Judge John M. Stuard heard cases Wednesday, his last day as a judge on the bench of Trumbull County Common Pleas Court. It marks the end of 21 years as a judge. His law career began in 1965. Judge Ronald Rice of Eastern District Court takes over Tuesday.
By Ed Runyan
In the 47 years since the spring of 1965, when Sharon High School and Thiel College graduate John Stuard first entered the law profession in Warren, society has undergone dramatic changes.
They’ve affected the people and the criminal activity he saw over the past 21 years as a Trumbull County Common Pleas Court judge.
Before completing his last day on the bench Wednesday, Stuard, 73, discussed those changes.
In the 1960s, the most common type of crime in Trumbull County was burglary, and it frequently involved a “class of professional or semiprofessional criminals,” most of whom didn’t carry weapons.
“There was a murder occasionally but not very often,” he said. When one did happen, it produced a trial that would fill the courthouse and produce “high drama,” he said.
“There was crime, but little drug crime,” the judge said. “Most crimiminal lawyers handled DUI, armed robberies occasionally, but they were unusual too. That’s when the whole town had a common value system. They had this strong sense of community,” he said.
Economically, the cities of Warren and Niles were humming along.
“Everything was going well. Packard, the steel mills. The average person was making a decent living, and there was no real need for people to steal or abuse each other.”
Stuard said he represented minority clients during the 1960s and recalls that the value systems within their homes was similar to those in his own home.
“They worried about the same things my parents worried about. They wanted their kids to have a better future than they had, they wanted them to get an education. They worried about them, didn’t want them to get into trouble with the law.”
Things changed for lots of families in the 1960s and 1970s — minority and white — after the passage of the federal Great Society legislation and the coming of age of the baby boomers.
Stuard’s generation “had accepted all of the norms that our parents and grandparents had established.” But the baby boomers, during and after the Vietnam War, took a different path.
“After the Civil Rights Act  was passed, that’s when the welfare state really took off,” Stuard said. “The federal government’s attempt to make everybody comfortable. They came up with rules that if there was a husband in the house, they couldn’t collect as much money.
“And over a period of about 20 years, it got to a point where it was disadvantageous for a woman to be married. That was the breakup of a lot of [lower-income] families,” he said.
“If I were in that position, I could see where it would be very seductive to accept the government check, the government free health care, the free food when I could probably have as much or sometimes more than going to work every day.
“When you have generations of people that never saw anybody get up and go to work every day, that becomes the way things are for kids. And there’s few people who ever break out of that.”
With the 1970s came drug crime and the government response to it — the war on drugs.
“The war on drugs has become a moneymaker for everybody,” Stuard said. “The amount of profit involved for the suppliers is really kind of amazing. A good portion of the violence — murder and shootings — is directly related to that profit motive, fighting over territory.
“The harm done to the users is incalculable. A person gets on many of these drugs, and their entire day is devoted to ‘how do I generate the money to pay for this habit?’ And the state spends a lot of money and derives some profit from the search for drugs and drug dealers,” he said. “We’ve had a war for several decades, but there’s no problem finding drugs on the street.
“The ’80s came along, and things really began to go haywire,” Stuard said. “Everything became totally materialistic. The lawyers for the first time started to think they had the possibility of making a lot of money. Before that, you just made a living,” he said.
There was volatility in the stock market starting in the late 1980s, and changes in federal policies led to the housing crisis, he said.
Ultimately, the crime problems of the community have resulted from the government’s Great Society programs and the economic problems of the country and the community, he said.
“Crime has changed. Right now we have a lot of home break-ins. People are not doing well financially. You always have a sub-class that are going to steal, but when you get people who can’t find work and have no hope of finding work ... they have to live ... they have a lot of time on their hands, particularly if they are using drugs, they are going to find ways to satisfy that habit, and breaking into somebody else’s home and property is the way to do it.”