By Csaba Sukosd
Court News Ohio

Former Ohio Supreme Court Justice James Celebrezze has passed away. He was 83.

The 138th justice served on the Supreme Court from 1983 to 1985, joining his brother, Frank Celebrezze, who was then chief justice.

“It’s a sad day for all of us at the Court,” Chief Justice Maureen O'Connor said. “Our thoughts are with Justice Celebrezze's family and loved ones.” The justice died Wednesday night.

According to his family, heart and kidney failure was the cause of death.

The Cleveland native presided as a judge for the Cuyahoga County Domestic Relations Court (1980 to 1981 and 1991-2009), the Eighth District Court of Appeals (1981 to 1983), and as a military judge in the Navy as part of the Judge Advocate General Corps.

The unique family dynamic on the Supreme Court reminded him of his life with his "big brother."

“It was an experience. I had to watch my p’s and q’s. If not, I’d hear about it,” Celebrezze said in a 2020 interview.

Possibly the most significant decision of his Supreme Court career involved a workers’ compensation opinion. Writing for the 6-1 majority, Celebrezze held that a person who is gradually injured by a continually repeated job task, such as heavy lifting, can become disabled and receive job injury payments (Village v. General Motors Corp., 1984).

This decision erased the “sudden mishap” rule that was used to determine when a person injured on the job was entitled to compensation.

Prior to his judicial career, Celebrezze’s four decades in public service began with a 10-year run as a state representative from 1965 to 1974. His political endeavors fell in line with a prominent family tree that has included a U.S. Cabinet official, an Ohio secretary of state, an Ohio attorney general, a Cleveland mayor, state senators and representatives, and judges.

“I went wherever I could, and spoke to whatever group I could find,” Celebrezze said referring to his ventures on the campaign trail.

On top of legal commitments to the Navy Reserves from 1970 to 1994, the 1960 Ohio State University graduate enlisted in the U.S. Army for two years after finishing college.

Concluding his duty, he returned to northeast Ohio and taught in the Cleveland school district for six years as he pursued his law degree from Cleveland-Marshall Law School.

His last position before his first judgeship was as Brook Park’s city law director from 1974 to 1978.

His daughter, Judge Leslie Ann Celebrezze, has carried on his legal legacy by being elected to succeed her father when he retired from the Cuyahoga County Domestic Relations Court in 2009.

"Seeing her sworn in was probably one of the highlights of being a parent with my wife, Daria," said Celebrezze.

In addition to Judge Leslie Ann Celebrezze, the former justice is survived by his wife and children James and Nicholas, an attorney who also served as a state representative from 2012 to 2019.