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Professor Marianna Bettman ’77 Connects Legal Community to Students’ Experiences

Professor Marianna Bettman is one of the University of Cincinnati’s own.  With both a bachelor’s degree and juris doctor from the university, she carries strong ties to the university. After graduating from UC in 1966, she worked for 10 years for community engagement organizations, such as the Citizens Committee on Youth, the Cincinnati Human Relations Commission, and Youth Employment Services. She returned to campus in the 70s, earning her law degree. While at the law school, she became the first woman awarded first prize in the Trial Advocacy contest. She also won the Constitutional Law Prize. After graduation, Bettman went into private practice. She was a trial lawyer for 15 years, focusing her work on tort litigation.  Then, in 1992, she changed the direction of her career.

On what she refers to as “a lark,” Bettman decided to run for the Court of Appeals for the First District of Ohio.  She had enjoyed litigation, but had always been more drawn to appellate law.  Although name recognition is a challenge for many first-time candidates, Bettman had an advantage in that regard: her husband had been a judge for more than 30 years.  Her campaign was successful, which was particularly noteworthy for a Democrat in Hamilton County and for a first-time candidate.  As a result of her election, the First District had its first female judge in its 109-year history; Bettman noted that some of her colleagues had difficulty adjusting to a female presence on the court.

Wearing The Robe

She described the experience of being a judge as “like being back in law school but knowing what you’re doing this time.”  She enjoyed that the position allowed her to become knowledgeable about a range of diverse legal topics.  In 1996, Bettman was chosen to be the Democratic nominee for the Ohio Supreme Court.  Although that campaign was ultimately unsuccessful, she described it as “motivating” and shared that it enabled her to become more acquainted with different parts of Ohio.  

Bettman was not reelected at the end of her six-year term in 1998, and in 1999 she embarked her “third and favorite legal career”: teaching.  “I took to teaching naturally,” she said, “and I find it to be a lot of fun.”  She loves interacting with law students, particularly because they are interested and engaged in the subject matter.  “This career provides a good blending of my interests,” she said.  “It’s a real treat.” 

Expanding Learning Opportunities for Students

In addition to teaching classes, Bettman is also involved in both the judicial externship program and the Judge in Residence program.  “These programs were a logical fit for me,” she explained.  “I know a lot of the judges in Hamilton County, many of whom are also UC law graduates.”  Her experience and connections have benefitted the externship program in particular, because her easy access to judges has allowed the program to continually expand.  In describing judicial externships, Bettman explained that the program gives students who do not plan to become clerks in their careers the experience of what it’s like to clerk for a judge.  “It broadens students’ perspectives,” she commented, “especially if their experiences throughout law school have consisted of being advocates the whole time.”  

Bettman has striven to bring some aspects of the courts, both criminal and civil, to students in an effort to blend the “real world” with the academic world inside the law school building.  For example, several parts of trials have been held at the law school, including suppression and sentencing hearings, cross-examinations, and the de-certification of a class action suit.  In addition, Bettman successfully brought a panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit to the law school—an experience she hopes to be able to repeat in the future.

The Judge in Residence program is another of her areas of focus.  The program was originally designed as a full trial that was actually completed at the law school; however, many of the cases ended up settling.  Dean Emeritus Joe Tomain, who was the dean of the law school at the time, asked Bettman to revamp the program.  As a result, the Judge in Residence program now brings judges to school where they can participate in the “daily life” of students, including sitting in on classes and interacting directly with them.  It provides students with a level of access they would not otherwise have the opportunity to get.  The program has been so successful that there is a waiting list of judges interested in being involved.  Bettman stated that her goal is to bring judges with a variety of viewpoints and legal philosophies to the law school, so students can experience many points of view. 

Impact on the Community Continues

In addition to all of the work she does for the law school, Bettman is involved in the legal community outside of the law school as well.  Ohio’s Governor Ted Strickland recently asked her to chair the Ohio Judicial Replacement Panel (OJRP), a commission to fill judicial vacancies.  The OJRP functions by interviewing prospective candidates and then providing the governor with a list of three final candidates, one of whom the governor chooses one to fill the vacancy.

The sixty-four thousand dollar question is, as Bettman put it, whether she would run for a judicial position again.  Her answer?  “Maybe.”  She said that there is a chance she would run again for the Court of Appeals in 2012.  “I’ve learned a lot in the intervening years,” she explained, “so I’ve considered it.  We’ll see.”