Sherri Bevan Walsh has made a life out of fighting for victims. She knows what it feels like to be one. Being prosecutor was her husband, Pat, who first gave her the idea.
“He was one of the first people to say, you really need to do this because you have such a strong passion to help crime victims, and what better place can you be to make a difference for crime victims? So he pushed me early on. Now, he may regret that now. I’m not sure if he quite knew what we were getting into at the time, but he’s been very patient.”
“One of the things I have learned a number of times in my life, is when something really horrible happens, or something really challenging happens in your life, that ultimately something good can become of it,” she said.
We're starting a new series Thursdays on Channel 3 News at 6 about the women in Northeast Ohio's communities who make things happen. These are women who see the possible, women you'd like to have in your group, women we’re bringing into Sara’s Circle.
Summit County Prosecutor Walsh started her law career as an assistant prosecutor for the City of Akron. She spent 10 years practicing alongside her father and brother at Bevan & Associates. Then she came back in search of that ultimate good: justice.
“I define justice as a fair result on a case. Justice can mean different things for different people. Justice typically means something very different for a crime victim,” she said. “I knew that as a county prosecutor, I knew that I would be able to help thousands of crime victims.”
Now in her sixteenth year, there are continued new challenges, like the heroin epidemic taking hold across Northeast Ohio.
But life outside the courthouse has proven harder.
“When I first started this job, I had a two-year-old. And I was pregnant. So I had a lot of people saying, ‘Oh my gosh, how do you take care of the kids and handle the job?’ And a lot of people were really asking me how could I handle such a difficult job as prosecutor. My response was always, ‘Frankly, my job as a mom is more challenging than my job as a prosecutor. Particularly so because within a year of starting this job, my oldest son, who now is 17, but was four-years-old at the time, was diagnosed with autism. And that was a huge challenge.”
“You’re in a situation where you know very little. I knew, at that time, nobody who had a child with autism…the best thing that happened was when I met some other moms,” said Walsh.
Moms that knew what it was like to add just one more thing.
Last February, Sherri faced another.
“You always feel like you can’t take on something else. I think that was probably the first thing. When I learned that I had breast cancer was, ‘Oh my gosh, I don’t have time for that.’ The idea of having to still be a mom, and a wife, and be the prosecutor, and now I have to get chemo treatments. I have to have surgeries. I have to have radiation. It’s overwhelming. Not to mention that, you’re just plain scared to death when you hear a diagnosis like that,” she said.
“Early on, people were saying, I met a lot of different women who were going through treatment for breast cancer, and everybody all said, you really need to have a positive attitude. Once I think I got past the initial fear, just being so upset and scared, I did get a positive attitude. I have to credit a lot of people. I have to credit my family, my husband, my friends, for all helping me to keep a positive attitude.”
Her entire neighborhood signed up for morning walks through her treatment.
It helped her find that good.
“I’m doing well. It’s been a year. I’m healthy, I’m frankly stronger than I was a year ago because I exercised so much during my treatment in order to not be fatigued. I’m actually stronger now than I was before I had breast cancer,” she said, with a smile.
She’s determined to share that strength with others. She’s most proud of the programs her office has started, many influenced by her own experience, like her women’s self-defense classes. She’s visible part of the Summit County community. As she enters a new election cycle unopposed, she hopes to be around for a while.
“I don’t have any plans to do anything different. When you are in a job that you consider your dream job, there really isn’t any reason to do anything different. I’ve been asked over the years, 'Are you going to run for this office, or that office?' No, I have what I consider to be the perfect job for me. My only question now is how much longer am I going to do this job? Because my thought is when I stop being prosecutor then I’m retired.”
How she couldn’t do it with her husband
“Because frankly, even with my husband’s support, some days are really rough. He has a career as an attorney and he’s very busy, and I’m very busy and we have to have these conversations fairly often on who’s doing what. You’re picking up this child here, and you’re taking that child there. There’s just a lot of balancing on who’s doing what, and we really do have to work together to get it all done.”
How she handles all the crime she sees
“We are on the right side of the law, and we’re doing good, and we’re helping people, and our victims are so thankful for the job that we’re doing, so we focus on that. As prosecutors, we focus on the good that we’re doing, and it overcomes the bad that we’re seeing.”
The hardest cases she faces now
“Heroin cases. Our caseload has skyrocketed. Not just in the heroin possession cases, but we have a lot of manslaughter cases, where the person who sold the heroin is being charged with what is essentially murder. All of that has been very challenging to us, trying to stay on top of this. And probably more importantly trying to see if we can help come up with some type of solution to this problem. We’re also mindful that all of our charging of the dealers is not the solution to the problem. We think that it helps. But there is a lot more that really needs to be done to solve the problem.”
The challenges of the office
“People kind of look at us sometimes that our job is to go after everybody and charge everybody and convict everybody. Certainly we want to convict the guilty, and we want to get as long of a sentence possible on the really violent crimes particularly. There also are times, where justice means not pursuing something, or there are times when we’ve had to dismiss charges because the evidence just wasn’t there. Or we’ve had to dismiss charges because the person wasn’t guilty of the offense that they were charged with. [That] can be justice, too.”