On the death of Cuyahoga County Juvenile Court Judge Peter Sikora

It was difficult for me to focus on this evening’s work session in City Council because less than an hour before the meeting began, I learned that Juvenile Court Judge Peter Sikora had died earlier in the day. You can read what has been posted so far here.

I moved to Cleveland for graduate school – that joint degree in law and social work which I thought would lead me to juvenile court, truly. That’s what I wanted to be – a juvenile court judge. And so when I landed a clerk position in juvenile court after my first year of law school but before my first year of social work school, I felt like the luckiest person.  I was placed in the courtroom of a brand new judge in the late spring of 1989, the courtroom of Peter Sikora.

How many people know or recall that he was in the courtroom in Playhouse Square? Yup. That’s where I went – I took the bus. Every day.

Although the first thing most people may have noticed about Peter was that he was in a wheel chair, I remember what I consider to be an iconic smile. I think of how he used his hands and his chair and seemed about as mobile as an Olympic athlete.  And what seems so ironic about that is that indeed if he hadn’t had the trampoline injury he suffered at age 17, maybe he would have been.

I got to see all kinds of sides of Cleveland because of meeting Peter, who I actually had a really hard time calling anything other than Judge Sikora – because that’s who he was to me.  Dining places, social gathering places, people – all totally utterly emblematic of Cleveland, which he always always loved, just loved – at least that’s the impression I believe he gave nearly everyone.

I met his family members many, many times – his mother may she rest in peace and sibling and nieces and nephews. Then the other people in the courtroom – it was like a family in many ways, the good and the bad.

Two people I remember very well meeting I believe even the first summer I was invited to view July 4th fireworks from near his West side home: Jimmy Dimora and Bill Denihan. And for years after, I would always think when they were in the news, “Yeesh – those guys? They seemed like they’d been around a lot when I met them in 1989!”

I remember his runs for office and the campaigning – the events. I recall very well the ethnic events he organized, at least a couple of times if not more than that held in Playhouse Square venues, full.

Something about him made me be loyal as a friend and we remained in touch for years after I graduated from law and social work school – but not after I spent more time in juvenile court working in the diagnostic clinic and clerking for other attorneys who had cases in juvenile court and when I was at Bellefaire – not a lot of occasions but a few to get there.

Peter never ever wanted or for as long as I knew him engendered pity of any kind – I certainly never felt pity for him in the least. And the reason I believe is because he presented and acted so clearly like a judge, using all his faculties and then some, compensating perhaps – I don’t know. But I never felt he had any deficits when it came to his work. Disagreements – arguments – policy and otherwise? Sure – with people in the court and beyond like the attorneys or family members in his courtroom? I’m sure.

But nothing I ever detected that made me regard him as anything other than a role model for how to make a difference in the life of young people – something I’ve always wanted to do.

For 23 years, this man was a juvenile court judge.  I imagine there are many people who cannot imagine what that must be like.  But thank God there are good, smart, caring people willing to not just imagine but be that, through thick and thin, for so long, even with higher aspirations because why not.

As we say in Judaism, may he be of blessed memory. I called my parents who met him several times over the years and would often ask about whether they might get to see him when they came to town and I said to my mother, I think I just can’t believe he is gone.  I think I’m going to feel that way for a long time.

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