BOARDMAN — Charles J. Bannon, a longtime local judge, attorney and musician who served four terms as Mahoning County Common Pleas judge, died at home peacefully on Tuesday, July 20, 2021, following complications from heart disease. He was 93.
A public servant for more than 50 years, he was respected for his integrity, his strict interpretation of the law and his compassion for the less fortunate. Judge Bannon drew national attention in 1983 for sentencing then Mahoning County Sheriff and future U.S. Congressman James Traficant to jail for contempt of court for refusing to sign foreclosure papers in a high-profile case.
Charles Joseph Bannon was born on June 6, 1928, in Youngstown, the son of Charles Oliver Bannon, a special investigator with the Office of Price Administration during World War II, and Myra Price Bannon, a homemaker. After his mother died of tuberculosis when he was 4, Charles, his father and sister moved in with his grandparents, John Bannon and Lizzy Callahan Bannon, and the extended Bannon family of 10 uncles, aunts and cousins. Their Parkliffe Avenue home was the center of an active political family that helped inspire Charles’ lifelong career in public service. His father was president of the Mahoning County Democratic Club and a leader of the local Democratic Party; his uncle, Jack Bannon, was Mahoning County Treasurer; and his uncle, Robert Bannon, was a long-serving Boardman Township trustee.
While at South High School, Charles discovered jazz trumpet and became the leader of the South High School swing band. Chuck “Ziggy Bananas” Bannon led the 14-piece band, which often performed at Idora Park on weekends. After graduating from high school in 1947, he joined the Ray Robbins Band and toured dance halls and ballrooms across the South and Midwest for a year before deciding to return to Youngstown.
The first member of his family to pursue a college degree, Charles entered Youngstown State University in pre-law in 1948, majoring in history and social science. He was drafted in 1950 and served in the Army until 1952, stationed at Fort Riley, Kansas. He married his high school bandmate, Betty Jane Dimenno, in 1950 and they would have three children, Lisa, Charles John and Breen.
After graduating from Youngstown College Law School in 1957, he practiced law for the next 16 years. Since there was no county public defender’s office at the time, he often accepted court assignments to represent indigent clients. He viewed the legal profession as a way to “help others through the law,” he once said. He hung an oil painting of a seascape, given to him by his first client in lieu of legal fees, over the mantel in his living room as a reminder of why he became a lawyer.
In 1968, he was elected county court judge in Boardman, presiding over traffic and misdemeanor offenses. In 1974, he was elected Mahoning County Common Pleas Court judge, where he handled many of Youngstown’s high-profile criminal and civil cases for the next 24 years.
He refused to be influenced by outside interests, often rendering decisions that were unpopular with Youngstown political officials and the media. He was known for his honesty at a time when dozens of Youngstown public officials were indicted on corruption charges. He was also considered compassionate in sentencing criminal defendants, frequently favoring probation over jail time. “Charlie Bannon always had empathy for society. He could recognize the difficulty that some people had and suggest that jail time wasn’t necessary. He would suggest good behavior was the best thing to do,” Ted Macejko, a former Mahoning County prosecutor, said in a tribute to Judge Bannon in 2004.
His most publicized case was in 1983, when he sentenced James Traficant to 100 days in jail for contempt of court after a heated courtroom debate. The 7th District Court of Appeals released the sheriff from jail pending appeal, but ultimately affirmed the lower court decision. Judge Bannon nevertheless suspended the sheriff’s jail sentence so he wouldn’t have to serve any time.
“He had no need to put the sheriff back in jail to prove to everyone that he was right. He had no political ambition and no personal need to show he was important,” said T. Gordon Welsh, his former bailiff and Mahoning County Court administrator.
After retiring in 1999, Judge Bannon continued to work as a visiting judge in Mahoning, Trumbull and Portage counties for the next 10 years. He relished life’s simple pleasures, spending time at Lake Erie with his wife, Joan, whom he married in 1985, growing tomatoes in their backyard, cutting the grass and listening to big band jazz from Count Basie to Rosemary Clooney. He had a special passion for motor scooters, learned from his sons, and Volkswagen Beetles.
During his life he received numerous awards to recognize his public service. In 2004, he received the Mahoning County Professionalism Award, “for exemplifying the highest standards of competence, integrity and civility while serving his clients, the courts and the entire community.” In 2008, the Ohio State Bar Association recognized him for 50 years of service.
He was a member of many professional and civic organizations including the Ohio Judicial Conference, the Ohio Common Pleas Judges Association and the Muscular Dystrophy Association, where he served on the executive committee. He was a longtime member of Buckeye Elks Lodge 73, the Sons of Italy Lodge 858 and St. Charles Church.
He is survived by his wife, Joan von Schullick Bannon; his daughter, Lisa Bannon-Steinmetz (George); and son, Breen O. Bannon (Elizabeth); stepdaughters, Cathy Rarogiewicz (Michael) and Caren Compton; eight grandchildren, Adam Bannon, John Bannon, Nell, Nicholas and John Steinmetz, Robert, Tiffany and Tabatha Rosenberg; and one great-grandson, Jack Bannon.
He was preceded in death by his mother; father; sister, Mary Louise Seckler; stepmother, Leora Early Bannon; brother, Michael; and his son, Charles John Bannon.
The family would like to thank his caregivers, Ann, Kim and Paulette, for their compassion and support during this time.
In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to ALS-TDI, Beatitude House, or the Rescue Mission of Mahoning County.
Calling hours will be held from 4 to 7 p.m. on Friday, July 23, 2021, at Higgins-Reardon Funeral Home, Poland Chapel, 2726 Center Road (U.S. Route 224). A Mass of Christian burial will be celebrated at 11 a.m. on Saturday, July 24, 2021, at St. Charles Borromeo Parish in Boardman. Calling hours will be held one hour prior to the mass.
Burial will take place at Calvary Cemetery at a later date.
When he retired in 1999, Judge Bannon’s former bailiff, Patricia Dascenzo, recalled asking him why he sweated over every single decision in the courtroom, even the smallest cases. “Some day I have to answer for every decision I’ve made that affects people’s lives,” he said. “So I better get it right.”
Condolences may be sent to www.higgins-reardon.com.