College of Law Receives $125,000 Gift for Student Scholarships
Cincinnati, OH—The University of Cincinnati College of Law has received a $125,000 gift targeted specifically at the College’s scholarship program. The donor, who has requested anonymity, said his donation reflects the significant role the College played in his success, giving him the tools to excel in the legal and business worlds.
“Gifts of this level represent a powerful vote of confidence in the institution,” said Verna Williams, Interim Dean at the College of Law. “We could not be the exceptional institution that we are without this kind of support, which will ensure that we continue to attract and retain an academically talented and diverse student body.”
In today’s highly competitive law school environment, scholarships are a priority for students and for the law school. “We are fortunate to have such a strong supporter,” said Tom Giffin, Senior Director of Development at the College. “This alum’s experience at the College of Law made him excited and happy to be able to ‘pay it forward’. ”
The scholarship will be awarded in the spring semester of the academic year to a student who “demonstrates exceptional ability, promise and/or need, as well as having demonstrated the highest ethical standards.”
About the University of Cincinnati College of Law
As the fourth oldest continuously operating law school in the country, UC’s College of Law has a rich history of educating and inspiring leaders who pursue justice and advance the role of law in society. Its ranks include many distinguished alumni, including a U.S. president, a Nobel Peace Prize winner and six governors. The College cultivates an intimate learning experience with a9:1 student to faculty ratio and offers a wealth of resources, such as more than 40 student organizations, five journals and seven centers and institutes. For more information, please visit www.law.uc.edu.
A Note from LLM Grad Natia Mezvrishvilli
Dear Professor Williams,
I hope you remember me. First of all thanks for all wonderful opportunities UC law school gave to me throughout the year. Each professor I met at the university was new experience for a student coming from different system of law and completely different system of high education.
I am writing this e-mail to express my gratitude towards school, professors, students and especially professors - Lassiter and Moore. Professor Lassiter ensured my smooth transition from Civil Law to Common Law system, inspired me by his teaching methods, friendly and professional attitude toward student who was experiencing serious difficulties in the process of learning. The assistance Professor Moore provided is immeasurable. She connected me to various professionals at Prosecutor’s Office, Public Defender’s Office and etc. which was extremely helpful for practicing lawyer.
As you are aware, Georgian criminal justice system is based on codes, thus hundreds of Supreme Court cases at the beginning of semester was the toughest thing could happen to me. However, with the assistance and almost constant encouragement of professor Lassiter, that I was able to succeed, I managed to get highest grades in the most difficult subjects, including his Criminal Procedure. We started working on a project, encompassing comparative analysis on Georgian-American Criminal Procedure. Although I could not finish it due to my heavy workload at school, I have succeeded back home with respect to teaching future lawyers. I am sharing this news being confident it might please you as a dean and representative of the law school as this particular success is mainly triggered by Professor Lassiter’s encouragement to share American experience with Georgian colleagues and impact of wonderful professors of UC law school as a whole.
I will be teaching Criminal Procedure of Georgia in two leading Georgian Universities this fall. I used to teach before coming to the UC law school, but what makes more sense now is that I will use American methods of teaching, the one I learned from Professors Lassiter, Moore, Bryant, Bilionis and others. There will be something innovative in the Syllabus of Georgian Criminal Procedure and for Georgian law students on behalf of UC law school. I am considering to pursue PHD in Constitutional Law - the area I would never imagine to step in. This interest and decision was greatly conditioned by Professor Lassiter’s advice to work on constitutional aspects of American and Georgian Criminal Procedure… and by fascinating Constitutional Law courses taught by Professors Bilionis and Bryant. Professor Moore's way of teaching made me reconsider the way my department defines criminal justice policy within the Chief Prosecutor’s Office of Georgia. I hope I can manage to establish new approaches in policy making, which will ultimately ensure the effective functioning of Georgian criminal justice system.
Hope I did not take much of your time. Thanks once again. … My gratitude belongs to school and all professors. … (The) experience and knowledge I gained in UC law school will definitely influence development of Georgian Prosecution Service and education system.
Natia Mezvrishvili, LLM (‘17)
Head of the Department of Supervision Over
Prosecutorial Activities and Strategic Development
Chief Prosecutor’s Office of Georgia, Tbilisi, Gorgasali str. 24.
A Transition Seven Years in the Making
If you were to ask a UC Law alum of decades past about microfiche, he or she would likely recall hours spent researching in the library, using special equipment to view a sheet of microfilm. If you were to ask a new, 20-something UC Law student about microfiche, you more likely get answered with a confused stare.
“Many young people do not know what it is,” says Akram Pari, Bibliographic Services and Special Collections Librarian, of UC’s Robert S. Marx Law Library. Microfiche are sheets of microfilm, and each sheet contains several tiny pictures of printed pages. It was the old-school way of condensing and preserving documents. Fortunately for younger students, Pari and a team of staff librarians have been working since 2011 to convert the Marx Library’s vast collection of legal documents from microfiche format to a digital format.
“Management of the microfiche collection would cause us difficulties. It was challenging to manage that size of a collection, in terms of space, financial needs, staff,” says Pari. It cost thousands of dollars annually to maintain document collections in microfiche format. Converting these collections to digital format was “very challenging, but it took us a long way toward providing access to our patrons.”
Pari was hired in 2011 by Director Kenneth Hirsh as “amongst other duties, coordinator for government documents.” This position comes with great responsibility, as the Marx Library is a Selective Government Depository Library and part of the Federal Depository Program (FDLP), which seeks to make federal government publications available to the public at no cost. Through the program, the Marx Library receives thousands of government documents at no cost, but in return, it has an obligation to make these documents accessible to the public.
Pari and the Marx Library team’s work has paid off. In 2014, the Government Publishing Office conducted its public access assessment. While most libraries had one or more deficiencies noted in their reports, the Marx Law Library excelled, and the report highlighted achievements in cataloging the Federal Depository collection.
Now, with easily-accessed digital format, anyone can view the Marx Law Library’s collection of government documents at no cost through the online catalogue. Individual documents are fully searchable by title or other criteria, eliminating the tedium of searching the shelves for microfiche.
The library staff will complete the years-long conversion project at the end of August.
Written by Pete Miller
Martha Stimson – At 100, Still Never Afraid
While interviewing Martha Stimson’43 at her home in Cincinnati, it quickly became apparent that she isn’t much different from other Cincinnati Law alums. She enjoys recalling her days of strenuous study, the constant worry about her grades, the professors that impacted her life, and the lunches she shared with her best friend before heading back to class – memories that all grads have.
However, one discovers Martha is unique from her fellow alums because when she says, “back in the day,” she’s talking over 74 years ago—from 1940 to ’43.
What was happening in the world at that time? It was the height of the Second World War, the global war that involved over 100 million people and 30 countries. Nazi Germany’s attempt to invade Moscow was beginning to fail. The Star of David was required wear by all Jews in the Netherlands and Belgium; Jews in other Nazi-controlled countries had already been forced to wear it. And, the Japanese naval advance in the Pacific would soon be halted thanks to the American victory at the Battle of Midway.
It was also a period of time when Martha, living at home, was deciding where to submit her applications to law schools.
Interestingly, Martha toured Italy and Germany as World War II continued to explode. Asked if she was ever afraid during her excursion held while the world appeared to be separating at the seams, Martha said, “I was a little scared. It was a period where all the homes had black curtains.”
She quickly added, “But when I communicated with my parents, I always told them that I was alright. Never afraid.”
Making the Case for Cincinnati Law
Martha cut her trip short due to the war. Soon, however, she was accepted at Cincinnati Law. Martha, and one other female, Dale Case, whose father was a professor at the University of Cincinnati, comprised the women in the Class of 1943. The two became fast friends and often ate lunch together between classes. Martha shares, “There was very little social life.”
Nine men and the two women made up the class. But did she or Dale ever consider themselves “trailblazers for women in the legal field”? The humble, soft spoken Martha politely shakes her head no. Not one for protest marches and bullhorn parades, her inroads were made with a quiet dignity, the daily pursuit of excellence, and a confidence in her classroom work.
“I enjoyed law school,” Martha softly states. “Some people were surprised I enrolled and I was told, ‘Only men do that.’ That is what men said then and that is what they always will say.”
Though it would take another 37 years before Cincinnati Law had its first tenured female faculty member, Martha reports there was never any pushback from her instructors.
“The professors were glad to see you in class. They were a valuable part of your life,” she fondly recalled.
Born in Brooklyn, New York, in 1916, Martha’s path took her through Long Island to Cleveland, Ohio and finally to Cincinnati in 1937 following the infamous Ohio River flood that left over a million people homeless from Pittsburgh to Cairo, Illinois.
Later, an aunt urged her to apply to prestigious Smith College in Massachusetts, which she did. In today’s competitive nature of law school acceptance and emphasis on LSAT scores, Martha shyly states that her excellent undergraduate grades at Smith were credentials enough for her to gain entry into UC Law.
She can still recite the names of numerous faculty members that taught her at UC. In an earlier interview, Martha is quoted as saying, “Dean (Frank) Rowley made us work hard and toe the line.”
A Professional Career Kicks Off
Martha was in one class taught by the legendary Murray Seasongood. The, “Father of Cincinnati’s Charter form of Government,” Seasongood took on what many called the nation’s worst governed city in 1923, and ignited a reform movement that later led Cincinnati to be hailed as the country’s best-run municipality. It was Professor Seasongood that asked Martha to come to work at the Paxton & Seasongood Law Firm upon her graduation.
Through her work at Paxton & Seasongood, Martha met Si Lazarus, who started the law department at Federated Department Stores, which is now known as Macy’s Inc. Federated Department Stores operated more than 400 department stores and 157 specialty stores in 37 states. “Mr. Lazarus got permission from Mr. Seasongood for me to come to work for him,” Martha says.
Martha proudly states, “Everything I ever accomplished professionally was because of my law degree.”
As for her dear friend Dale Case, she passed away over 20 years ago due to cancer. Martha still communicates with Dale’s daughter on a regular basis
Martha’s son, David, followed in her mother’s footsteps, graduating from Cincinnati Law in 1977. David is now Senior Counsel at Nixon Peabody LLP, in Rochester, New York, and reports, “I was allowed to make my own choices with law school. No pressure from Mom. But I knew where I was going.”
Still Engaging with the College of Law
On November 4, 2017, the College of Law will be hosting an alumni event: Celebration 2017: ReConnect. ReEngage. ReIgnite.—an opportunity to renew relationships with the law school and with other alumni. As with most gatherings of this type, it is a sure bet that memories will be recounted and improved upon… and perhaps even stretched a bit due to the passage of time.
However, if 100-year-old Martha Stimson attends – and she certainly still may physically – the “youngsters” of the 1950’s, 60’s, and 70’s will probably discover a new definition of the phrase, “back in the day at UC Law.”
- By Thomas W. Giffin, Director of Development
Cincinnati Law Launches Academic Year; LLM Program Grows with First Students from Dual Degree Program
Cincinnati, OH— The 2017-2018 academic year opened as the College of Law welcomed the next generation of corporate attorneys, social justice leaders, immigration rights
activists, prosecutors and public defenders. The Class of 2020 includes 97 JD students and 17 LLM attorney students enrolled as of August 21, 2017.
The first-year students represent 48 universities. Most (55%) are Ohio residents; 45% are from out of state, coming from 18 states, including California, Texas, Utah, Alabama, New York, Pennsylvania and West Virginia. The class has spent significant time living or studying abroad in places like Italy, Thailand, Armenia, India, France, Mexico, Belgium and Oman. They were, literally, born all over the world: in Canada, Ghana, the Republic of South Korea, Belarus and China.
A Look at their Backgrounds
Interestingly, the class includes native speakers of German, Belarusian/Russian, Japanese, Hindi, and Armenian/Russian.
Though many are recent graduates from undergraduate institutions, some come to law school after careers in other fields. One worked as a life insurance agent, a paralegal, a global IT specialist for Amazon, and a finance and human resources manager at a New York City start-up.
They have a wide range of hobbies. In addition to reading, they enjoy hiking, competing in mud runs, competitive Pokémon trading cards, home brewing, golf, and animal rescues. They also engage in baseball card trading, playing archery, studying languages, playing squash, running marathons, skiing, and cooking.
Law School Welcomes 17 LLM Students
The LLM (master’s degree) program for internationally-trained attorneys and law graduates continues to grow. Now in its sixth year, the LLM program boasts 17 attorney students, including several individuals who have returned for additional training.
This year’s participants come from 11 countries: Saudi Arabia, Ghana, Kuwait, Italy, Nepal, Turkey, Colombia, Venezuela, Uganda, Jamaica, and China. The professional careers of the attorney students include positions as a manager at the National Pensions Regulatory Authority in Ghana; teaching assistant in law at the University of Ha'il (UoH) as well as a case investigator for the Saudi Arabian Industrial Development Fund; a civil and criminal law attorney in Italy; and an assistant specialist at the Development Bank of Turkey, focusing on international loan agreements. This year’s class also includes the first two students earning their LLM via our dual agreement with the University of Javeriana in Bogota, Colombia.
Their areas of interest are varied and include antitrust law, business law, criminal law, international law, corporate law, and human rights law.
Former OIP Fellow Continues to Fight for the Innocent
When attorney John Kennedy’s indigent client was acquitted of murder last year, his greatly relieved defendant turned to him and asked if it felt good to represent an innocent person. The answer was a little hard for Kennedy to articulate.
Keeping the innocent free is the highest goal for the former OIP fellow. “But I always have a fear of an innocent man going to prison if I fail,” says Kennedy, JD ’10. “It would be my fault.”
That’s a heavy weight to carry on one’s shoulders for an entire career, but Kennedy is exactly where he wants to be — in the Hamilton County Public Defender’s Office. He joined the office in 2011 soon after graduating. It was his dream job, one he began longing for as an Ohio Innocence Project fellow.
The New Richmond, Ohio, native decided to become a lawyer after his first year as a political-science major at Miami University in Ohio. As he began checking out law schools, he was leaning toward Oregon’s Lewis and Clark Law School when he attended a prospective-student open house at UC College of Law. He was snagged immediately. “I was attracted to UC at that open house,” he says. “There was so much warmth and happiness in the students that I decided this is where I wanted to go. At Lewis and Clark, there was no enthusiasm. Everyone seemed down.”
Furthermore, the Ohio Innocence Project also tugged at his heart. A promotional video shown that weekend contained a short segment about Clarence Elkins, OIP’s first exoneration. “I remember sitting there and thinking how amazing that was.” The atmosphere, the students and the OIP video were enough for Kennedy to ditch any thoughts about Oregon. His OIP fellowship a couple of years later sold him on the branch of law he wanted for his career — criminal defense, especially for indigent defendants.
The fellowship, he says, was “very good — reading through transcripts and hearing from inmates, seeing the glaring discrepancies in cases.” It was also very frustrating, he admits. “I would read transcripts and say to myself, ‘Don’t you think that should be questioned? As a defense attorney, you don’t think you should fight over that? Aren’t you going to zealously represent your client?’ ”
Time constraints were another frustration, a common one among OIP fellows. “Everything took so long,” he says. “It was so difficult to get certain things done. A couple of my big cases hit dead end after dead end.
“Ed Emerick was one of those cases. We visited him in prison in Toledo. We went to police stations. We searched evidence rooms. There were spots of blood he wanted tested, but we just couldn’t find them.
“I believe he was innocent of the crimes for which he was convicted, but there were no options left. That’s the kind the frustration that I sometimes felt in the process.”
Lengthy timeframes demoralize defendants, he adds. “Ed was very frustrated the first time we saw him. He felt like previous fellows weren’t hearing him.” Kennedy and his partner won Emerick over with their empathy, but in the end, they had no more success than their predecessors.
Fortunately, Kennedy had greater success as an OIP fellow while working on the Wally Zimmer case; Zimmer got released early. But that didn’t happen until years after Kennedy had graduated and others continued working on the case. The end result met everyone’s hope, but the interim required great patience. Frustrations have followed him into his public defender work. “I enjoy being here,” he says, “but it has its trying days, too.”
One of the annoying parts of the job is knowing that some people call pubic defenders, “public pretenders.” “It's frustrating that the public believes public defenders are bad attorneys - that they do not effectively represent their clients,” he says. He believes his profession has grown more hard-working and passionate in Hamilton County over the last few years.
“In my first six months, I hadn’t seen anyone do a jury trial. Now, as an office, we had 16 jury trials by September of this year. Many people are winning them. In the past four days, we’ve had three wins.
“We’re expected to fight for our clients. Things are happening now that are unprecedented. In many other areas, indigent public defense is lacking, but we are changing that.” An example of the Hamilton County Public Defenders’ commitment to their clients is the fact that Kennedy got a client acquitted for murder in May. Joshua Maxton, 26, had been indicted for shooting and killing an 18-year-old girl who was riding in the front passenger seat of a car in North Avondale.
Kennedy retells the story:
“Joshua was walking down the street, when a car with three people in it stopped and turned around, and the driver called out to Joshua. After talking with someone in the car, Joshua walked away, and a shot was fired. It hit the back passenger window, killing the passenger in the front seat — killing an innocent teenage girl who was with the wrong people.
“The passenger in the back seat and the driver didn’t see who did it, so they assumed last person they saw — Joshua —was the one who shot.
“Later, the driver rode by the scene in a police car, and he pointed out Joshua. The police then picked him up. They tested his clothes and his hands for gun-shot residue. Everything came back negative. DNA was also taken from items at the scene, and there was no match to Joshua.
“Within two days, three people had called the police to say that someone else had committed the murder. Two of them had witnessed the shooting and gave the police the shooter’s name. A third person at the scene described what the shooter was wearing, where he went afterward and identified the shooter by his size, skin tone and what he was wearing. None of the characteristics matched Joshua’s. A fourth person came forward about four months later and also gave the police the shooter’s name.
“Yet the police didn’t follow up on any of the calls.”
At the grand jury hearing, Maxton was indicted on eight charges — murder, aggravated murder, two counts of attempted murder, three counts of felonious assault and a weapons-while-under-disability charge. He was placed in the Hamilton County Justice Center with bond set at $1 million.
At the trial, Kennedy presented evidence from recorded interviews and lab results obtained from bottles found at the scene. The jury decided that Maxton was not guilty. Getting an acquittal on a murder charge was a relief for Kennedy. He hopes it helps to boost public confidence in their office and in other public defenders around the country. One aspect of his job that appeals to him is the variety of the work. “It’s different every day,” he says, “new cases, new issues, new people to deal with. It’s ever changing.” But in the end, it’s his attitude that makes all the difference: “It’s something I am very passionate about. You can really make a difference in people’s lives.”
Written by Deb Rieselman
Prof. Mark Godsey Weighs in on Mueller’s Grand Jury
Professor Mark Godsey, director of the Ohio Innocence Project (and former federal prosecutor), discusses the meaning behind Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s opening of a grand jury in Washington, DC. Find out more here.
Andrea Yang’s Winding Journey to Cincinnati Water Works
“What did I want to be when I grew up? I don’t know. I never really had a particular idea.”
Cincinnati, OH--Andrea Yang grew up in Upper Arlington, a suburb of Columbus, Ohio. After graduating high school, she had a vague idea of what to study in college. With a concrete interest in science, Yang decided to begin her bachelors in Biology at Cornell University in 1986.
“I enjoy and understand science to a degree, but not directly. I didn’t feel like I wanted to be directly practicing science or engineering, or ecology, or environment. Those are all things I’m passionate about and that I’m interested in, but I was also interested in public affairs and public policy,” said Yang. “After college, I was still trying to figure out what I wanted to do. So I moved to New York and worked for a child advocacy organization, a volunteering organization that helps kids in foster care.”
Though she enjoyed the work she was doing, she felt like it still wasn’t the path that suited interests most. Yang loved the rewarding aspect of helping a community, she grew exhausted. Yang knew she had to continue her search.
“After that, I was in the Peace Corp for a little bit in West Africa. It was a way for me to check out some other stuff that I was interested in, more along the lines of international development,” said Yang. “What I saw where I lived was a really rural area, in a couple-hundred-person village in the area of Togo. People were hand farming on small plots. They were feeding themselves and selling some of their crop, but there was a lack of opportunity. They all wanted to live in the city; they just wanted to drive a taxi or be a mechanic, or have some kind of income. It was a kind of urbanization. I liked the rural/urban relationship, which became a real interest of mine.”
In 1996, Yang decided to return to Cornell University to pursue a master’s degree in urban planning. After graduating in 2000, her path took another turn to align with her interests.
“After grad school I worked for the Agency for International Development,” said Yang. “That kind of encompassed a lot of things I was very interested in, because I was one of those people who never really had a direct path. Maybe this is the path I want to get to. I told myself, what do I know?
The Agency of International Development is a government agency that works to end extreme global poverty and enable resilient, democratic societies to realize their potential. In Yang’s pursuit, it was a perfect mix of planning, along with human environments. The job combined many of her interests, from her biology to urban planning, international development, and helping communities. However, her path would take another turn, this time for reasons outside of her professional life.
“My husband got a job at the University of Cincinnati after receiving his PhD in urban planning. So after we moved here, I went to UC Law school,” said Yang, who left the AID to move with her husband’s new career. “I love the mix of urban planning with law because law is very indirectly focused, and planning is focused more on a big picture. Meaning, what is the picture, and how can you take care of the greater public? The planning part involves infrastructure, as well as the building environment, plus the human environment. I feel like now, all those pieces started to come together for me.”
Yang continued in her pursuit, not knowing exactly where she’d end up, but reassured that the pieces of the puzzle finally were fitting together. In 2007, Yang graduated from Cincinnati Law and became an attorney at Strauss Troy LPA.
“During law school, I was still interested in what I was interested in: environments, planning, you know, the ‘big picture.’ My professors told me I’d be really good at zoning and real estate working. So, that’s what I ended up doing; I worked at a law firm and then joined a real estate group. There were many opportunities in this city.”
In 2012, Yang began her own practice as a real estate and economic development attorney. She worked on many different development projects, including the U-Square development near UC’s uptown campus. All was well, and Yang was finally in the career that felt right to her, working with infrastructure, policy, development, and urbanization. More specifically, Yang knew her main interest was how people experience where they live.
As soon as her journey seemed as if it was reaching an end, an opportunity arose that seemed to be the perfect fit, involving biology, law, policy, urban planning, human environments, and the day-to-day diversity and excitement she wanted. This opportunity would allow her to use her wide array of skills and abilities to help provide a service that is crucially important to every resident in the community. “I talked to the folks at Cincinnati Water Works, and it seems like all the stars aligned,” said Yang. She is chief counsel at the company. “This was a job that was perfect. It fit all of my many interests, and my experience and abilities.”
“What’s amazing to me is how much happens. The water comes from the river, the level at which they treat it and the care that goes into it, is really amazing. Sand settlement, carbon filtration, UV light, chlorination, and by the time it’s done with the treatment process, it’s high quality and drinkable. But then it has to go through a pipe system throughout the city, and some of it goes to Northern Kentucky. It’s a very sophisticated operation, but the other part about water, is that it’s development-oriented. You basically need it for any kind of development.”
Yang’s job as Chief Council for Cincinnati Water Works encompasses many parts of her wide array of skills. She deals mainly in transactional law, similar to her work in real-estate, in which she handled contracts for businesses, including buying services such as construction to handle the infrastructure and accessibility of the water supply. Her job involves research, studies, and other ways to analyze the water for residents and businesses to ensure the water is meeting the demands of of the city. Yang also deals with government procurement; following the city and state rules and policy in issuing water that is not only clean and safe, but also affordable and accessible. Energy law and environmental law at the state and federal level also are under the large umbrella of all the different varieties of law involved in Yang’s work.
“There’s huge variety,” said Yang. “You don’t know what’s going to come into the door every day, but I love that.
With the recent water crises in Flint, Michigan, communities have been increasingly concerned about access to clean drinking water. Yang saw this as an opportunity to really use all that she had learned. And it was an opportunity to help her community. “People have been very conscious about our drinking water lately, so we have been testing to help people identify the problem, and making sure we have the resources to provide solutions,” said Yang. “We’re making sure people have water delivered that is clean, as well as affordable.” She continued, “Water isn’t like coffee. You need it to live. It’s not like any other service, where you can stop providing it. You can turn off your cable, you can turn off your phone, but you need water to survive. The question is, how can you deliver clean water while also being affordable. That’s a question that I’m excited about working on.”
Moving Forward: A Conversation with the Law School’s Interim Dean
Verna Williams: Bio in brief
- Born and raised in Washington, DC
- Frequented museums and libraries (Williams’ mother was a school librarian)
- Studied Spanish, German, and Italian languages in high school
- BS (Spanish), Georgetown University
- JD, Harvard Law School
- First job: reporter training program at CBS Affiliate in Washington, DC
- Worked as paralegal before decided to go to law school
- Practiced law at US Department of Justice and Sidley Austin LLP
- Spent 8 years focused on gender equity in education at the National Women’s Law Center
- Successfully argued before the U.S. Supreme Court (Davis v. Monroe County Board of Education, 1999)
Meet the Family
- Married to David Singleton, executive director of the Ohio Justice & Policy Center
- Williams and Singleton have one daughter, 17-year-old Allison, a high school senior
Verna L. Williams didn’t set out to become dean of the University of Cincinnati College of Law, where she had been teaching family law, gender discrimination, and constitutional law since 2001. Her work as co-director of the Center for Race, Gender, and Social Justice, along with leading the university’s joint-degree program in Law and Women’s Studies, provided plenty of professional fulfillment.
But when Jennifer Bard stepped down as dean and Nippert Professor of Law at the College, Williams felt called to throw her hat in the ring. She heard Peter E. Landgren, UC’s Interim Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs and Provost, speak about the need for a leader who could step in and help move the school forward.
“That actually resonated with me,” Williams says. “I like to do things like that. I felt like that was a service that I could provide.”
Announcing Williams as interim dean of the College of Law on May 8, Landgren said he looked forward to her “bringing her energy and professional background and experience to this new college leadership and community partnership role. She has already proven to be remarkable in building collaborations and providing guidance to the college during recent transitions.”
With second semester coming to a close, Williams had to balance grading final exams for two classes with graduation details and preparing for the college’s budget hearing. Despite the chaos of transitioning from faculty member to dean, she quickly began to make her mark.
“I did meet one-on-one with folks to just check in with them—alumni, faculty, staff,” she says. “The thing I wanted to get across was how grateful I was that people hung in there, even though things had gotten difficult, and that I really appreciated their commitment and support. I wanted people to know we are moving forward now and putting a lot behind us.”
With her classes done for now, Williams can focus all of her attention on leading the law school, as it partners with alumni, the legal community and the UC community as a whole. As interim dean, she wants to expand real-world opportunities for UC Law students via programs that combine legal education with specialty coursework and put students at the elbow of legal professionals.
“I'm working hard with Admissions to bring in a really great first-year class … a highly credentialed, bigger, even stronger academically, more diverse class,” Williams says. “I’m also looking very carefully at employment for our graduates. We're doing a good job, but I think we can do better. I'd like us to get more students into clerkships, which are great launching opportunities for young lawyers.”
Williams recalls how profoundly a clerkship impacted her early law career. After graduating from Harvard University with a law degree, she clerked for Judge David S. Nelson of the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts. Nelson had been appointed to the position in 1979 by President Jimmy Carter, becoming the first African American appointed to the federal judiciary in the district. “I loved working with the judge. I learned so much. ...and it still ranks as one of the best professional experiences I've had in my life,” she recalls.
She also wants to find more ways to connect alumni with current students, from recruiting to teaching to fellowships. “We have the benefit of really fantastic alums,” she says. “We've got a small school and I think it facilitates connections in ways that don't always happen in larger schools.”
Another priority for Williams: revamping the Corporate Law Center, with the help of professors Felix B. Chang and Sean K. Mangan as co-directors. “We are lucky to be in a city that has such a myriad of corporations,” she says. “We can really work with them to educate our students about what it means to be a corporate lawyer and the role of the corporation in society. Let’s combine our theoretical understandings of corporations with the practical application of what ought to be happening. (Chang and Mangan) have some fantastic ideas around that.”
Just as she didn’t expect to become a law school dean, Williams also didn’t plan on making Cincinnati her home for the long haul. She and her husband, David Singleton, moved to Cincinnati in 2001 for her new job as assistant professor, with their 18 month-old daughter Allison in tow. As the family packed up to move from their DC home, news of civil unrest and curfews in Cincinnati—sparked by the death of a black teenager shot by police—made her wonder, "What the heck? What have we done?"
But raising Allison in Cincinnati, Williams says, “has been great for her. I couldn't be happier to have my family here. ...To be in a place where you're free to do the work you love and people appreciate the work that you do and it matters. The community is small enough that you actually can have an impact. And we have had an impact. That's what we wanted to do.”
2017 Goldman Prize for Excellence in Teaching Awarded to Mangan, McMahon, and Sperino
Professors Sean Mangan, Stephanie McMahon and Sandra Sperino received the annual award for teaching excellence.
Cincinnati, OH – For over 30 years, students at the University of Cincinnati College of Law have had the opportunity to recognize excellence in teaching by recognizing professors who distinguish themselves in the classroom, and whose accomplishments in research and public service contribute to superior performance in the classroom.
Congratulations to this year’s Goldman Prize for Excellence in Teaching awardees: Professor Sean Mangan, Professor Sandra Sperino, and Professor Stephanie McMahon.
Professor Sean Mangan, Associate Professor of Practice | Co-Director, Corporate Law Center
Professor Sean Mangan doesn't see his position at UC Law as a job, but as an opportunity. Noted one letter of recommendation, “he has a gift for making difficult concepts easier to learn. When much of law school seems to take place in the clouds of legal theory, Professor Mangan helps students confront the real and daily challenges of practicing law. “ Wrote another, “he has proven himself to be a skilled and compassionate guide in the development of young lawyers. His dedication to students was on display recently when he answered the call to teach a class he had not planned to teach. Moved by commitment to his students and the school, he stepped outside his comfort zone to make sure students received the instruction they needed. This is just one example of his leadership, service and intelligence.”
Professor Stephanie McMahon, Professor of Law
Professor Stephanie McMahon goes above and beyond the standard for teaching. Wrote a student in her nomination letter, “She is one of those professors you remember forever who has the ability to change your view on a subject that most expect to dislike.” Commented another, “Professor McMahon runs her classroom with excellent poise, throwing thought-provoking questions at everyone in the class. Instead of providing a dense textbook, she creates her own handouts to give students a better opportunity to learn difficult tax concepts. Professor McMahon could be working anywhere or doing anything, but the fact that she is here teaching the next generation of lawyers speaks to her public service and desire to see her students succeed. Her students truly appreciate the dedication and effort she expends every day.”
Professor Sandra Sperino, Associate Dean of Faculty and Professor of Law
Professor Sandra Sperino stands out for her ability to grasp different learning styles and build a classroom community. “Professor Sperino has a knack for making sure students know what to expect and organizing material in a way that can make even the most complicated topics clear,” wrote one nominator. Professor Sperino’s 1L students particularly appreciated the time she took to help them prepare for exams. “Professor Sperino gives students the opportunity to practice issue-spotting and learn what a successful exam answer looks like. This helped students prepare not only her Torts exam, but for all their first-year exams.” Her willingness to help students extends beyond the classroom. Whether it is meeting 1L students for coffee or taking upper level students to lunch, Professor Sperino always makes sure students know that she is there for them.