From a Small Town to Making it Big Featuring: Magistrate Morgan Marie Masters
In this post, I introduce you to Morgan Marie Masters, an Assistant Law Director, Prosecutor and Magistrate with Frost Brown Todd Attorneys, LLC and candidate for Franklin County Judge.
Morgan and I live across the pond from each other in our Dublin, Ohio neighborhood. We are recently acquainted as fellow soccer moms. Our husbands coach our 5-year old daughters’ soccer team together. When I learned about Morgan’s run for Franklin County Judge and her small town roots, I knew she’d be a great interview candidate. I hope you are moved by her story and assured that the future is bright with candidates like Morgan stepping up for public office.
Where did you grow up? Caledonia, Ohio – population 551. Caledonia is outside of Marion, Ohio. Morgan attended River Valley High School where she was a 3-sport athlete and senior class president.
What has been your geographic journey from the time you left your small town? Morgan attended The Ohio State University from 2000-2003. She is a first generation college student and graduated in three years. The most memorable part of this journey was an internship in Washington DC with an attorney practicing under the Criminal Justice Act. After graduating with her degree in Criminology, she attended Capital University law school. She has remained in central Ohio ever since, always ensuring she is within reasonable driving distance to Caledonia.
What is your professional journey? Morgan always wanted to be a lawyer, inspired when she was young by Law & Order. She said her mom dreamed of being a lawyer and loves politics, and that further piqued her interest in law. After graduating from law school, Morgan became a criminal defense attorney. This was a whole new world for her. She was a middle class white girl representing mostly black men. Because there was little diversity in Caledonia, at the time she lacked insight about the circumstances of many living in urban, impoverished areas. Getting to know defendants was key to Morgan’s ability to understand the hardships they faced in their lives. It also made her realize how great she had it growing up in her small town.
She recalled her first trial. She represented a young black man with no prior record who was pulled over for a warrant after the officer ran his tags, which was still registered to his brother. In a series of events during the arrest, he was charged with a felony. Morgan was honest with him about his options and he said his father would roll over in his grave if he pled guilty to something he didn’t do, even if it meant that he was guaranteed no jail time. After the attorneys closed their cases, the jury deliberated for a short 8-minute period and found him not guilty. Morgan said she and her client cried together after the verdict.
Morgan wrote down in 6th grade that she wanted to be a judge.
Morgan’s professional journey took its greatest turn after a significant tragedy in her life. Her younger brother Alex, and only sibling – as she describes him – a genius with an elephant-like memory, and a lover of music, politics, and people, took his own life in 2008. The story reads like we see in the news everyday. A promising youth is introduced to marijuana, which turns to prescription pills, and a series of bad choices and heartbreak. Morgan gets emotional talking about her close relationship with her brother, someone she talked with daily, her “best friend”, who held her in high esteem. It’s no wonder she gets emotional because she was his idol and also his last phone call before he took his life. Morgan uses this painful personal experience to fuel her desire to make a difference through public service.
Upon her brother’s death, she felt compelled to seek a change, which led her to pivot to her current role as a prosecutor and magistrate in Franklin County Municipal Court and in Mayor’s Courts across Franklin County. Her brother’s struggles and her family’s tragedy help give her a relatable and insightful perspective. She tells defendants that addiction can be an explanation for bad behavior, but it is not a deflection of responsibility. She encourages and motivates the addicted to seek treatment and help, pointing them in the direction of relevant resources, while still balancing the very real necessity of protecting the public from victimization
Morgan called out two pairs of qualities that serve her well in her current role and will be crucial to success if elected as Franklin County Judge.
Experience + Empathy
She said it feels good to know you are being fair to someone. She has even had defendants thank her for how she treated them – both those who have been convicted and those who weren’t. (This reminds me of a similar correlation I made in a previous blog about Care + Competence.)
Open-minded + Decisive
Her experience as a defense attorney, prosecutor and magistrate has given her broad experience and perspective. This allows her to understand the immediate and incidental impacts of her rulings, while also enabling her to make fair and lawful decisions, even when those decisions are difficult.
Morgan worked as a bank teller at a local bank in Marion, Ohio during 9/11. She remembers people coming in to empty their bank accounts.
How has your small town upbringing allowed you to be successful in your professional life? Morgan credits her mom and dad for instilling in her both discipline and work ethic. They worked really hard for the life they built for Morgan and her brother. She remembers her mom always being involved in the community, working full time and never missing one of her after school activities. She said her dad is up at 6:00 every day, always working, whether it’s a construction job, rebuilding a vehicle, or working on the house; she calls her dad “[her] MacGyver”. Morgan never expected things to be handed to her. She was expected to have good grades, be involved in extracurriculars, and work when she wasn’t engaged in a sport. Her parents had high standards, but were always affectionate, supportive, and encouraging.
What is most memorable from your time in a small town? Morgan recalls that any trip to the grocery store with her mom would take three hours because her mom knew everyone and would stop and talk while shopping. She also remembers the beauty of growing up in a rural area, spending all day playing outside in the woods and by the creek until late into the evening, only going inside when they heard Mom or Dad yelling for them.
What is the most important lesson you took with you from your small town upbringing? In a small town, the network is so large and connected that everyone truly knows everyone. As a teenager, the “everybody knows your business” reputation of her hometown sometimes seemed confining and frustrating. Now, the network makes her feel like she has a family in her hometown. She said when she thinks of people from Caledonia, even those she didn’t hang out with or know that well, they feel like family. Morgan tries to foster this feeling where she is living and working today. She always takes a moment to say “hi” to others.
What advice would you give kids who are growing up in your hometown today? Morgan says, “Soak it up. Small towns are awesome. Small towns are family. Small towns are support. Everyone knowing your business can save you. Be whatever you want to be. Go wherever you want to go. And be sure to take the small town with you.”
**Updated on November 11, 2017. Morgan did not win the judge’s race, but shared her extreme gratitude for the support she has been shown by her family, community, and new friends she met on the campaign trail. I’m sure I’ll be updating this even further in the future before her next run for public office!