Celebrating Women's History Month from the Bench


As we close out the month, The Domestic Relations Court would like to celebrate Women’s History Month by highlighting the vital role of our all-female bench.

Here is a little information on our inspiring Judges!

Honorable Judge Leslie Ann Celebrezze, Administrative Judge

Growing up and being involved with my family and their history of family service inspired me to become an attorney and a Judge. My career choices, as a nurse, attorney, magistrate, and Judge have always been rooted in helping others and having a positive impact on our community.

Throughout my career, I learned to deal with a variety of people with diverse problems, forming a solid background which would prepare me for the Domestic Relations bench, a seat I have held since 2008.

One of my proudest moments was when my father swore me in to the Cuyahoga County Domestic Relations Court in the seat that he held before me. Some of my honored accomplishments and involvements as an Administrative Judge and Domestic Relations Court Judge has been helping to provide access to justice, introducing Public Outreach to our Community, expanding our Domestic Violence Department and Help Center, collaborating with other courts to integrate dockets, being a member of the steering committee for a new courthouse, and collaborating with The Bar on confronting and conquering important issues in our legal community.

Women’s History Month holds a special place in my heart. Having four female colleagues is awe-inspiring. Each of them brings a commitment and dedication to the Court that is unmatched. It is truly an honor to serve with Judge Palos, Judge Jones, Judge Goldberg and Judge Reali.

As women, we need to support each other and help each other in any way we can, whether it be parenting advice, legal advice or simply just advice. We must remember we can achieve anything through hard work and determination and having the support of others.

Honorable Judge Diane M. Palos

I have spent 34 years of my law career on the bench in Domestic Relations Court as Judge and as a Magistrate. I always knew I wanted to work in the public sector as an attorney.  As a child growing up in Cleveland, I was always interested in government and the law.

“Family law chose me,” is what I tell people about my career path. I did not expect to pursue a career in family law, but realized in law school that helping families transition through one of the most difficult times in their lives and encouraging a conflict management approach was more rewarding for me than other government or public legal work.

In 1985, when I first started at the Court, there was only one female judge who had recently joined the traditionally all male bench of four judges. Over the years, I have seen the slow change to an all-female bench, now five women.  The increase of professional woman is hopefully inspirational to children.  Our judges strive to be positive role models for our community.

My efforts at Domestic Relations Court have been devoted significantly to leading the Court toward a problem-solving approach including establishing in-court mediation, moving the Court to a help center model, and providing education for the staff on being trauma informed. To that end, I have brought educators to the Court and organized seminars for attorneys, mediators, and other family law stakeholders.  Most recently, I have been involved in committees and education planning for community partners, courts, and government entities to create policies on safety issues and collaboration involving domestic violence cases. 

During my career, I have made a priority of mentoring many students, first during my 21 years teaching part time at Cleveland-Marshall College of Law, and later by hosting externs at the Court.  Teaching has been a love of mine which extends to judicial education, continuing legal education at local bar associations, and seminars at national organizations. I was twice honored with an appointment to the Ohio Judicial College Board of Trustees which oversees judicial education in the state of Ohio. 

For the last several years, I have chaired the Supreme Court of Ohio Commission on the Rules of Superintendence which is charged with recommending for adoption to the Supreme Court of Ohio new or modified rules for the governance of courts. I am co-chair of the Ohio Judicial Conference Domestic Relations Law and Procedure Committee and a past president of the Ohio Association of Domestic Relations Judges. My personal mission involves being active at the state level in assisting with progressive and positive changes to the law in Ohio for the benefit of the children and parents in our state. 

Choosing family law, working with families and professionals assisting those families, has been the best path for me personally and professionally. I love being the neutral in a case rather than an advocate,  encouraging parents to utilize dispute resolution tools and family therapy to heal and move forward to create a modified family unit, and being part of enhancements to the law and the practice of family law.

Honorable Judge Tonya R. Jones

The road to my judgeship was not easy and it didn’t start on the day that I decided that I wanted to run for judge.  No, it started many years before.  When I was a little girl, just 6 years old, living on my family’s farm in Alabama.  I would often watch Perry Mason with my grandmother.  While sitting there I would dream of someday becoming a lawyer just like the one I saw on television.  Better yet, I wanted to be the judge, the one whom was in control of the courtroom and made all the decisions. 

 As an African American female my journey to the bench was certainly not traditional.  I had to overcome many instances of racism and sexism along my journey. Things particularly became challenging after I got married and began my family.  I recall that when my husband and I were shopping for items for our son’s nursery we also purchased items, swing, play pen, for my office.  There were many days that my children would be in the office playing while I was working.   

As I reflect on my career and consider the challenges that I’ve overcome, there are 3 things which come to mind.

The first is that success is intentional.  Plan to succeed.  Have a road map and develop a strategy.  Most importantly know what destination you want to reach at the end of your journey.  Leave room for errors, trials, and setbacks.  Things may not always go as planned, and that’s ok.  Know that the power that resides within you is greater than the challenges that you face. 

Secondly, do all that you can to avoid negative thoughts and negative people.  Throughout my life I have found that it’s easier to avoid negative people than to avoid negative thoughts.  There will be times when you are alone with just your thoughts.  During these times you will question your decisions and abilities.  Learn to be your own best friend and biggest cheerleader.  Forgive yourself, encourage yourself and trust your abilities. Find things to LOVE, LIKE AND APPRECIATE ABOUT YOURSELF. 

Finally, learn how and when to ask for help and be willing to take advice.  It’s not necessary to reinvent the wheel.  Develop a network of mentors and people that you can count on.  After I became an attorney, I sought out more experienced attorneys to assist me in developing my skills and abilities.  And even now as a judge I have mentors whom I can call on for advice and support.  Most of whom are women. 

No matter your career choice, be empowered to use your voice to advocate for yourself and for others. Your voice is your power.  It’s not only power for you, but power for every demographic that you represent. So, it’s power for other girls, daughters, mothers, wives, or whatever group you identify with. 

I’ve learned that as a woman an invitation into the room is not always an invitation to speak.  I’ve learned that as a woman if you want your voice to be heard and to have a seat at the table, that sometimes you will have to bring your own chair. That sometimes you will have to disrupt the meeting and create new rules of order.

I truly enjoy my work here at the Court.  It’s a privilege to serve with four (4) other women. We all come from different backgrounds and have varying life experiences.  Fortunately, I work in an environment where those differences are respected and celebrated.  As a result, we are able to deliver services to the residents of Cuyahoga County in a manner that helps to fulfill the mission of the court. 

The mission of the Cuyahoga County Domestic Relations Court is to help families restructure their lives by reaching compassionate and just resolutions to parenting and property disputes.

Honorable Judge Francine B. Goldberg

I have been a Judge and the Cuyahoga County Domestic Relations Court since December 2014. I have presided over hundreds of domestic relations cases with issues including divorce, dissolution, legal separation, child custody, child support, spousal support (alimony), property division, asset/debt division, restraining orders, and domestic violence civil protection orders. 

Since being elected to the bench, I have focused on improving courthouse technology to make our courts more efficient. In 2019, I spearheaded the development of CourtConnect, a free mobile app designed for litigants and attorneys in Domestic Relations Court. CourtConnect is the first app that gives Cuyahoga County families instant, 24-7 access to their cases.  

I believe it is important to treat all litigants with compassion, dignity, and respect. My approach to the bench is unique, as I have performed dozens of marriages in my courtroom (sometimes marrying former litigants from my divorce cases!), and have established “The Wall of Happiness” – photos of litigants satisfied with the court process even in the divorce setting – and I enjoy speaking to students and community organizations about my role as a Domestic Relations judge, and the justice system as a whole.

The late Congresswoman Stephanie Tubbs Jones was my political mentor. She gave me my first opportunity in public service when she hired me as an Assistant Cuyahoga County Prosecutor in 1991. She instilled in me the importance of community engagement and hard work.  She always said if I was determined enough that anything is possible and believed in my potential to run for political office. I try to emulate her qualities of compassion, energy, and love of people from diverse backgrounds to make Cuyahoga County a better place. 

I am honored and privileged to serve the families of Cuyahoga County. Being a Judge in Domestic Relations Court is not a job for me, but a mission. I have invested in family issues my entire career, and now I strive to assist in creating long-term solutions for families in crisis. Making a difference for a family or a child is incredibly impactful. I meet with many families and have learned each one has distinct issues that must be resolved uniquely to ensure the future integrity of that family.  

That’s what first drew me to the law – the opportunity to make a difference in our community. My ambitions to join the legal profession were solidified when, as a freshman at Ohio State University. I interned for State Senator Lee Fisher. I have always been motivated to pursue just resolutions that preserve and protect the integrity of our families.

In honor of Women’s History Month, three words come to mind that describe my working relationship with my colleagues: Camaraderie, friendship, and respect. We are public servants dedicated to assisting families in challenging times.

Honorable Judge Colleen Ann Reali

I started on the Domestic Relations Court as its newest Judge in January of 2021. Born and raised in Cleveland, I have been practicing law here for over twenty years.  My career and my personal life have always been singularly focused on service to our community. 

As an Assistant Cuyahoga County Prosecutor for fourteen years, I had the awesome responsibility of helping victims seek and find justice and closure amid great personal tragedy.  As a Magistrate here in Domestic Relations Court for six years prior to being elected to the bench, I had the privilege and opportunity to help families in crisis every single day.  I enjoyed serving as both a prosecutor and a magistrate because in both roles I was able to aid individuals who were struggling.

I continue to bring my energy and enthusiasm to our Court as a Judge.  I hope to make necessary changes to our Court and the services we provide to our children and families.

When I am not at work, I like to spend time with my family.  I am also active on the boards and committees of many local organizations, including the Father Welsh Academy, the Mayo Society of Cleveland, the Little Brothers and Sisters of the Eucharist, the Irish American Archives Society, and the Irish American Law Society of Cleveland.  

As the newest member of the all-female Domestic Relations bench here in Cuyahoga County, I am inspired by the women I serve with every day.  Each has a unique perspective and approach.  We often collaborate on decisions for our Court and I believe our collaboration makes us stronger and more affective as a Court.

Oprah Winfrey best captures how I feel about my role as a Domestic Relations Court Judge:

 “I’ve come to believe that each of us has a personal calling that’s as unique as a fingerprint – and that the best way to succeed is to discover what you love and then find a way to offer it to others in the form of service, working hard, and also allowing the energy of the universe to lead you.”