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  • 02 Dec 2019 11:00 AM | Kim Fantaci (Administrator)

    Ice Miller LLP is pleased to announce the arrival of a new attorney in the Firm’s Columbus office.

    Kishala Srivastava is an attorney in Ice Miller’s Litigation Practice. Kishala first joined Ice Miller as a summer associate, where she drafted memoranda and court documents for the Firm’s Litigation and Labor & Employment Groups. She earned her juris doctor from The Ohio State Moritz College of Law. During law school, Kishala was an advisory board member for the Program on Law and Leadership, a co-chair of the diversity and inclusion committee for the Student Bar Association and a member of the Moritz’s Justice for Children Clinic. Kishala also served as editor-in-chief of the Ohio State Journal on Dispute Resolution.


  • 25 Nov 2019 1:30 PM | Kim Fantaci (Administrator)

    Image of a map of the United States with historic images of women protesting for their right to voteThe U.S. Constitution begins with the words, “We the people.” Yet women fought for decade after decade for the right to participate in electing their leaders. The 19th Amendment finally began making its rounds in 1919, through the states toward ultimate ratification. One hundred years later, Ohio judges and justices share what it has meant to them to participate in democracy’s most basic responsibility – voting.

    By Kathleen Maloney | November 22, 2019

    As another Election Day fades away, it’s a reminder of the privilege in this country to select our public officials at the local, state, and national levels. This right wasn’t always widely extended. White males were the only individuals who could vote for many decades. Since at least 1848, though – when the Women’s Rights Convention was held in Seneca Falls, New York, and participants drafted a declaration of rights – women have fought to have a say in who is elected to represent them.

    In June 1919, after several failed attempts, Congress proposed the U.S. Constitution’s 19th Amendment to give women the right to vote. The measure traveled to the states for the required ratification. Ohio ratified the amendment swiftly – on June 16, 1919. About a year later, Tennessee’s approval gave the country the 36 states needed to make the amendment part of the U.S. Constitution. (Even so, it took many more years to push back obstacles to voting for African Americans, Asians, and Native Americans.) On Aug. 26, 1920, the U.S. secretary of state formally certified the 19th Amendment.

    As part of the national, yearlong celebration to honor the 100th anniversary of women gaining the right to vote, women who serve in Ohio's judicial branch tell what it was like the first time they cast a ballot, what drove them to participate in the electoral process, and how it felt to be a winning candidate in an election.

    Individual head shots of seven female Ohio judges displayed side-by-side

    The first time you voted, what was the experience like?
    JUDGE BECKMAN: I remember being nervous the first time I voted. I was nervous because I did not want to look like a fool not knowing what I was doing. At 18 years old, I did not understand the magnitude of the election process at all.

    JUDGE ZAYAS (first Hispanic woman elected to an Ohio appellate court): I remember it feeling overwhelming, and wondering if I was doing it correctly.

    JUDGE TORRES-LUGO: I was going to elect the mayor of the city where I lived in Puerto Rico. It was so amazing. I was going to be a decisive factor. It felt so important to me, and it was fun.

    JUDGE HUFFMAN: It was the 1980 presidential election, and my recollection is I was scared because of the important responsibility that goes with voting. You need to put thought into who you choose; you don’t just click any button.

    JUDGE TRAPP: The minute I turned 18, I was so excited to vote. We had debated the voting age in high school, and it hadn’t been that long since 18-year-olds were allowed to vote. To walk in to vote, it was very gratifying. It was an awesome responsibility because people before us didn’t have that right.

    JUDGE COOPERRIDER (first female judge in Perry County): My parents had eight children. It was a busy lifestyle. However, my parents always made the time to vote. They lived through wars, depressions, and other significant events in our country. We would always talk about the importance of voting. Government was my favorite class in high school, and our teacher helped us register to vote.

    Historic image of former Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court Judge and Ohio Supreme Court Justice Florence E. AllenAmong her many firsts, Florence E. Allen was the first woman elected to a judicial office in the United States (the Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court), and the first woman elected to a state supreme court (the Ohio Supreme Court, of course). There’s a move afoot to name Cuyahoga County’s new or refurbished justice center after her to honor her notable achievements. She also became the first woman to serve on a federal appeals court.

    JUDGE BALLINGER: I can’t remember the first time that I voted, but I do remember talking to my mom about voting when I was in middle school. She told me that she was of one party and my dad was of another party. This helped me to understand that you don’t hate the opposing party, but rather understand that there are different views and beliefs.

    Why did you want to vote? How was voting meaningful to you?
    JUDGE HUFFMAN: Our father was an attorney and a county prosecutor. He was very invested in politics but also stressed to my brothers and sister and me the importance in participating in the political process. We all passed out literature for candidates from the time we were about 8 years old, and we heard about elections and politics at every meal. Our father and our uncle, who was also a county prosecutor, always impressed on us that voting isn’t just a right, but an important responsibility. If you don’t vote, the consequences are yours, and you have no right to complain.

    JUDGE TORRES-LUGO: Although I’ve been in Cleveland for 30 years now, I grew up in Puerto Rico. My father was very politically involved, and he took us as a family – I’m the youngest of five – to campaign events and to vote. My father taught us that the differences between candidates are about more than party, and that whoever you like needs your vote.

    JUDGE BECKMAN: At 18, I felt that voting was a civic duty – something that I should do. But it wasn’t meaningful to me at 18. I knew it made the United States different from other places, but I did not understand the magnitude until much later in life.

    JUDGE TRAPP: I saw voting as a way for women to have more seats – even some seats – in political power. It didn’t matter which party if they were voting and advocating for equal rights for women.

    JUDGE ZAYAS: I grew up with an innate sense of the value of the vote, and I had studied that some people didn’t have the right to vote. I felt a sense of duty, because there are people – women, African Americans – who fought so hard and died for the right to vote. Historic image of Warren G. Harding

    Women from Ohio and neighboring states marched through Marion, Ohio, on Oct. 1, 1920, to hear Sen. Warren G. Harding give a campaign speech from the front porch of his home. Harding was the first president elected after women throughout the United States were allowed to vote in national elections. He ran against another Ohioan, former Gov. James M. Cox of Butler County.

    Did you encounter any obstacles or pushback as a woman running for office? If so, in what ways?

    JUDGE TRAPP: To a certain extent, sure. There were still some organizations I met with when I first ran for judge where a man might say, “Isn’t it cute you’re running for judge, honey.”

    JUDGE HUFFMAN: My colleague, Judge Barb Gorman, the first woman on our bench, told me that early in her judicial career a few attorneys would refer to her as “girlie.” Today, I get the occasional remark, usually from a criminal defendant, about my gender, but it’s so rare. I haven’t experienced that as an issue of any significance.

    JUDGE TORRES-LUGO: There were areas. A group of voters told me they thought more men were needed on municipal court. They argued that women favored other women, especially in domestic violence cases. I wasn’t intimidated and instead viewed it as an intellectual challenge. But, generally, I don’t feel much distinction in how people view male and female candidates in Cleveland.

    JUDGE ZAYAS: I think 10 to 20 years ago, women had a much more difficult time running for office. I know, though, that there are some people who won’t vote for me because I’m a woman, and some who will just because I’m a woman.

    Being a person of color was more of a challenge. I have a different name and a New York accent. Yet because people notice I’m different, they paused and listened. I think most folks chose who they felt would better serve them. They ultimately considered me for me.

    JUDGE COOPERRIDER: I have seven brothers so I know firsthand what it is like to stick up for yourself and to be an underdog. I also knew my abilities as a person, no matter if I was a male or female.

    How did it feel when you won your seat for judge?
    JUDGE TORRES-LUGO: Oh my goodness, that was a roller coaster of emotions. I didn’t want to look at the TV. I told my family not to tell me anything about the results until it was close to 100 percent. I was excited, humbled, and honored.

    JUDGE BALLINGER: I felt a sense of excitement because I could now move forward to create programs and dockets and procedures that would benefit the people who came before me daily. I believed I could make the court more user-friendly and less intimidating. With municipal court being the people’s court serving almost every citizen in the community, it should not be a place that brings on fear or misunderstanding.

    JUDGE TRAPP: It was fantastic. As a trial lawyer, I’d won cases and lost. Similarly, I lost my first judicial race, and won my second. It’s perseverance. And election night is a lot like waiting for a jury verdict. When you win, it’s so joyous.

    JUDGE HUFFMAN: It was more than humbling. People place their trust in you. I felt the gravity of the responsibility, and the importance of following the law, continuing to educate myself about the law, and treating people with respect.

    JUDGE ZAYAS: I still pinch myself every morning: What I do for a living is serve the people as a judge.

    Historic image of Victoria Woodhull

    Victoria Woodhull of Homer, Ohio, was the first woman to testify before Congress, arguing for suffrage for women. She was nominated by the Equal Rights Party in 1872 as the first woman to run for U.S. president.

    What's the importance of women running for office? What's the importance of women as judges on our courts?
    JUDGE BALLINGER: I believe it’s important that women run for office so that we have a more diverse pool of candidates and eventually a more diverse pool of elected officials and community leaders. I don’t believe that women are better leaders than men, but they bring an additional dynamic to the table that benefits all. The diversity strengthens our judiciary and better addresses all of the community.

    JUDGE TORRES-LUGO: When you have a child, God rewires you. As a mother, I learned to read people and to step back and find a middle ground. I’ve used these skills as a judge.

    JUDGE TRAPP: Women bring a different perspective because of our experiences. We’re a big part of the population, and we bring those perspectives to the table. If women’s voices are heard enough, eventually some of our issues will be heard and addressed.

    JUDGE COOPERRIDER: When I ran for judge, I wanted to make a difference in the lives of the people from Perry County, especially the youth. I never made it an issue that I was a woman. I just let them know who I was and what I wanted to do.

    JUDGE ZAYAS: It’s great that we’re revisiting this historic moment of women getting the right to vote. It may feel far removed but it’s a great reminder that women put their lives, and everything, on the line for this right. The women had such passion and were fighting for their daughters and nieces. People sacrificed so much.Historic image of four women protesting for their right to vote

    In 1917, Ohio’s legislature passed a law to allow women in the state to vote for president. But a referendum petition put the law to a vote before the public, which repealed it in November of that year.

    Why is it important for people to vote or to vote for judges specifically?
    JUDGE TORRES-LUGO: You have to understand that all the restrictions in life come from legislation. The legislature can take your life, your liberty, and your property. All aspects of your life are in other people’s hands. You can take control only by voting. If not, you’re at the mercy of another person who doesn’t know you or your values or philosophy.

    JUDGE ZAYAS: Elections are won sometimes on a dismal amount of votes. Before provisional votes were counted, a friend of mine was ahead by only four votes on Election Day. Absolutely, believe me, every vote counts. Even when your candidate loses, your vote still matters. Votes showing support for your candidate, even though they lost, encourages others with your values to come forward and run, too.

    JUDGE HUFFMAN: In some other countries, the right to vote is non-existent or compromised. I never take it for granted. None of us should squander the right.

    JUDGE COOPERRIDER: People should vote to have a say and to be engaged in their local, state, and national government.

    JUDGE TRAPP: If you don’t like what you see, you can change it. It goes back to realizing what people went through in this country to gain the right to vote. It’s precious. When I talk to people in other countries, they are in awe of our government. They can’t understand why we wouldn’t vote when we have the chance. Voting is key to our democracy and to maintaining our democracy.

    JUDGE ZAYAS: In election years and in between those years, I talk a lot to people about what judges do, what appellate courts do, and the judicial structure in the state. Once they understand, it’s like a light bulb turns on. And they say, “I’m ready, and I want to vote for all those openings.”

    JUDGE BALLINGER: Because judges are elected in Ohio, it is important that voters know they are on the ticket and to vote for the best judicial candidate by researching ahead of time. It is beyond me that voters don’t vote the entire ballot!

    CREDITS:

    Design: Ely Margolis  |  Web: Erika Lemke

  • 15 Nov 2019 9:00 AM | Kim Fantaci (Administrator)

    Julie Drellishak | Press Release |November 7, 2019

    CLEVELAND, OH - Reminger Co., LPA is proud to share that Barbara Bellin Janovitz, Chair of Reminger Co., LPA’s Estate Planning Practice Group, won her re-election bid for Beachwood City Council this week. With 2,588 votes, Barbara won 25.76% of the ballots cast amongst the five candidates who were vying for one of the four available seats.

    A lifelong Beachwood resident, Barbara is a board member of several organizations, including the Montefiore Foundation, Benjamin Rose Institute on Aging, Rose Centers for Aging Well and the Center for Community Solutions. She has served as a member of Beachwood City Council since January 2016.

    Barbara has been the chair of Reminger's Estate Planning Group for more than twenty years and has been counseling clients on estate planning and probate and trust administration issue for more than thirty years. Her practice is focused on estate and gift planning, estate tax law and planning, probate dn estate administration, trusts and trust administration, and asset protection planning.

    Barbara counsels clients on both simple and complex estate, charitable and retirement planning matters, and has experience dealing with the Internal Revenue Service to resolve estate and gift tax issues. She helps clients analyze, develop and implement appropriate comprehensive estate plans, from basic planning to the use of sophisticated and cutting edge techniques for high net worth clients.

    Barbara frequently speaks on estate planning matters to groups of individuals and professional advisors. She also performs community service in a leadership role with a multitude of organizations.

    “I am honored that Beachwood voters have voiced their support,” said Janovitz. “I look forward to continuing to serve my community with a renewed focus on strategic planning, maintaining open lines of communication with residents and engaging them to participate in civic matters.”

    Barbara can be reached by emailing bjanovitz@reminger.com or by calling

    216.430.2178.

  • 11 Nov 2019 8:09 AM | Kim Fantaci (Administrator)

    Image of an auditorium full of men and women raising their hands to take an oathA total of 629 successful bar admission applicants will participate in one of two special Court sessions Nov. 12 at the Palace Theatre in Columbus.

    Ohio Supreme Court Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor will administer the oath of office to applicants who were successful on their July 2019 Ohio bar examination and who have satisfied all of the Supreme Court’s requirements for admission. About 73 percent of those who sat for the July exam received a passing score. Eighty-two percent of the first-time test takers passed.

    View a complete list of those who passed the July bar exam.

    Justice Judith French will give both keynote speeches during the bar admissions ceremonies, which begin at 10:30 a.m. and 2 p.m.

    The ceremony will be streamed live on the Supreme Court’s website.


  • 08 Nov 2019 8:00 AM | Kim Fantaci (Administrator)

    Women for Economic and Leadership Development (WELD) gathers each year to recognize women in the Ohio community that are high-impact leaders.  These women help to inspire others by carrying out WELD’s mission of developing and advancing women’s leadership to strengthen the economic prosperities of the communities they serve. OWBA’s founding members, Joyce Edelman and our past president Claudia Herrington, were honored during the event. Please help us in congratulating these amazing women!

  • 30 Oct 2019 8:20 AM | Kim Fantaci (Administrator)

    CLEVELAND, OH – Reminger Co., LPA is proud to announce that Stella K. Skaljac has joined our Cleveland office. Stella brings over 15 years of employment law and human resource management experience to her role as Of Counsel. Her practice focuses on preventative employment practice strategies and employment defense. As a Society of Human Resource Management Senior Certified Professional (SHRM-SCP), Stella combines her experience as an employment attorney with her broad understanding of HR best practices to offer clients a comprehensive approach to their workplace issues.

    After graduating, cum laude, from Miami University of Ohio in Human Resource Management and Organizational Behavior, Stella returned to her hometown of Cleveland to attend Case Western Reserve Law School earning her J.D. with a focus on labor and employment law. During law school, she traveled to Crete, Greece for a study abroad program where she had the unique opportunity to participate in a class taught by Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

    Throughout her career, Stella worked as a management-side attorney and a human resource consultant before transitioning to her current role. As Of Counsel, she brings a distinct skillset to Reminger’s clients by providing both employment litigation support and HR law and best practices counsel on a wide array of workplace issues. Stella assists clients with day-to-day employee relations issues to proactively mitigate risks, remedy compliance gaps, and ensure employers are achieving their goals by leveraging the talent and skills of their workforce.

    Stella has gained experience in a wide variety of industries and organizations and brings fresh perspective and innovative solutions to her clients. To help clients minimize employment risks, she focuses on preventative strategies throughout the entire employee life cycle – from the hiring process to onboarding and potential wrongful termination claims. Stella spends significant time with clients developing effective corrective action and performance management practices. She also works with clients to devise progressive and fair policies, implement workplace process improvements and build effective and cohesive organizational cultures.

    In addition to advocating for clients at administrative hearings or throughout litigation, Stella’s primary areas of expertise are conducting HR audits, workplace investigations, management training, and general employment counseling. She is very experienced in employee handbooks and the development of critical HR infrastructures to assist clients in tackling the challenges of the modern workplace in order to set a more proactive tone. She also assists clients with management of FMLA/ADA issues, harassment and discrimination complaints, and all other issues from hiring to firing and everything in between.

    Stella can be reached by calling 216.430.2130 or by emailing sskaljac@reminger.com.

    About Reminger, Attorneys at Law:

    Reminger Co., LPA is a full-service law firm with fourteen offices throughout the Midwest: Cleveland, Cincinnati, Columbus, Akron, Youngstown, Sandusky, Toledo, Fort Mitchell, Lexington, Louisville, Indianapolis, Fort Wayne, Northwest Indiana and Evansville. With more than 150 attorneys collectively, Reminger's practice areas include all aspects of litigation, along with corporate, tax, real estate and probate matters. Our fundamental objective in all the legal services we provide is to obtain the best possible results for our clients in the most practical and efficient manner possible. For more information, visit Reminger at www.reminger.com.

    # # #

    FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: AUGUST 26, 2019

    Contact: Julie Drellishak, Reminger Co., LPA

    JDrellishak@Reminger.com, direct: 216-905-1630


  • 28 Oct 2019 8:30 AM | Kim Fantaci (Administrator)

    Ohio Supreme Court Justice Melody Stewart discussed the history of the right to vote at the NAACP Freedom Fund Dinner.

    JACKSON TWP. Justice Melody Stewart, while speaking at the annual Stark County NAACP Freedom Fund Dinner, gave her audience a history lesson Thursday evening on the lengthy and arduous struggle that took place in this country to secure voting rights for all adult citizens.

    The first black woman elected to the Ohio Supreme Court, Stewart gave particular focus on what it took for women to be able to vote.

    “As many of you know, next year will mark the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment which has given women the right to vote,” Stewart, 54, said, while speaking in the Piazza Room of the La Pizzeria restaurant and banquet hall complex.

    However, Stewart mentioned a lesser known historical women’s rights event which occurred in 1848 which grew out of convention organized by women. This convention produced a document known as Declaration of Sentiments. This document endorsed women’s suffrage.

    “For decades, black women had to beg to be included,” Stewart said. “Women of color faced discrimination from the gender perspective and the ethnic perspective.”

    Stewart, who is from the Cleveland, defeated incumbent Mary DeGenaro in 2018 to claim a term on the Ohio Supreme Court. Prior to joining the state high court, Stewart was a justice on the 8th District Court of Appeals. She earned a law degree from the Cleveland-Marshall College of Law. Stewart also holds a bachelor’s degree from the University of Cincinnati.

    Stewart, during her keynote speech, went over the significance of the 15th Amendment and the 19th Amendment. The 15th Amendment to the Constitution, ratified in 1870, set out to prohibit the federal and state governments from denying a citizen the right to vote based on race or previous condition of servitude. But what this amendment did was allow states to establish standards, such as literacy tests or poll taxes, to make it difficult for black citizens to vote.

    And the 15th Amendment failed to address a woman’s right to the ballot.

    “You think they would have said, ‘You might as well put women in there, too,’” Stewart said.

    Through all the decades of legal battling, it was not until the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 that all adult citizens of the United States had full voting rights, the Ohio Supreme Court justice said.

    Stewart also talked about her election triumph of last year.

    “It has been something running for the Supreme Court,” she said. “I didn’t know thing-one about running for statewide office.”

    Her opponent, Mary DeGenaro, had been appointed to the Ohio Supreme Court early in 2018 to fill an unexpired term created with the retirement of a justice.

    At the outset of her campaign, Stewart said she made a pledge that, “I was not going to say a single negative thing about my opponent.”

    During the Freedom Fund Dinner, others gave brief addresses, such as former Stark County Common Pleas Court Judge Richard Reinbold who mentioned the late U.S. Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland. Reinbold took issue when he discovered that Cummings, who recently died, is the first black who remains lay in repose in the U.S. Capitol.

    “If you look at history, it is the judicial branch (of government) that has stood up when it counted,” Reinbold said. “The importance of Justice Stewart being on that bench cannot be exaggerated.”

    The dinner attracted more than 200 patrons, according to Deb Shamlin, president of the Stark County NAACP.

    “It is well supported every year,” Shamlin said. “I think our work is recognized in the community.”

    Reach Malcolm at 330-580-8305

    or malcolm.hall@cantonrep.com

    On Twitter: mhallREP

  • 23 Oct 2019 1:00 PM | Kim Fantaci (Administrator)

    Carolyn Kroupa
    Contributing Writer

    “The Supreme Dare in You!” event was held in KU Ballroom on Sept. 26 with Ohio Supreme Court Justice Melody J. Stewart.

    Justice Stewart made history as the first African American woman elected to the state’s Supreme Court.

    The event was sponsored by the University of Dayton School of Law, the Office of Diversity and Inclusion and the Women’s Center.  The event was also endorsed by several student organizations including Feminists United, UDayton Votes and the Multi-Ethnic Education and Engagement Center.

    Lisa Borello, director of the Women’s Center, introduced Stewart to share her story of “hope, strength and courage.”

    Stewart was elected to the Ohio Supreme Court in 2018.  She has 30 years of experience in the legal field.

    Stewart did not always have an interest in law.  She studied music as an undergraduate at the University of Cincinnati, and her first job out of college was in healthcare.

    Her first experience with the judicial system was when she was 21 years old and received a traffic ticket for running a red light. She challenged the ticket and won. This proved to her that the justice system worked.

    She received her law degree from Cleveland State University with a full scholarship.  Initially, she did not foresee becoming a judge.  She was a civil defense litigator, law school administrator and professor before being elected to the Court of Appeals in 2006.

    She has been on the Supreme Court for nine months now.  While running, she raised the least amount of money out of all her opponents. Stewart never lost hope and “had faith in the fact that if I was meant to be on the Supreme Court, that’s where I’d be.”

    Burnette Clingman, founder/CEO of Burnette Clingman Enterprises, interviewed Stewart and asked her what she brings to the court.

    “I make the court better by being there,” Stewart said. She also added that she brings “diversity of thought and background.”

    While speaking on what the public expects out of their justice system, she quoted Maya Angelou, “We are more alike than we are unlike.”

    Regardless of political party, “we want our officials to be fair and not biased,” Stewart said.

    Stewart also discussed the death penalty and jail sentencing.

    “Our system of corrections doesn’t necessarily deal with corrections,” she said. “I think we need more accountability in our judicial system. As good as our judicial system is, we can do better.”

    Stewart concluded the evening with some advice–“At each step of your life, look at what’s before you and conquer that.”

    Photos courtesy of Carolyn Kroupa


  • 21 Oct 2019 8:30 AM | Kim Fantaci (Administrator)


    Click this photo to watch a short video on kids learning about state, local court connections during take your child to work day. 

    While many state buildings are closed on Columbus Day, the Thomas J. Moyer Judicial Center remains not only operational, but also educational.

    On Monday, the Ohio Supreme Court held its annual “Take Your Child to Work Day” as 30 students gained a better understanding of what their relatives do, and what the state’s high court does.

    “My mom asked if I wanted to go, and I said yes, because I learned a lot last year, and I wanted to learn a lot this year,” said fifth-grader Mackenzie Kline.

    The theme of this year’s event, which dates back to 2007, focused on local courts across Ohio and how cases find their way to the court of last resort.

    The morning session illustrated how a previous case – Zacchini vs. Scripps-Howard Broadcasting – progressed from the trial court to the Ohio Supreme Court. Students participated in a mock trial of the case, followed by arguments before the appeals court. Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor picked up the case at the Ohio Supreme Court and also discussed its journey to the U.S. Supreme Court, where the case was ultimately decided.

    “I’m in mock trial at school. So, I think following the trial today was sort of cool to learn more about that stuff,” said Ben Stiffler, an eighth-grader, who attended the event for the third time.

    After a group photo with the chief justice, the boys and girls learned how the Court helps local courts across the state by watching videos that highlighted the work of several departments, including Court Services, Attorney Services, and others. The students then put pencil to paper, using their imagination to create a state flag for Ohio’s court system.

    The day ended in the law library where the kids wandered in search of clues for a scavenger hunt with a “capture the flag” twist.

    The event centers on education, but with an added bonus: befriending others.

    “That’s probably my favorite part, meeting new people, making new friends,” Stiffler said.

  • 18 Oct 2019 9:30 AM | Kim Fantaci (Administrator)

    Throughout the country, a staggering number of individuals have legal problems but can’t afford to hire an attorney. They struggle with housing, employment, and family issues, among others. During this month's national celebration of pro bono, read how Ohio lawyers have stepped in to shepherd many people through difficult or confusing moments, free of charge, to ensure those without means have access to justice.

    By Kathleen Maloney


    Winds whipped up to 170 mph when 13 tornadoes tore through the Dayton area in May. Roofs were lifted from their homes and businesses. Walls crumbled. Trees were strewn across yards and roads. When the ferocious winds calmed, residents of Brookville, Dayton, Riverside, Trotwood, and surrounding areas took stock.

    In the wake of it all, people rallied to assist family, friends, neighbors, coworkers, and strangers. As first responders and local officials dealt with immediate necessities, such as medical care, shelter, and water, Kelly Henrici was one of those who jumped in to identify other essentials to help residents over time.

    Henrici, executive director of the Greater Dayton Volunteer Lawyers Project, and her team met with counterparts at Legal Aid of Western Ohio and Advocates for Basic Legal Equality (ABLE) the day after the Memorial Day tornadoes to brainstorm about how lawyers could help the community.

    After a quickly assembled, multiday gathering where immediate housing issues were handled, the legal groups organized another event within three weeks to tackle a primary legal need – replacing critical legal documents. Birth certificates, Social Security cards, marriage licenses, divorce decrees, property deeds, driver’s licenses, auto titles, and court paperwork were reproduced at no charge. The 10-hour, “one-stop, replace-all” clinic served 115 people that day.

    In addition to partnerships with local, county, and state agencies, the efforts had the assistance of 25 lawyers at the first event and more than 20 lawyers at the document replacement clinic – all of whom worked pro bono.

    “I’ve never had faster email responses from attorneys willing to help,” said Henrici, who referenced the #DaytonStrong Twitter hashtag that’s become symbolic of the community’s solidarity during difficult times. “Usually pro bono is woven into lawyers’ busy schedules. Here they said, ‘I need to do my share now.’”

    The attorneys did initial reviews assessing what individuals still had and what they needed. Attorneys guided each person to the workstation of the organization that could replace the document. Sometimes, Henrici said, the attorneys just listened.

    Demand for Lawyers Substantial for Ordinary Occurrences
    It’s not unusual to witness displays of sincere compassion and astounding contributions when tragedy strikes. At first glance, everyday concerns, such as evictions, foreclosures, employment, divorce, child custody, health care, and immigrant status – many of which are handled in the courts – may seem to pale in comparison to the urgency following catastrophic incidents.

    “But these are life-changing legal problems,” said Angela Lloyd, executive director of the Ohio Access to Justice Foundation (OAJF), formerly the Ohio Legal Assistance Foundation.

    An eviction after someone loses a job can snowball into being unable to secure future housing. Taking the next step as an immigrant can open doors to better jobs. A woman who finds safe shelter away from an abusive spouse moves forward toward building a more stable life for herself and her children.

    Legal aid organizations are instrumental in helping low-income individuals with these and other legal issues. But their paid staffs are small, and the public’s need is large.

    In low-income households ($21,137 per year for a two-person family, and $32,187 annually for a family of four), 71 percent had one legal problem that was civil, not criminal, in the prior year, and one in four of those had six or more civil legal issues, according to a national study in 2017. Ohio has 2.1 million low-income households, meaning 1.49 million households will have at least one legal issue in a civil matter each year.

    With 281 attorneys employed by Ohio legal aid organizations, that amounts to one legal aid attorney for every 5,302 low-income households that need legal guidance – the equivalent of one attorney for all employees of Ohio University.

    “There’s a profound need that can’t be met by the paid staff of legal aid,” said lawyer Molly Crabtree. “They play a vital role, identifying needs and finding attorneys who can assist. Attorneys working pro bono take a little off their plates.”

    Assisting Those in Dire Circumstances
    Crabtree, a partner at Porter Wright in Columbus, represents companies on antitrust, trade secret, and environmental issues. Her time volunteering her legal skills goes to the Tenant Advocacy Project (TAP) at Franklin County Municipal Court, evening brief-advice clinics, and occasional appointments to federal civil cases.

    TAP is a daily clinic run by the Legal Aid Society of Columbus. Crabtree said Porter Wright sends two attorneys twice a month to the clinic, and most large law firms in the city send attorneys on a designated day each month to help with evictions, which have escalated in the county.

    Recently at TAP, Crabtree talked with a man who fell into financial difficulties when his roommate moved out while he was recovering from two gunshot wounds and was unable to work consistently. After he didn’t pay rent, the man received an eviction notice just as he found out his girlfriend was pregnant.

    The legal aid team matched him with Crabtree. She said they “huddled in a corner” amid the chaos of housing court. Learning that the man was willing to leave his rental, Crabtree was able to initiate a dialogue with the landlord, who had an attorney. Their discussions led to a manageable move-out date and prevented the eviction from going on his record. All in one morning. Without that record, the man, who has a job, would likely find another place to live without difficulty.

    “Doing pro bono, I feel like I have a real impact on their lives,” Crabtree said. “I’ve never met a client who wasn’t thankful to have help.”

    Addressing Opioids, Helping Immigrants, Reaching out to Rural Communities
    Among areas of increasing legal concern is the opioid crisis. The Columbus legal aid society received a 2019 grant through the Ohio Supreme Court’s Civil Justice Program to offer telephone and video outreach to rural areas. Lawyers will advise the growing number of grandparents and other family members seeking custody of children affected by the crisis, notes Crabtree, who recently served as the legal aid group’s chair.

    Based on her experience, she sees the biggest needs for legal assistance in Ohio’s non-metropolitan areas and in immigrant communities.

    Cheri Budzynski decided to dive into immigration cases after the 2016 election. Budzynski, a partner at Shumaker, Loop & Kendrick in Toledo where she advises businesses on environmental compliance, had donated money for legal aid for a long time. But in 2016 she decided to contribute in a more personal way. She reached out to nonprofit law firm ABLE in her area.

    Her first pro bono case through ABLE was a young, English-speaking woman from Kenya who was abused by her husband. The woman wanted to obtain a green card, which would make her a permanent U.S. resident and would allow her to seek employment without federal authorization. Budzynski began working with her in 2017 to submit a petition under the Violence Against Women Act so the woman could seek a green card without notifying her husband.

    The petition was granted in August 2018, the woman’s divorce was final a few months ago, and she received her green card in September, Budzynski said. Today, the attorney is handling two other pro bono cases involving two more women who’ve suffered physical violence – one from Morocco and one from Mexico who’s been in the United States since she was 5 years old. Given the federal government’s backlog, Budzynski estimates the Moroccan woman’s case will take about four years to get through the system, with her ongoing assistance.

    “The processing time can get you down on some of these cases,” she said. “It takes time, but it gets easier to do. In immigration, it’s literally following directions. You can learn.”

    She said assisting with this “clear need” is deeply gratifying.

    “Despite their terrible circumstances, you’re giving them hope,” she said. “You know you’re helping.”

    Guidance Plentiful to Gain Knowledge of Unfamiliar Subjects
    Lloyd explains that when lawyers are reticent to do pro bono work, it’s rarely about time. More often they feel a lack of expertise in the areas where help is needed. However, she notes, most legal aid groups – which coordinate the vast majority of Ohio’s pro bono assistance – have pro bono coordinators. They prepare volunteer attorneys by screening clients, prepping files, providing computer access, offering training, and giving support along the way, she said.

    “Pro bono gives you another skill set,” Budzynski notes. “Even though it can be outside your comfort zone, it’s really satisfying.”

    William Dowling, a mediator and of counsel at Buckingham Doolittle & Burroughs in Akron, agrees. In his pro bono time, Dowling represents detained immigrants asking for asylum and helps people get their drivers’ licenses reinstated.

    “Don’t be intimidated by the fact that it’s a new area of law or that you lack experience,” Dowling said. “There are great resources to help you.”

    As one of the myriad ways the Ohio Supreme Court fosters pro bono, the Court’s Lawyer to Lawyer Mentoring Program encourages mentoring participants to volunteer their time. To make taking that step a little easier, “Give Back for Justice” events are organized locally for mentors and new lawyers to connect with pro bono providers in their community. New lawyers who partner with their mentor on a pro bono project help those in need while developing legal skills and building confidence in their abilities. This month, Give Back for Justice events will be held in Akron, Columbus, and Cleveland.

    Foundation Drives New Initiatives to Serve More
    Asked the type of cases with the most need, Lloyd points to divorce and custody matters. Complicated specialties – such as foreclosures and immigration – also are challenging when it comes to finding enough lawyers to assist, she said.

    But OAJF – along with local legal aid groups, bar associations, and courts – keep chipping away at the broader problem of providing legal guidance to those struggling with civil legal issues. This year alone, the foundation launched the “Ohio Justice Bus” and a website called “Ohio Legal Help.”

    The Ohio Justice Bus is a mobile legal aid office. The bus delivers pro bono legal guidance directly to people in underserved areas, which includes rural locations as well as other areas where legal help is needed. In late September, the bus visited Youngstown, Newbury, and Kent. The legal aid groups in these areas identified a focus, based on the public’s need, for each visit, said Sophia Chang, the foundation’s pro bono director. In Youngstown and Kent, the lawyer-volunteers offered direction on sealing and expungement of criminal records. The Newbury stop was a general brief-advice clinic. Chang said they received questions about everything from dog bites to wills.

    By dovetailing the bus stops with local meetings held by the Ohio State Bar Association, the initiative is tapping lawyers who already are gathered for the meeting and even is offering training, plus continuing legal education (CLE) credit, for the pro bono clinic. The first week of stops drew several local attorneys in each location, who each gave a few hours of their time to help residents.

    Attorneys in Ohio also can earn an hour of CLE credit for every six hours they spend doing pro bono service. Lloyd said the goals of the Ohio Justice Bus will be achieved only if local attorneys give time and expertise.

    “When we help our more vulnerable neighbors, we help everyone,” Lloyd said.

    Web Tool Offers Step-by-Step Direction for Legal Problems
    In the digital realm, Ohio Legal Help empowers Ohioans to navigate their civil legal issues through a simple, screen-by-screen guide. The answers generated from the site are tailored to a person’s distinct problem as well as their geographic area, Lloyd explains. Housing, family, and consumer issues are a few of the topics the site covers.

    Because there are people who don’t think of their problem as legal, OAJF invested in search-engine optimization so that Ohio Legal Help appears when someone Googles common problems, Lloyd adds. And the site was designed to function on mobile phones, which their research shows is how most people who need this information will access it.

    She notes that the site identifies action steps a person needs to take and, if appropriate, directs the person to a local lawyer referral service. If a form needs to be completed, the site walks through a guided interview and then produces a completed form like TurboTax does, she said.

    By delivering legal help to underserved communities with the Ohio Justice Bus and offering a website for those who wouldn’t, or don’t know to, reach out to an attorney, Lloyd believes these resources will curb Ohioans’ unmet legal needs.

    Many Varied Ways to Help
    While high-need areas of law are the focus of legal aid organizations feeling the weight of those daunting demands, there are countless other opportunities for attorneys to offer assistance where the help is no less necessary and no less appreciated.

    George Carr has devoted time to the Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts (VLA), which is operated by the Cleveland Metropolitan Bar Association. Carr has set up charitable entities for artists to receive grant money. He also has reviewed contracts and leases, resolved disputes, and ensured that artists get paid. The artists often start long-term professional relationships with the VLA lawyers, Carr said.

    “Having a lawyer on tap who they can call is extremely helpful,” Carr notes. “It creates a mental shift for the client. When the guidance is free, the person feels free to ask questions.”

    Carr even formed a foundation for a descendant of Tadd Dameron, a well-known Cleveland-born jazz composer and pianist who worked with Charlie Parker, Dizzie Gillespie, and other jazz legends. Carr said the contrast with his day job at Sikora Law, where he handles title claims and property development litigation, is “refreshing” and resonates with him because he started as an artist and has a college degree in music.

    “The private practice of law, and the focus on billable hours, can feel kind of mercenary,” he said. “The noneconomic focus of pro bono work is important to me, and many other lawyers, morally and spiritually.”

    He adds that the law is ultimately a service profession.

    “Doing pro bono, I help my client, help change how people see lawyers, and help the world,” he said.

    Even the small gestures lawyers make to steer people through legal problems are valued and fulfilling. Judge Margaret Quinn of the Oakwood Municipal Court must consider potential conflicts of interest when doing pro bono. Working within those boundaries, Judge Quinn has been able to write a letter for someone in an immigration case and assist periodically in non-contested divorces.

    “Pro bono is mostly listening, caring, and working through the issue with someone,” she said.

    Pro Bono a Win-Win for Public and Lawyers
    All across the state, the public’s need for legal guidance in civil cases is ongoing. And, even following one tragic night of tornadoes in Dayton, residents there continue to call on attorneys. Henrici said negotiations with insurance companies about damages is currently the area of greatest demand. Fortunately, as legal aid groups enlisted assistance, local law firms “really have risen to the challenge” in taking referrals, she said.

    Other issues are benefitting from attorney help as well, including dealing with contractors that scam people to steal insurance money, addressing child custody violations when a parent had to move from a destroyed or uninhabitable home, and appealing denials of aid from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

    Attorneys are tackling basic, yet essential, needs both during tragedies and other life crises by using their distinctive legal expertise. Lloyd of OAJF views lawyers as problem-solvers, and that’s a skill with positive payoffs for the public and each individual lawyer.

    “Pro bono clients are so appreciative that they’ve been valued and helped,” she said. “Lawyers will get more than they give.”

    CREDITS:

    Design and Photography: Ely MargolisWeb: Erika Lemke

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