Judge & professor: Shuff talks Constitution during Court on Campus

On a day when he’d usually sit behind the bench to hear common pleas cases, Judge Steve Shuff took on a second role this morning: professor.

As he does every fall, Judge Shuff, a ’75 ‘Berg grad, brought his Seneca County Common Pleas Court to campus in recognition of Constitution Day. Students, faculty and staff gathered in Herbster Chapel to witness actual court hearings over which the judge presided.

Today’s cases included a pretrial hearing on a motion for intervention in lieu of conviction, a change of plea and sentencing on a grand theft charge and a sentencing hearing on a community control violation and two additional charges of breaking and entering and theft, among other cases.

The real learning took place when Judge Shuff stepped out from behind the bench in between hearings and talked directly to the ‘Berg audience, sometimes quizzing them about their Constitutional knowledge and sometimes answering questions about Constitutional rights inherent in the judicial process – specifically those that defendants give up when they plead guilty.

The judge noted that 80 percent of his criminal docket are drug-related. For most, the cycle of abuse started with alcohol and the gateway drug marijuana, and progressed from there. That held true for today’s hearings on campus, as multiple defendants were sentenced to rehabilitation services available in Seneca County.

A balancing act

During the Q&A, one student asked Judge Shuff if he ever feels bad. “No,” he said. “But I feel sad, at times depressed. And good at times, too.” 

Those good feelings come when someone successfully completes PIVOT, the county’s multi-jurisdictional drug recovery program, or the CROSSWAEH, the chemical dependency and community corrections facility.

The PIVOT program had been “amazing” in its success. “Is it perfect? No. We’ve lost a couple along the way, but there have been a lot of success stories, too,” he said.

“That’s what keeps us going,” he said. “You’ve got to balance it.”

Berg degree served him well

Reflecting on his student days at the Berg, Judge Shuff recalled many enlightening and lively discussions that occurred outside of class. “I loved it here. I’m still here,” he said, noting that he’s been in the legal profession more than 40 years and the Seneca County Common Pleas judge for 21 years.

Following his graduation from Heidelberg, he headed to Wake Forest with some trepidation about his preparation for law school. But that quickly disappeared. “Initially, I thought I was not ready, but I found that I was ready. I was prepared. I could stay with the other students,” he said. “Heidelberg prepared me well.”

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