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Ex-judge Joseph Donofrio dead of COVID

YOUNGSTOWN — Leaving behind a legacy of judicial fairness and temperament, Joseph Donofrio, who served as a judge for 26 years, died of COVID-19.

Donofrio, who died Wednesday, was 94.

“He lived a good life, and we were so fortunate to have him for so long,” said Gene Donofrio, who succeeded his father on the 7th District Court of Appeals in 1993. “We look at the time we had and cherish it.”

Mahoning County Common Pleas Court Judge Anthony Donofrio, who also followed in his father’s legal footsteps, said, “Everyone has fond memories of him. He was a wonderful person.”

Joseph started having health issues related to COVID-19 about 10 days before he died and while he had good days and bad days with the virus, his organs shut down and he died Wednesday.

“He was so careful,” Anthony said. “He had no idea how he contracted it. We are baffled by how he got it because he was so careful.”

Carmen Policy, an assistant city prosecutor when Joseph was a municipal court judge, said he was more than a legal mentor to him; “he was a human mentor. I could never aspire to be the quality of person he was in terms of fairness.”

Policy would go on to be the president and general manager of the San Francisco 49ers, and the president and CEO of the Cleveland Browns. But he would visit with Donofrio when he was in the Youngstown area.

“He was such a great guy,” Policy said. “He was humble; he emanated human kindness and warmth. He always did what was right and he had a good sense of humor. Everybody loved him. He was revered. He had a great life and was surrounded by people who loved him.”

Donofrio came to the United States from Italy when he was 5. He served during World War II and went to then-Youngstown College and the former Youngstown Law School on the GI Bill, Gene said.

He worked as a Youngstown city prosecutor under Mayor Anthony B. Flask before running in 1965 for municipal court judge. He was elected and began serving in 1966.

He served in that position until he was appointed in 1973 to a seat on the 7th District Court of Appeals.

The court has jurisdiction over Mahoning, Columbiana, Belmont, Carroll, Harrison Jefferson, Monroe and Noble counties.

Joseph served until he retired in late 1992 with Gene succeeding him in February 1993. Gene still serves on the appeals bench.

“People will remember my father for his honesty, his integrity, his fairness and his empathy for all,” Gene said. “We’ve had such an outpouring of calls and texts from people. Of all the things that were important to my father, his family was the most important. He will be remembered first as a family man.”

Anthony added: “He was the kindest person I know. He’s going to be remember for being a great person. He did so much for this community. He really cared for people.”

During the 1960s, Joseph helped create the Mahoning County Mental Health Board and started a program to help those struggling with alcohol addiction.

The Donofrio Recovery Centers — which assist people affected by drug and alcohol addiction — are named in his honor.

dskolnick@tribtoday.com

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