmerling remembers how innovative approaches at the time, such as allowing a 4-year-old female sexual assault victim to testify on the stand while holding a stuffed lion for courage, helped to instill in the girl courage much like the cowardly lion on the Wizard of Oz.
In her many cases, including many multiple court of appeals and Ohio Supreme Court appearances, being a woman often came in handy especially when dealing with children. “I was able to provide the child a female presence – a mother figure – that helped (him or her) through the experience as palatable as possible.”
Her work ethic and ability to budget also has come into handy.
She explained that while in school, she took two years off from law school to waitress, so she could pay for 100 percent of her expenses with her income and scholarships; however, it was when combining that with the scourage left by drug traffickers on a community that she witnessed as a felony prosecutor that really made a mark.
As a member of a state correctional board, Byers-Emmerling learned about the state’s efforts to offer rehabilitation efforts on the municipal court level and led East Liverpool into starting one of the first Intensive Supervised Probation programs in the state – entirely funded through state funds. “I believe justice can and should be administered while protecting taxpayers’ money,” she said.
Since that time, she has received $2 million in grants to successfully fund awardwinning East Liverpool’s ISP program, which now oversees hundreds of people who see their probation officers three times a week for things like random drug screenings, searches and unannounced visits as part of their efforts to become law abiding citizens.
The recidivism rate for her court is much less than the state average, and eventually Byers-Emmerling added availability of Vivitrol shots at the Columbiana County Jail to her program, which prevents the recipient from getting high off alcohol or opiate-related exposure, giving them around 30 days to help them get help including undiagnosed mental health issues if they may exist.
“All this is paid for 100 percent by federal and state grants,” she explained. “We operate on a shoestring budget. I am a fiscal conservative.”
She also spoke of her successful community service, fine and cost collection efforts and S.O.S. court as well as the offering of available ready-to-work job services offered through a partnership with the Way Station.
Byers-Emmerling is married to her husband Fred, and the couple lives in East Liverpool and has a son Bo as well as numerous pets, most of them foundlings as she explains. In her free time, she is an avid outdoorswoman, enjoying hiking, kayaking, swimming and horse riding in her free time. (One of her previous jobs was as a lifeguard.)
While one of the judge’s major responsibilities is to hold defendants accountable, she notes that one of the most rewarding is seeing the success stories, getting invalid drivers’ relicensed and addicts off drug and alcohol. More than 70 copies of redeemed, newly activated driver’s license call a drawer in Byers-Emmerling’s bench home and serve as an inspiration on the tough days.
For her, it is all it is all in a day’s work. With her help, walking them through the process during multiple hearings, she acknowledges it is part of her hands-on approach to the final goal.