At 75, Basinski wasn’t eligible to run again, but after 24 years on the bench he said he hasn’t lost his enthusiasm for the job.
“I really enjoyed being a judge, and I would like to continue,” Basinski said this week as he wrote some final opinions before he retires at the end of the year.
He’ll be handing over the job he first won in 1988 to attorney Frank Janik, who said he has spent the last few months learning the ropes from the veteran judge.
Janik called Basinski a “great example of a well-prepared and dedicated judge who loves his work and the law.”
Basinski said he hadn’t always planned to go into law. He said his first love was the U.S. Marine Corps, where he spent four years on active duty and another 12 years in the reserves flying helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft.
But he said he didn’t like all the time away from his family. He and his wife, Ellen Basinski, have been married for 50 years and have five children and 15 grandchildren.
Ellen Basinski made national headlines herself in 2009 when she used a 5-quart cooking pot to fend off several teens who force their way into the Basinskis’ Elyria home.
Judge Basinski said he’s looking forward to spending as much time as possible with his family in his retirement. He said he plans to continue the family’s tradition of hunting trips and will continue to golf as well.
Before he became a judge, Basinski spent time in private practice focusing of domestic relations work, but he also served as special counsel for the city of Elyria. He said when he decided to run for office he knew that he wanted to become a domestic relations judge.
But as much as he loved the job, he admitted he spent several years clashing with then-fellow Domestic Relations Judge Joe Zieba, who died earlier this year. Basinski, a Democrat, said that the Republican Zieba felt he had been treated poorly by Democrats in the past and the two were often at odds during their shared time on the bench.
That animosity faded over the years, Basinski said.
“Joe and I became good friends and he left me on a good note,” he said.
After that, Basinski said he focused on having a good working relationship with his fellow judges, no matter what their political persuasion.
He had high praise for those who worked for him and with him over the years, including his staff, several of whom were with him his entire time on the bench. He said the court staff has focused on doing what was best for the children of the county who ended up in judicial system, be it as juvenile delinquents or as part of sometimes bitter divorces and custody battles.
Basinski said he is proud of a two-hour parenting seminar he teaches that divorcing parents in the county are required to attend. Few want to go to the program, but most are usually glad they did after it’s over, he said.
“What we’re trying to do is get them to see what’s going on, not in their lives, but in their children’s lives,” he said.
He said he’s also been proud of his work creating the court’s guardian ad litem program in which volunteers work to represent the interests of the children involved in the court system. He said many of those children never thank the volunteers who give up their time to help them improve their lives.
Basinski said another program he helped create, the Integrated Services Partnership, brings together various agencies in the county to find ways to improve the lives of children who have found themselves in the system because of crimes, mental health issues, substance abuse or even problems relating to their parents.
The idea, he said, is to make try to improve a child’s circumstances.
“You see, they’re all our children,” Basinski said.
Although he deals with other issues, Basinski said the bulk of his work involves deciding the fates of children and it’s work he takes seriously. He said he always addresses people who come into his court as “mother,” “father” or “child” so they know what their role in the proceedings is.
He also is known for rarely sitting while presiding in court. He generally stands behind the bench, although he conceded that as he’s gotten older, he sometimes has to sit down.
He said he understands the nervousness of those who come to court, especially the children and he takes the time to tell them that.
“I say, ‘I’m nervous over here, too. What we’re doing here is important,’ ” Basinski said.
But as much as he’s enjoyed the work, Basinski said he has two great disappointments, one of which is when the county commissioners transferred control of the county’s child support program to the Department of Job and Family Services.
The bigger disappointment, he said, was when the state Legislature reversed a decision that had merged the Domestic Relations and Probate courts into a unified Family Court.
Although he lost that battle, Basinski said he still thinks the Family Court was a good idea.
With retirement just days away, Basinski hopes he can still keep his hand in the court system as a visiting judge.
“It’s been a fun ride, I’ll miss it,” he said.
Contact Brad Dicken at 329-7147 or firstname.lastname@example.org.