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Spon family celebrates a long legal tradition

John Spon Jr. sworn in as Mansfield law director with his father, 93, at his side

December 18, 2011
By LINDA HARRIS - Business editor ( , The Herald-Star

MANSFIELD - As a youngster, John Spon Jr. remembers sitting in a Jefferson County courtroom as his father, the venerable former Jefferson County probate and juvenile court judge John Spon Sr. offered his closing in a murder trial.

"To this day I remember his final argument, it was Shakespeare's "Every World is a Stage,'" the younger Spon said. "His final argument was 'Act 1, the defendant did this, Act 2, the defendant did that ...' He went through each act as if it was a real life play. It was a very powerful argument, and I remember it to this day."

Judge John Spon, now 93 and retired, sat on the bench for more than two decades, but was able to be present Nov. 30 when his son, John Jr., was sworn in as law director for the city of Mansfield. Administering the oath of office to John Jr. was his twin, Richland County Juvenile Court Judge Ron Spon.

Article Photos

A FAMILY AFFAIR — Retired Jefferson County Judge John Spon Sr. was present when his son John Jr.was sworn in as law director for the city of Mansfield. Administering the oath of office was John Jr.’s twin brother, Richland County Juvenile Court Judge Ron Spon. - Contributed

John Jr. admits being sworn in by his brother the judge while his father the ex-judge looked on was, well, a kick.

"I felt honored that my brother swore me in," he said. "It was very special because our mother and father were there, it was a tribute to them, and I felt honored that my brother, who is a person of great integrity, swore me in."

The Spon twins graduated from Steubenville High School in 1965. John, who quarterbacked Big Red's football team, earned his bachelor of science degree in social work from Ohio State University in 1969 and his law degree from Ohio Northern University in 1973, when he was recognized as outstanding legal writing scholar of his class.

He's worked both sides of the aisle - logging 22 years as a defense attorney and another 16 as a prosecutor, including a 12-year stint with the Jefferson County prosecutor's office and four years with the Richland County prosecutor. He also spent 15 years as a defense attorney in Jefferson County, starting his own firm - Spon, Fournier & Stipanovich.

"I enjoy the courtroom because I enjoy competition," John Spon said. "I like to be in the fray. I believe strongly in truth, I have a responsibility to winnow out the truth which is the ultimate goal of a trial, whether it's a civil trial or a criminal trial."

He said running for law director was an easy decision.

"That's the job I wanted," he said. "I've been a trial lawyer for 38 years. Judges do not get to try cases, and trying cases is in my blood. As law director, I can continue to try cases."

Brother Ron, the younger by seven minutes, said it was "one of the high points of my entire personal and professional life, to be administering the oath of office to my brother as the new law director for the city of Mansfield, and to also have my father sitting at the bench with me, and, of course, my mother there as well. It's such a great blessing."

Ron Spon spent 15 years practicing law as a prosecutor and in private practice before being elected to the bench nearly 20 years ago.

"A juvenile judge's work is unsung, unheralded," he said. "We don't write great opinions for national law journals, we're in the trenches where people live, with struggling families and children. But I would say there's no better way to serve than to try and turn around a lost kid and a struggling family, to give them hope and help for a better life. I've not lost my passion for what I've done for 20 years, and I owe so much of that to my father, who instilled in me that passion and the courage to do what was right no matter what the cost ... Do it right, do it honorably, do it well, that's true in any field."

He said they both learned a lot about the law from watching his dad at work.

"I remember as a teenager going into my father's court and watching him as judge," Ron Spon said. "I can tell you in all my years as trial attorney and all my years on the bench, he is the finest judge I know, and it's not just because he's my father. It's because he never took the power onto himself in a prideful way, he always saw it as a stewardship of public trust and used it in the most honorable way consistent with his office."

For his part, Retired Judge John Spon Sr. said he was "just very happy" for both his sons, while his wife, Dorothy, voiced her appreciation for a husband "who was such a wonderful and capable role model, in court and out" for the twins and their three sisters, Gail (Spon) Provenzano, Lelani "Penny" (Spon) Brettelle and Cynthia (Spon) Young, and also for her sons, still so much alike that casual observers aren't really sure which one of them they're talking to.

Ron Spon says it's always been a problem, though the differences seem obvious to him: Brother John, he said, "was always the more outgoing twin, I was a little more in the background."

"Those were great years, growing up," he said. "We were both involved in a lot of activities, athletics and different things. There were some tense moments I remember in fourth grade, I'd gone to class early to work on something quietly. It was wintertime and one of my classmates showed up at the door crying with a teacher beside him and said, 'There he is, that's the one that threw the snowball that hit me in the face.' There was no due process I was sent to the office and they gave me three swats plus an extra one because they thought I was lying when I said I was innocent. But when I got home, though, I was able to get back at my brother the way brother's do..."

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