Public Defender takes on Systemic Inequities in Campaign for Judge

For Samantha Silverstein standing up for what’s right comes naturally. The public defender, University of Cincinnati College of Law professor, recently launched her campaign for Hamilton County municipal court judge. 

Silverstein draws inspiration for her work from her Jewish roots and her grandfather Jack who helped liberate concentration camps as part of the American military during World War II. 

“So much of what I love about being Jewish is that it’s all about the law, and about fairness,” Silverstein said. 

She grew up in a small town in Iowa, where she was one of the few Jewish kids in her class. She was inspired to always stand up for people by her grandfather Jack.

“We’re both standing up systems of power, I think that is something [my grandfather] gave me that I can’t undo,”  she said.

Silverstein attended Indiana University where she studied journalism. It was while working on a story about Monday morning court proceedings she felt herself called to law. 

While covering a story at the courthouse for her student paper, Silverstein witnessed the inequities at morning court. Watching wealthy students who had been arrested on drunk and disorderly charges be released, while homeless individuals who had the same charges were sent to jail before their arraignments. 

“Homeless people were in shackles and prison clothes and sent back to prison for arraignment,” she said. “While students were in their own clothes and sent to diversion programs and left court that day.” 

Silverstein decided to attend law school, and after graduating from DePaul Law School, became a public defender in Cook County, Ill., before getting a job in the public defender’s office in West Palm Beach, Fla. She then came to Cincinnati in 2017.

After landing in Cincinnati she took a position with Legal Aid Society of Southwest Ohio before joining the Hamilton County Public defender office.  

With the rise in antisemitism, running for office has its risks. Silverstein first had to deal with antisemitism working as a public defender while working as the coordinator for the mass defense of protests during the George Floyd protests in the summer of 2020. After being interviewed by a local newspaper Silverstein found a sticker from alt right white nationalist group American Identity Movement on her front door. 

“I tried to pretend that, [you know] I’m a public defender. Like, I don’t care about that stuff,” she said, “But [running for office as a Jew] makes me nervous that someone’s gonna come and put another sticker on my door, but I know if they did I’d overcome it.”

It was witnessing the current inequities in the system that inspired her to run for Judge. And Silverstein has a bold common sense plan to make the justice system in Cincinnati more fair.

“I want to modernize our courthouse to keep up with other courthouses in Ohio, so we don’t fall behind, and so that our courthouse is more accessible.” Silverstein said, “Our current system costs more to maintain than an entire new system.”

Silverstein wants to bring a woman’s point of view to Hamilton County courts, because, as she’s found in her various experiences in the legal system, women aren’t listened to. 

“Their stories [of] why they’re in court, or what they want to happen is disregarded. I think that it’s important to have a female judge so that women are listened to more and someone will take into account what they have to say,” she said, adding the county’s eviction court is in need of reform. “We have one of the highest rates of eviction in the country. Our eviction rate is growing more quickly than other jurisdictions. I want to slow down that rate and that will help property owners and tenants.” 

Silverstein wants to use her first hand experience and knowledge about the system to change it. 

“Being a public defender you see behind the curtain, and you know too much about the unfairness,” said Silverstein. “I’m ready to fight to make it fairer for everyone.”