Evelyn Lundberg Stratton, retired from the Supreme Court of Ohio after 23 years in the judiciary to pursue criminal justice reforms, particularly as they relate to mental health, juveniles, and veterans.
She came to the bench by a very different route. Born to missionary parents in Bangkok, Thailand, Stratton spent her childhood in Southeast Asia. She attended boarding school in South Vietnam at the height of the Vietnam War and later in Malaysia, visiting America on occasion with her parents.
At age 18, she returned to America alone with only a few hundred dollars in her pocket. Working her way through school, she earned a Juris Doctor degree from The Ohio State University College of Law.
She began her legal career as a trial lawyer in the courtrooms of Central Ohio. In 1989, she was the first woman to be elected Judge of the Franklin County Common Pleas Court, where she became known as “The Velvet Hammer” for her approach to sentencing in serious felony cases. Her success on the trial bench led to an appointment in 1996 to the Supreme Court of Ohio, where she was elected to a third term in 2008 and retired in 2012 to pursue criminal justice reforms.
For over twenty years, Stratton has lead reform efforts affecting those in the revolving door of criminal justice and mental illness, helping to lead the movement on mental health courts. She believes that the courts, in partnership with the mental health system, can affect positive change in the lives of many defendants whose mental illness has led to criminal activity.
To that end, she formed the Supreme Court of Ohio Advisory Committee on Mental Illness & the Courts, which was composed of mental health, law enforcement and criminal justice professionals who were dedicated to mental health initiatives in the court system. That committee has now merged into the Attorney General Task Force on Mental Illness and Criminal Justice, where Stratton serves as co-chair along with Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine.
Nationally, Stratton is a co-founder and former co-chair of the Judges’ Leadership Initiative, a professional association that supports cooperative mental health programs in the criminal justice system. Stratton teaches and speaks on veterans and criminal justice reform issues.
Evelyn Stratton comes from a long line of military veterans – a grandfather killed in the line of duty (KIA) in WWII, five uncles and a father who also served in WWII, and two brothers who served in the Vietnam Theater.
Her latest focus in Ohio and nationally is on establishing veterans courts to help those returning veterans with Post Traumatic Stress, Traumatic Brain Injury and other issues, whose problems may lead to involvement in the criminal justice system.
She established a sub committee on Veterans Courts and Military Affairs as part of the aforementioned Ohio Attorney General’s Task Force on Mental Illness and Criminal Justice
Stratton assisted the Department of Veterans Administration in establishing veterans treatment courts; served on the VA committee that launched the Veterans Justice Outreach (VJO) Program; founded Operation Legal Help Ohio, a non-profit for pro bono services to military and veterans; and co-founded Resurrecting Lives, a non-profit focusing on veterans and traumatic brain injury (TBI).
Since retiring from the bench, she works through EStratton Consulting, LLC on criminal justice reforms, particularly focusing on engaging the judges in different states in these reform efforts. She is also Of Counsel to a major Ohio law firm, Vorys, Sater, Seymour and Pease LLP, where she provides trial and appellate guidance to lawyers using her years of experience on the trial court and Supreme Court of Ohio to assist attorneys and their clients in their litigation matters.
Among her many honors are the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Angels Award, as well as the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services’ Adoption Excellence Award.
Additionally, in May 2008, Stratton received an Ellis Island Medal of Honor at a ceremony in New York City. Established in 1986 by the National Ethnic Coalition of Organizations, the Ellis Island Medals of Honor pay tribute to American citizens of diverse origins for their outstanding contributions to their communities, their nation and the world. Ranking among the nation’s most prestigious awards, recipients are listed in the Congressional Record.
Stratton is the wife of John A. Lundberg III, and the mother of two adult sons. She enjoys painting, Thai cooking, and fly fishing with her husband. But surely her most interesting accomplishment was her first-place finish in a college Stampede Girls Goat Tying Competition — a talent she later put to good use as a trial lawyer.