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U.S. Magistrate Judge Carmen Henderson discusses her path to the bench

Legal News Reporter

Published: September 10, 2020

Growing up in Columbus, Ohio, Carmen Henderson, a newly appointed United States magistrate judge for the Northern District of Ohio in Youngstown was a devoted “Matlock” fan.
She said she would watch the show, which chronicled the courtroom prowess of criminal defense attorney Ben Matlock (portrayed by actor Andy Griffith), with her mom and uncle and think, “I want to do that. I want to be Matlock.”
Although she didn’t follow Matlock into criminal defense, she did go on to carve out a path for herself in the legal profession.
“In high school, I was involved in mock trial and got the opportunity to argue at the Franklin County Courthouse,” said Magistrate Judge Henderson. Later, as an undergraduate at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, she again joined the mock trial team.
“Both of those experiences solidified my interest in becoming a lawyer,” she said.
But Magistrate Judge Henderson said her drive for the law, and now, the judiciary, almost stalled.
“Even though I wanted to be an attorney, my mom did not want me to major in political science in college, just in case I changed my mind,” said Magistrate Judge Henderson. “Instead, I majored in accounting because I was good with numbers.”
During her sophomore and junior summers, she worked for Big Four accounting firm Deloitte. Prior to her senior year, she was offered a full time post-graduation job.
“It was a great opportunity to become a CPA, so I decided that I would work there for two years and then reconsider law school,” said Magistrate Judge Henderson.
In the end, she said her passion for the law won out. She enrolled at The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law in 2009.
After receiving her juris doctorate in 2012, Magistrate Judge Henderson joined the Columbus office of Vorys, Sater, Seymour and Pease. A year later, she clerked for then-Chief Judge Solomon Oliver Jr., of the Northern District of Ohio, in Cleveland. Most recently, she served as an assistant U.S. attorney in Cleveland, prosecuting public corruption and wire, tax, securities and bank fraud cases.
Now, she has embarked on a new chapter in her career as a magistrate judge, after being sworn in on July 1 by Chief Judge Patricia Gaughan, of the Northern District of Ohio to serve an eight-year term.
She replaced Magistrate Judge George Limbert, who retired effective June 30.
“We are extremely pleased to have Carmen Henderson join the court as a magistrate judge,” Judge Gaughan said in a press release. “We know she will be an invaluable asset to our bench.”
“U.S. magistrate judges are appointed by the district judges in the district in which the magistrate judge’s court sits,” said Magistrate Judge Henderson. “They assist district judges in pre-trial and discovery matters; conduct misdemeanor trials with a defendant’s consent; serve as special masters over, and often mediate, certain civil matters and receive case referrals from district judges. Civil litigants can also consent to a magistrate judge hearing their entire matter.”
U.S. District Judge Benita Pearson, who also sits in Youngstown, said Magistrate Judge Henderson’s diverse background is part of what makes her a “great addition” to the bench.
“She appeared before me while she was an Assistant U.S. Attorney and did a fabulous job,” said Judge Pearson. “The Northern District of Ohio is fortunate to have Judge Henderson and I’m very pleased that we work together in the Youngstown courthouse.”
Magistrate Judge Henderson said her time as a judicial law clerk helped solidify her interest in serving on the bench. “Although I thought about being a judge in high school, I didn’t really understand a judge’s role, or see myself in it, until I clerked for Judge Oliver,” she said.
In an email to the Legal News, Judge Oliver congratulated Magistrate Judge Henderson on her recent appointment stating, “Our court had a significant number of well-qualified candidates from whom to choose. Among the things that stood out about Magistrate Judge Henderson was her maturity, innate sense of fairness and the high quality of her work. These were all things I had observed during the time she was my law clerk and when she appeared before me as an Assistant United States Attorney on behalf of the United States. I think Judge Henderson will be an outstanding judge.”
Magistrate Judge Henderson said she too recognizes the importance of those qualities. In a recent conference call with other magistrate judges, she stated that a judge “should be fair, impartial and respectful of the parties, their issues, and the high office that the judge holds.”
In light of the current public health emergency, the Northern District of Ohio is closed to visitors and uses video and teleconferencing to manage its cases.
Magistrate Judge Henderson said she wants everyone to feel welcome in her court, “whether they appear before me in person or over Zoom.
“Of course, there are some challenges to using remote platforms,” Magistrate Judge Henderson said. “Sometimes, it can be hard to hear or understand the speaker. And detained criminal defendants need more time to consult with their attorney.
“Still, I treat everyone with dignity and respect. I am always willing to explain things to anyone who comes before me,” she said. “Everyone deserves the opportunity to be heard.”
Despite the unusual start to her tenure, Magistrate Judge Henderson said she is grateful to serve.
“I really enjoy my new role,” she said.