The Appealing Judge of the
Court of Appeals
It is hard to think of the Honorable Diane Karpinski, Judge of the Court of Appeals of the Eighth District, as the "baby" of anything. She is, in fact, the youngest of the Karpinski women. She not only follows in the footsteps of her mother and sisters, but she has forged numerous new paths on her own.
The Judge finds that in general, women deal with what is in front of them and do what needs doing. "Women take one step because it needs taking. Then another for the same reason. They adapt and change as they go because it is necessary to do so." That is how she first found her self in law school and ultimately a judge.
Judge Karpinski never planned to pursue a career in law. She earned a B.A. and a M.A. in English from Ohio State University and followed her chosen career path into teaching. She taught composition at both Ohio State University and Cleveland State University for eighteen years.
Then, as so often happens, what started out as a minor request from the other teachers at Cleveland State turned into a string of events that has brought her to this point today.
She was president of the CSU chapter of the American Association of University Professors. The teachers approached the chapter to request it represent them in collective bargaining. Never daunted by a challenge she decided to learn all that she could about collective bargaining and contracts. She attempted to sit in on a class at the law school but was told you must be accepted to the School of Law before you could audit their classes.
Now her compulsion to learn and her refusal to be intimidated by bureaucracy was stronger than ever. So she began the process of being admitted. She took the required tests. After pointing out that the test had two questions with no correct answers, she was admitted to the School of Law.
Judge Diane Karpinski at her desk
To her dismay, she discovered that the class she was interested in was a third-year class. So, of course, she took the pre-requisite classes and ultimately received her law degree from Cleveland-Marshall College of Law. She ventured into a new career as a trial lawyer and as Assistant Attorney General from 1982-1995.
Her trial interests were always centered on the rights of the working person. She represented the Ohio Civil Rights Commission as well as the Industrial Commission of Ohio and Bureau of Worker's Compensation. She has argued in six different Appellate District Courts in Northern Ohio and in the Ohio Supreme Court.
Diane Karpinski was never to be satisfied with the knowledge or position she had. There were so many things to be learned, and so many causes to concern her with. In 1995, Diane Karpinski became Judge Karpinski when she was elected to a six-year term as a Judge in the Eighth District Court of Appeals.
One proud moment, among so many, was her successful efforts to have the County Commissioners increase the fees of appointed defense counsel. She has recently been appointed chair of a state bar committee focusing on "Unjust Criticism of Judges and Independence of The Judiciary." There are thirty people on this committee and Judge Karpinski is at the helm.
The committee is centered on explaining hot issues such as the recusal system and the judge's fundamental obligation to follow the law with or without the approval of public opinion. She cites examples concerning the bail system that sometimes outrage the public, because, she says, "The public is not always privy to all facts and there are many factors in every decision that is made."
Judge Karpinski has a reverent respect for right and wrong and following rules. She is scrupulous in her attempts not only to avoid impropriety but even the slightest appearance of such. She is a perfect example of the adage "Practice what you preach" as she judges others she is willing to be judged. For example, she will not allow you to pay for her lunch.
As the Administrative Judge this year (a rotating position among the Appellate Judges) her normally busy agenda was stretched to include such tasks as scheduling court dates. She gives every task she undertakes the same professional consideration regardless of what the task may be.
Judge Diane Karpinski with statue from the original St. Casimir Church on Polish Constitution Day 2009
Judge Karpinski was influenced by a number of people, including of course her mother and sisters. But high on the list of people who truly inspired her was Sister Leola an English teacher at Notre Dame Academy, also in charge of the School paper.
Sr. Leola asked the young Diane to write a her senior theme paper on John Henry Cardinal Newman's "Idea of a University" It was an intense journey into the mind of a great man and expanded both her knowledge and her faith.
She also remembers a speaker at her high school, Dorothy Day. Ms. Day spoke of our personal obligation to inquire into and responsibility for the actions of our government - words already engrained in Diane's mind, but reinforced by hearing this inspiring speaker.
She is very interested in language, stressing the power of words and the importance of choosing the proper word. Truly knowing your own language and learning that of others gives you a greater insight into people and allows for a growth in diversity.
"People" she maintains, "live their lives too enclosed. They confirm their own prejudices by associating with people of the same thinking." She believes that learning the language of another people forces you to think of them in a different way.
She is very proud of her Polish heritage and in 1993 volunteered as an exchange-teacher in Gdansk, Poland. She found the Polish people to be craving knowledge of the world. They would follow her to allow them to practice their English with her.
She has been active in the Ohio Polish Congress; the Polonia Foundation; the Alliance of Poles and many other groups. She has been honored and elected to board positions with most of her associations.
Judge Karpinski is active in her Church, Our Lady of Peace, and until this year was a member of the choir (also an interim organist in 1997). She has volunteered and participated in the ventures of The City Club, The Women's City Club, The East Side Catholic Shelter and the Cleveland Cultural Garden Foundation.
Judge Diane Karpinski and Ben Steffanski
with the newly dedicated bust of Madame Curie
With the maternal influence she had it is not hard to understand her interest in political activities as well. She served in multiple positions for the Federated Democratic Women of Ohio; was President of the Women's Cosmopolitan Democratic League of Cuyahoga County and served on many committees.
She has worked on the political campaigns of such worthy candidates as State Treasurer Gertrude Donahey and before becoming a judge, Mary Ellen Withrow and Justice Alice Robie Resnick.
The Judge has also spoken at many engagements including a yearly address to elementary students on "The Rights and Responsibilities of Children." Her vast knowledge and interests have involved her in speaking engagements on subjects from the Irish Famine to Civil Rights and to address many groups from The Polish Constitution Day Parade to The Euclid Memorial Day Parade.
Diane was married to Peter Levitsky, a retired chemist. After a twenty-year engagement, while they each pursued careers and further education they married in 1985 and stayed happily together until this year when he passed away.
Judge Karpinski is a multi-layered person. She is at the same time a stickler for details and the proper way of doing things and she is a lenient, caring woman with a heart of gold. She cares deeply and sincerely about the plight of the working people and has made every effort to put her concerns into pro-active measures. As a judge, however, she must be ruled by the law.
One can only imagine that Diane's first word was "Why?" She has devoted her life to answering that question on all subjects and all levels. Her answers have provoked action and further questions. She can be proud of her quests. She is certainly excited about the next one.
The Karpinksi Women
Helen with daughters Mercedes, Diane and Gloria
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Profiled by Debbie Hanson
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