OTTAWA — On Saturday, Keith Schierloh was sworn in as Putnam County’s sixteenth Common Pleas Court Judge.

“He is going to be a terrific judge,” Common Pleas Court Judge Randall Basinger said by way of introducing the ceremony. “I’ve seen him in court many times and he is going to be truly an asset to the court here in Putnam County.”

Then, before a standing-room-only crowd, retired Municipal Court Judge Michael O’Malley officiated the ceremony inaugurating the county’s first new judge to serve in that capacity in nearly 30 years.

“This is an unbelievable experience,” Schierloh told those assembled following his swearing-in. “When I first started practicing law, I always held these judges in such great honor, such respect. It is an extreme honor to have the ability to be here today. This is a very big responsibility and I know that every individual that walks through those doors is important. They have all of the rights outlined in the Constitution and they should be given a fair and impartial hearing every time they are in here. I pledge and promise to do that.”

Elected last November, Schierloh won’t assume the bench until the second week in May. Those intervening six months have proven a time not only of reflection, but of active research into the mechanics and possibilities of his new position.

“Not a lot of judges have the luxury of (sitting on the bench) four or five months after an election,” Schierloh said. “I’ve had the opportunity and I’ve gone into the other courts and sat down.”

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As part of that opportunity, Schierloh has investigated how other county judicial systems deal with an ever increasing case-load of drug offenses, particularly those that have implemented drug courts.

Having served as a defense attorney for nearly two decades and as a member of the Pathways board, Schierloh is all too familiar with the devastating effects of drug abuse. With that in mind, he has established the possibility of a drug court here in Putnam County as one of his priorities.

Although still held liable to the letter of the law, drug courts offer low level felony drug offenders an opportunity at redemption, the chance to turn their lives around and, when appropriate, have any felony convictions expunged from their records. Rather than prison time, offenders have a shot at rehabilitation.

“Intense probation,” Schierloh said in describing the process. “It’s more of an intense probation because you give individuals the tools for what they want to be able to accomplish.”

While setting the establishment of a drug court as a priority, Schierloh recognizes the daunting task such a program engenders. According to Schierloh, it requires the coordination and cooperation of all aspects of law enforcement and places a particular strain on county probationary officers. From an economic standpoint alone — particularly with ever-decreasing financial input from the State — the road is rife with obstacles.

Even so, Schierloh remains optimistic, seeks creative ways to smooth the road. The possibilities for redemption, he says, are worth the effort.

“I’ve seen the effects,” Schierloh said. “I’ve seen how drugs can affect not only individuals, but their families and how that can pull people apart so easily.”

Schierloh will officially assume the bench on Tuesday, May 9.