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Chief City Prosecuting Attorney reflects on career

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Walking five miles a day, hiking the Grand Canyon twice, taking on law school while starting a family; when it comes to life, it’s all about the challenge for Lisa Eliason.

Those few Ohio University students that have happened to find themselves on the business end of the Athens City Municipal Court may have heard of her before. For those who have not, Lisa Eliason is the Chief City Prosecuting Attorney.

When it comes to law, Eliason never backs down from her responsibility to her community and her family. “I’m always thinking about the victim, society and the best interest of the public in general.”

Eliason graduated Ohio University in 1976 with a degree in special education. Afterwards she taught special education classes in multiple schools, namely the Trimble Local School District, for eight years.

Shortly after graduating and losing both her mother and later her father, Eliason and her husband became legal guardians of her kid brother, who has Autism.

It was not long, however, until Eliason found her true calling after working in a juvenile treatment center.

“I worked a lot with the juvenile court because they sent the kids there, so when I went to law school, I was thinking I was going to specialize in juvenile law.” But Eliason found law school to be more about the bar exam and less about specialization.

After graduating from the University of Dayton’s law program, Eliason took a job in government contracts for Wright Patterson Air Force Base. As an attorney there, she used her skills to oversee government contracts with the base.

With endless contracts coming across her desk, some of them being particularly lengthy, Eliason eventually questioned her initial decision. “It was the most boring thing I had ever done in my whole life; the day they brought me a contract in a shopping cart, I decided I don’t wanna do this anymore.”

Soon after, she got a call from a judge offering her a position as his law clerk in the Ohio Second District Court of Appeals, which oversees counties in the Miami Valley, such as Champaign, Greene and Montgomery. However, after being away from Athens for a little over 10 years, the OU grad began to miss her old home.

She met her husband the first day on campus and they got married in the Galbreath Chapel on College Green in 1976. For them, they always knew they would return.

“Athens has always had a special place in our hearts and we just decided we wanted to raise our family here.”

Eliason and her husband moved their two children and Eliason’s brother to Athens in 1989. She began her job as a City of Athens Prosecuting Attorney shortly after in 1990.

In 1993, Eliason left the Athens County Municipal court and did not return until 1996. During this time Eliason was in private practice, where she mostly dealt with divorce cases.

In her current position as the Chief Prosecuting Attorney, Eliason oversees two other city prosecuting attorneys. Eliason’s job is to prosecute misdemeanor offenses. Eliason and her team oversee 14,000 cases a year, but she still tries her best to give the individual attention every case deserves.

“If I get an email, I try and answer it right away. If I get a phone call I try to answer those right away; I think people deserve that.”

It is because of this care that Eliason remembers one case in particular that became a major turning point in her career. A case in 1998, an OU student with a prior misdemeanor for underage drinking was found in the Hocking River.

“That one especially, because I remember it so vividly,” she explained.

Eliason took it upon herself to find a way to prevent this from happening again. She brought a diversion program to the then Athens County Municipal Court Judge, Douglas Bennett.

With this program Eliason hoped to educate those convicted of underage drinking to learn to either drink smarter or to not drink all together. This program also has a probation program; this part in particular is what Eliason believes does the most good. Being able to monitor those in the program can prevent what happened back in 1998.

Eliason sees her position as an opportunity to do good for the Athen’s community.

“I do try to help people, and hope I never have to see them again. I’ve had people say, ‘Oh, I bet you hate me’, I don’t hate you, you made a really bad decision,” she said earnestly. For Eliason, you really cannot use that moment to define the kind of person that defendant is.

With everything that Eliason sees as a prosecuting attorney, a common question is how she is able to leave the cases behind at work and not bring them home with her at night.

“I never lose sleep at night, I do the best that I can all day long, I never ignore a phone call, I keep everything I have to do and don’t let it go. I do the very best that I can possibly do, the very best, and then I sleep really well.”

Eliason’s career is marked with many triumphs, with both her legacy and her future goals intertwining. Eliason’s generation is really the first generation of females practicing law in Athens.

Eliason hopes that she has been a role model for others around her.  As Chief Prosecuting Attorney she hopes she’s left behind a legacy that inspires younger generations.

As for her future goals, Eliason possibly has her eye on a recently vacant Law Director’s position, one that has never been filled by a female attorney and not only that, but she could possibly be the first elected female in a legal position in Athen’s history.

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