Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court has a sizable void following the passing of two sitting jurists.
Judges Nancy McDonnell and Joseph Russo died recently, at 61 and 59, respectively.
“It was a privilege to serve alongside Judge McDonnell and Judge Russo for so many years,” said Ohio Supreme Court Justice Michael Donnelly, a fellow Cuyahoga County Common Pleas judge from 2005 to 2018.
“The thing I will always remember about both of them was their positivity. They treated everyone they encountered with respect and kindness,” Justice Donnelly said.
Judge McDonnell, the court’s first female administrative and presiding judge from 2006 to 2009, had endured health issues for decades, culminating in a double lung transplant in 2009.
She had been a judge on the court since 1997.
“Judge McDonnell was, quite simply, one of the strongest persons I have ever known,” said the court’s current administrative and presiding Judge Brendan Sheehan. “Her nearly 25 years on the bench were distinguished, and she brought compassion and caring to her role as a judge.”
Prior to the common pleas court, the John Marshall College of Law graduate – now Cleveland-Marshall College of Law – was a magistrate for the city of Lakewood and a Cuyahoga County prosecutor.
Cuyahoga County’s “community-based correctional facility” – designed to reduce criminal behavior and divert eligible males convicted of a felony from the state prison system – was named the McDonnell Center in her honor.
Judge McDonnell is survived by her husband, Assistant Cuyahoga County prosecutor John Kosko; their three children; seven siblings; and her extended family.
Judge Russo had been on the bench since 2001 until his unexpected death four days after Judge McDonnell’s passing.
“As a court family, our grief is doubled at this time,” Judge Sheehan said. “Joe Russo has been my colleague on the bench for 12 years, and his loss will be felt by the legal community and the citizens of Cuyahoga County.”
A private practitioner for a decade before his judgeship, Judge Russo presided over the court’s commercial docket, which adjudicates complex business disputes.
He received his law degree from Case Western Reserve University School of Law.
Judge Russo is survived by his wife, Diana; their two children; his mother; two siblings; and his extended family.