The University of Cincinnati Law Alumni Association Announces the 2013 Distinguished Alumni Award Winners
Cincinnati, OH—For 180 years, University of Cincinnati College of Law graduates have made their mark on the world as leaders of the bench and bar, in senior governmental positions, in the public service community, and in business, academia, and countless other fields. Friday, May 17, 2013 brought an opportunity to acknowledge and applaud three of them. Congratulations to the most recipients of the 2013 Distinguished Alumni Award: Daniel J. Buckley '74, Hon. Dennis S. Helmick '72, and James L. Johnson '80.
The Distinguished Alumni Award, voted by College of Law alumni, honors those graduated who exemplify excellence and achievement in their chosen field of practice or procession. Their achievements are a testament to the college’s tradition of distinction.
Meet the 2013 Award Recipients
Daniel J. Buckley '74
Daniel Buckley, a partner in the Cincinnati office of Vorys, Sater, Seymour and Pease, practices in the area of civil litigation. His focus includes banking, complex business, probate, fiduciary, and medical privacy cases. After attending the University of Aberdeen, Scotland and the University of Exeter, U.K., he received a bachelor’s degree from Ohio Wesleyan University. He then went on to the College of Law, graduating in 1974. At the law school Buckley served as Case Note Editor on the University of Cincinnati Law Review. Buckley began his career as a law clerk for the Hon. Julius J. Hoffman, Senior US District Judge for the Northern District of Illinois. Throughout his professional life he has served as an adjunct professor at the College of Law, teaching in the area of trial skills. In fact, Buckley received the 2009 Adjunct Faculty Teaching Excellence Award. He has served on the college’s Board of Visitors since 2001.
Buckley is a Fellow of the American College of Trial Lawyers and currently serves as chair of its committee on Special Problems in the Administration of Justice. He was recognized as a founding member of The Best Lawyers in America “Bet the Company” category and remains a member. He is included in two additional categories: Commercial Litigation and Personal Injury. Buckley has been recognized in Chambers USA in General Commercial Litigation and as an Ohio Super Lawyer in Business Litigation since 2004. He was inducted into the American Board of Trial Advocates in 2005. In 2007, he received the BTI Consulting Group award for superior client service. He serves on the Board of Directors of the Legal Aid Society of Greater Cincinnati.
Buckley is married to the Hon. Ann Marie Tracey ‘75, a 2007 recipient of the Distinguished Alumni Award.
Honorable Dennis S. Helmick ‘72
The Honorable Dennis S. Helmick, a native of the tri-state, has a long, distinguished career in the legal field. A graduate of Xavier High School and Xavier University, he went on to receive his juris doctorate from the University of Cincinnati College of Law in 1972. After being admitted to the bar, Helmick worked as an associate with the law firm Wood, Lamping, Slutz and Reckman (now known as Wood and Lamping LLP). From there, he went on to work for the city as assistant city of Cincinnati solicitor, assigned to the Prosecutor’s Office.
Ten years later in 1983 Helmick became special counsel to the Ohio Attorney General, a position he held for seven years, after which he went into private practice. In 1990, he was elected to the Hamilton County Municipal Court. In 2001 Judge Helmick won election as Common Pleas Judge of Hamilton County, a position he held until 2012. (In 2011, he was recognized as presiding/administrative judge of the court.) Earlier this year Helmick was named a retiring visiting judge.
Throughout the years Judge Helmick served in many leadership positions, including as a member of the Board of Trustees of the Cincinnati Bar Association, president of the University of Cincinnati Law Alumni Association, a member of the Selective Service Board (appointed by President Ronald Reagan), a member of the college’s Board of Visitors, and vice president of the Potter Stewart American Inn of Court.
Helmick is married to Bertha Garcia Helmick ’95.
James L. Johnson '80
James "Jim" Johnson grew up in the public housing community of Cincinnati’s West End neighborhood where he attended Washburn and Hays elementary schools. A 1964 graduate of Walnut Hills High School, he received his undergraduate degree from the University of Cincinnati in 1970 and his law degree from the University of Cincinnati College of Law in 1980.
Johnson retired from a 25-year career with the City of Cincinnati in December 2005. He spent the majority of that time as a senior assistant city solicitor. His assignments in this role were varied. Johnson joined the Juvenile Court Division of the Law Office of the Hamilton County Public Defender in January 2008 where he is now a team leader supervising seven other attorneys.
Johnson created the Summer Work Experience in Law (SWEL) in 1988 as a pilot program of the Black Lawyers Association of Cincinnati/Cincinnati Bar Association Round Table. The program consisted of seven high school student interns that first year. As SWEL’s creator, Johnson has served as an inspiring role model and dedicated volunteer in the education and development of young African Americans.
Kenley Street '14: Health Law Advocate, Weaver Institute Fellow, and Transfer Student
Kenley Street ’14 plans to work in health law, utilizing her strong background in psychology and counseling. She is a licensed counselor and has worked as a violence prevention education specialist at Lebanon’s Abuse and Rape Crisis Shelter.
Street’s legal career began at another tri-state law school. Looking for an opportunity to combine her counseling background with the law, she was drawn to the college’s Glenn M. Weaver Institute of Law and Psychiatry, which focuses on applying legal perspectives to mental health and psychiatric issues. After deciding to transfer to UC Law, the rest—they say—is history.
What area of law are you interested in?
“I want to work in health law. Eventually I want to return to academia and research, preferably in the field of public health policy and mental health law.” Street has a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Wright State University and a master’s degree in counseling from the University of Dayton. She has worked as a research assistant for Wright State University’s Human Factors Psychology & Behavioral Neuroscience Labs and a visiting instructor/guest lecturer for the University of Dayton.
Why UC Law?
Kenley initially applied to UC Law and was waitlisted. Wanting to move forward with her career plans, she decided to take a spot in the accelerated two-year program at the University of Dayton School of Law. “While at UDSL I was involved in the Business Law Society, Sports and Entertainment Law Society, and I was the president of the Student Bar Association. After a full year of classes I came to the conclusion that I wanted to work in the field of health law. UDSL did not offer much in terms of related course work in this field.
UC Law, however, offered the Glenn M. Weaver Institute of Law and Psychiatry and the Fellowship. This was a perfect blend of my psychology and counseling background with my current desire to work in a health related field. I applied for transfer status to UC Law in the middle of the year in order to be eligible to apply for the fellowship in the spring. After being accepted to UC Law, I applied and interviewed for the Weaver Fellowship. I am excited and honored to be the only transfer student to be accepted into the Glenn M. Weaver Institute of Law and Psychiatry.”
What activities are you involved in here at UC Law?
“I am a member of the Sports and Entertainment Law Society. I also am a student representative for Kaplan and will be the Kaplan head representative this coming school year. I am most involved, however, with the Glenn M. Weaver Institute of Law and Psychiatry Fellowship as I am one of the new fellows for the 2013-14 school year.
In addition, this past academic year she served as a judicial law clerk extern to Chief Judge Susan J. Dlott, United States District Court—Southern District of Ohio. There, she conducted legal research on property, contract, copyright, education and labor and employment law. She also worked as an extern for the General Counsel’s office for Cincinnati Public Schools, conducting legal research for them also.
What are your summer plans?
This summer I am working for the Cincinnati Financial Corporation under the subsidiary of the Cincinnati Insurance Company. I will be a law clerk in the litigation department. I hope to learn more about how the insurance industry works, how risks are made and how policy is created. I look forward to the experience of working with several very seasoned attorneys in an in-house setting. CIC only accepts two interns each year for a full 12- month assignment. I am honored to work with such a respected company within the community.
Kathleen M. Brinkman recognized in Ohio as "Leaders in Their Field"
COLUMBUS, Ohio (May 2013) —For a decade, Porter Wright has been recognized as a leading law firm byChambers USA®, one of the most definitive referral guides of business law firms and lawyers in America. Ten of the firm's practice areas are ranked and 33 of its attorneys are named as leading lawyers in the 2013 edition released this month.
Three of the firm's attorneys in its Cincinnati office are recognized in Ohio as "Leaders in Their Field."
- · Kathleen M. Brinkman – Litigation: White Collar Crime & Government Investigations
- · David T. Croall – Labor and Employment
- · Holly D. Kozlowski – Intellectual Property
Chambers USA ranks leading firms and lawyers in an extensive range of practice areas throughout America. Rankings are based on lawyer and client interviews, among other things, and assess criteria such as technical legal ability, professional conduct, client service, commercial awareness and astuteness, diligence, commitment, and other qualities that clients consider relevant.
About Porter Wright
Porter Wright Morris & Arthur LLP is a large law firm that traces its roots to1846 in Ohio. With offices in Cincinnati, Cleveland, Columbus and Dayton, Ohio; Washington, D.C.; and Naples, Florida, Porter Wright provides counsel to a worldwide base of clients. www.porterwright.com
Law School Celebrates 180th Hooding Ceremony; First Class of LLM Students Graduate
Graduation was held Sunday, May 19, 2013, at the Aronoff Center for the Arts.
The College of Law celebrated the accomplishments of its graduates at its 180th Hooding Ceremony, held May 19, 2013 at 1:00 p.m. The event was at the Aronoff Center for the Arts.
Making this event extra meaningful was the inclusion of the first class of students graduating with an LLM in the U.S. Legal System. The LLM is the law school’s master’s degree program designed for foreign-trained attorneys, which was launched last year. This year, four of the six LLM students graduated. (Two students have chosen to remain at the law school to participate in a certificate program next academic year.).
Meet Several of the LLM Graduates
- Ovenseri Ven Ogbebor. From Nigeria, Ogbebor received his education in Benin City. He has also taken classes at a university in Indianapolis, IN. He took part in the LLM program to begin the process of fulfilling Ohio’s bar exam requirement so that he can become an attorney in Ohio.
- Felicia Omoji. Also from Nigeria, Omoji was a practicing attorney for 22 years in her home country. The additional knowledge and skills learned via the LLM Program, Omoji believes, will help her to be better prepared in dealing with American and Nigerian clients, especially in a global arena. She would like to work in the legal/public interest/ non-profit sectors.
- Nerissa Harvey. From Jamaica, she received her LLM from the University of London. Harvey decided to work for her LLM in order to gain an understanding of the U.S. legal system and to develop the foundation necessary for the Ohio bar. She is interested in a career in estate planning.
About the Ceremony
The speaker for this year’s ceremony was Class of 1984 alumnae Sharon Zealey, chief ethics and compliance officer for the Coca-Cola Company. In addition to managing the global compliance program, she serves on the company’s Ethics & Compliance Committee and advises on U.S. trade sanctions and the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. Previously, she was senior litigation counsel for the Coca-Cola.
Zealey is a former partner in the commercial litigation practice group at Blank Rome LLP. She served as the United States attorney for the Southern District of Ohio, appointed by President Bill Clinton. She was also appointed by U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno to the Attorney General’s Advisory Committee and advised Ms. Reno on issues of national importance. She was an assistant U.S. attorney in the Criminal Division for three years prior to her appointment. Ms. Zealey also served as Deputy Ohio Attorney General.
This year’s event also included the presentation of the 2013 Nicholas J. Longworth, III Alumni Achievement Award to Mark Stall ’88. This award recognizes law school graduates for their outstanding contributions to society. Stall is currently general counsel of xpedx, a division of International Paper Company. In this role he provides legal and business advice and assistant to senior management, headquarters and field managers, as well as sales professionals. Actively involved in the community, Stall is co-chair of the Greater Cincinnati Minority Counsel Program, a member of the school’s Board of Visitors and the board for the school’s LLM Program and Institute for the Global Practice of Law, member of the board of directors of the Clermont County Chamber of Commerce.
Also being honored were this year’s winners of the Goldman Prize for Excellence in Teaching: Professors A. Christopher Bryant, Lewis Goldfarb, and Sandra Sperino. The Goldman Prize is given to law school professors and is based on their research and public service as they contribute to superior performance in the classroom. .
Barbara Howard ’89 is Recipient of the Ohio Bar Medal Award
Barbara Howard ’89 received the Ohio Bar Medal Award, the highest honor of the Ohio State Bar Association, at the recently held OSBA Annual Convention. This annual award is given to honorees who exemplify unusually meritorious service to the legal profession, the community, and humanity.
Howard is principal of Barbara J. Howard Co., L.P.A., a Cincinnati firm that focuses on family law.
Jean Geoppinger McCoy ’90 has been named the 122nd president of the Cincinnati Bar Association
Jean Geoppinger McCoy ’90 has been named the 122nd president of the Cincinnati Bar Association. McCoy is an attorney with the local firm White, Getger & Meyer Co., L.P.A. read the profile article in the May 2013 issue of CBA Report.
From Comedy Writing to Legal Writing, Sean Myers Brings a Unique Background to UC Law
Wherever Sean Myers ’14 may end up living after law school, one thing is certain: anywhere he goes he can make people laugh. While the rising 3L has fine-tuned his legal writing skills in his first two years at the College of Law, he came to Cincinnati with a very different writing background: comedy writing.
Myers graduated from the University of New Hampshire in 2010, where he majored in English, minored in philosophy, and first got his feet wet in comedy. In his first semester of undergrad, he tried out for UNH’s improv team and “did awful,” he said. Myers said he realized he was not as talented at making jokes on the spot, but was better after the fact.
“That led me into sketch comedy,” he said. “It’s improv, but it’s pre-scripted. Those thoughts you have afterwards, you can just write into the script because you’ve still got it.”
Thus, Myers created a sketch comedy group that first semester, although it took about a year before they hosted the first of their many shows. After two years on the UNH campus, Myers said he pushed the group to be more active and get out and perform more in the community, but the others were not as interested. So they split ways – “creative differences” they called it. As a senior, Myers helped develop another sketch group with members of the community, with whom he held writing meetings over Skype.
After graduating from UNH, Myers tried standup comedy again, but he found his niche to be in news satire – “like The Onion, but obviously not as good,” he said.
In the year-plus off between his 2010 graduation and beginning class at the College of Law in August 2011, Myers wrote for two news satire websites. The first, Uncyclopedia – a Wikipedia parody of sorts – was a good fit for him, as he could publish content himself.
“It was very good to hone my voice for news satire because it definitely takes a specific journalistic voice,” Myers said. “Apparently I was very good. I won some awards on the site.”
After several months, Myers moved to GlossyNews.com, which Myers called a bit of a “step up,” joking the site had 12 more viewers than Uncyclopedia. Myers said he still writes for Glossy News when he has time, although school kept him busy enough this year that he has not been able to write in a while.
From Home School to Law School
Myers is a native of Southington, Conn., a central Connecticut town about 20 miles from the capital city, Hartford. He is the middle of three brothers, and he was home schooled through high school. He credits his experience always being at home and the overall family dynamics as an inspiration for his comedy.
He finally got the chance to get out on his own and eventually got into comedy as an undergrad, but he made his biggest move in 2011 when he came out to Cincinnati to begin his next phase of education.
“I came out of undergrad right when nothing was out there, and with an English degree, you really can’t do (much),” said Myers, who after his first wave of job applications fell short, decided to return to school.
Myers saw law school as a way to “make a difference in people’s lives.” He applied to University of Connecticut, Fordham University (his mother’s alma mater) and almost anywhere that offered a fee waiver, he said.
The Connecticut native had one distant connection in Cincinnati. After applying to UC, Myers reached out to that person and he offered Myers a place to stay for a couple nights when Myers visited the College of Law.
“UC Law was the highest ranked at the time I applied, it had a great human rights program, and it was also the most affordable,” Myers said of his reasons for choosing to attend the College of Law over the other schools.
Law School and Beyond
Looking ahead, Myers says “human rights is still on the map,” noting there are very human rights jobs out there. As a result, Myers said he is focusing a bit more on civil rights.
Last summer, however, Myers had a judicial internship in Botswana through the Urban Morgan Institute for Human Rights, which he said was “awesome.”
“It was, hands down, a top three experience in my life,” Myers said. “Being in Africa was just mind-blowing. People over there are just incredible.”
Outside of a busy course load, Myers has been very active at school. He was an articles editor for the Human Rights Quarterly this year and will be a managing editor for the Freedom Center Journal, beginning in the fall. He also was a co-director of the Tenant Information Project, he heads up the school’s ping pong club, and he founded the First Generations Law Students organization this past fall.
Myers said the aim of the latter organization was to get “first generation” law students on par with those classmates who had the advantage of parents or other relatives who had been through law school and are working in the legal profession.
“It exceeded all expectations,” Myers said, noting in the fall they had meetings aimed at 1Ls that had decent, but relatively small attendance. “We (then) had this one meeting of four professors – Moore, Bryant, Houh, and Sperino – who showed up to talk about exams. We (mostly) filled up (room) 118. Just the general feedback I’ve gotten about the programming has been nothing but positive – students, faculty, and staff.”
Outside of school, Myers plays a lot of ultimate Frisbee, playing nearly every day around town. He also enjoys playing the guitar, writing comedy, and writing fiction when he can. He will spend this summer working in Connecticut before returning to Cincinnati for his 3L year.
By Jordan Cohen, ‘13
Mary Claire Mahaney ’79 Enjoying Career as an Author
As a child in Warren, Ohio, Mary Claire Mahaney ’79 envisioned a career as a small-town general practice lawyer, just like her father. She made the announcement to her parents in the car as an eighth grader, joking to her father that it was “something you can do without having to be good at anything.”
Today, she is a member of the District of Columbia bar, although she is retired from the practice of law and is actually an award-winning author.
Road to her J.D.
Mahaney came to Cincinnati to study at Mount Saint Joseph, where she graduated in 1976 with B.A. in sociology, with a concentration in social work. During the summers, she worked at the Trumbull County courthouse and the county prosecutor’s office in her hometown.
The summer following graduation, Mahaney married Cincinnati native Herb Walter. She planned to attend law school in town and decided on the College of Law, as it was in walking distance from their apartment.
Mahaney, the youngest of four children, called her first two years at the College of Law “miserable.” She said she dreaded classes and “made it a point never to make eye contact with the professor and try to sit behind someone tall.”
When grades came out, Mahaney had difficulty understanding why she earned what she did, whether good or not so good, she said. Following a year and a half of “grade anxiety,” her husband opened her grades and Mahaney never looked at her grades in her final three semesters.
3L year for Mahaney was “finally bearable,” she said, during which she took mostly “elective” classes. In that final year, Mahaney worked with a local finance company to fill out income tax returns in a working-class neighborhood. She also got the College of Law to approve an internship in which she taught an upper-level white collar crime course through UC’s College of Business Administration.
“I titled the course, worked out the syllabus, studied textbook options, led discussions, brought in speakers, assigned readings and papers, prepared and graded exams, and gave out grades,” Mahaney said. “I had total autonomy, and I loved it.”
An Alternative Career Path
Early on as a 1L, Mahaney realized her vision of being a small-town, general practice lawyer like her father – who had recently passed away in 1975 – would involve both civil and criminal work. But she was not interested in criminal law, in particular because of the prospect of representing people she believed were guilty.
In 1978, she and her husband moved to Madeira and, after passing the bar in the summer of 1979, Mahaney had three clients at her home office. Outside of her mini law practice, Mahaney was a business law instructor at UC’s business school.
“I taught three sections of basic business law – contracts, torts and so on, the subjects covered on the CPA exam,” she said. “I enjoyed the preparation and felt comfortable in the classroom.”
Mahaney eventually published a comment on the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act in 1981 in the American Business Law Journal. Before getting published, however, she became an Assistant Professor of Business Law at the University of Michigan. While up in Ann Arbor, Mahaney co-authored a piece that made the 1983 Administrative Law Review.
Despite a three-year contract to teach at Michigan, Mahaney’s first pregnancy put her on bed rest. After recovering she decided not to go back to a career for many years, she said.
Finding her Niche in Writing
When her sons, Ed and George, were young – today, they are both graduate students – a friend of Mahaney’s recommended that she be a writer. Mahaney began writing short fiction, and then took jobs writing performing arts columns for various newspapers. Soon after, she had columns published in Chicago’s Irish American News and then for the Herald in Sharon, Pa., where her parents grew up.
Today, she continues to write poems, essays and other fiction, including a short story to be published in an upcoming issue of an anthology called Defying Gravity. It was in 2007, however, when Mahaney published her most well-known work, Osaka Heat. The inspiration for this romance novel came from a trip she took, chaperoning her son’s high school group for a month-long stay in Japan.
“It was after I got back and had time to reflect that I realized living with two Japanese families during that month, and travelling within Japan to boot, had been the experience of a lifetime,” she said “My inspiration for Osaka Heat was Japanese culture and geography. It was the setting, so different from America – but similar in unexpected ways – that caught my attention, that caused me to think, ‘I could write a book-length story set in Japan.’”
It took six years for her to write the book, which won a Gold Medal in Romantic Fiction from Independent Publisher (for the e-version of the book), and two Silvers in Multicultural Fiction from the same organization (one for the paper edition, one for the e-version).
“Many readers have asked for a sequel, but I haven’t written it – yet,” Mahaney said.
Although Mahaney is not practicing law, her law degree has still been beneficial to her more recent writing career.
“I see the writing process as a persuasive process, whether I’m writing fiction, poetry, or nonfiction. The reader needs to empathize with my point of view, even if in the end he or she disagrees with it,” Mahaney said. “So as I write, I’m making a case, as an attorney would.”
She said her law degree also gives her credibility as a writer, editor, and speaker.
Today, Mahaney and her husband live in McLean, Va. Herb is now retired from a 32-year career with Price Waterhouse/PricewaterhouseCoopers. He does financial consulting from their home, where the couple has two orange tabby cats, Rusty and Julius.
In her spare time, Mahaney knits dishcloths, plays the piano, sends paper and email correspondence to family and friends, and enjoys scenic walks around the neighborhood. Not surprisingly, Mahaney reads “extensively.” She also has “500 flicks in my Netflix queue,” she said.
Mahaney said she has three professional fantasies: 1) having Osaka Heat picked up by Hollywood; 2) seeing college instructors assign her book as required reading, and ask her to speak to their classes; and 3) to have a home stay in Bavaria.
“I’m studying German, in part as preparation for setting a story in Germany; in part to be able to speak the language of my Bavarian cousins,” she said.
By Jordan Cohen, ‘13
Coming to a Courtroom Near You: How Eric Kmetz Transitioned from Hollywood to UC Law
For most of his adult life, Eric Kmetz '14 lived in Los Angeles and worked in Hollywood. He could probably talk for hours, sharing everything he saw. Everything he did. For the Canton, Ohio native, Hollywood was an opportunity to pursue his dreams.
But after about 11 years in the industry, a journey of a career that was filled with many ups and downs, Kmetz packed his bags and loaded up his car. He was returning to the Midwest in the summer of 2011, leaving behind a decade-plus worth of memories in the film industry. For law school – a three-year journey of its own kind.
When he settled on law school, Kmetz made a tough decision to return to Ohio. He knew if he stayed in California, it would be difficult to mentally break away from his time in the film industry.
After settling on the College of Law, Kmetz embarked on a four-day drive to his new home in the Greater Cincinnati area. Perhaps he was not saying goodbye to Hollywood. Maybe just until next time. But the cross-country trek marked a new beginning for Kmetz, who was set to join the College of Law’s Class of 2014.
Back Home Again in Ohio
Technically, Kmetz – who is now two-thirds of the way to his J.D. – now resides in Northern Kentucky, living across the Ohio River. His trip from Los Angeles was more symbolic than just moving closer to his childhood home, a few hours northeast of Cincinnati. It marked a complete shift in Kmetz’s life.
“Driving from L.A. to here, it’s almost like transitioning into a different world. You sort of cross this Rubicon when you cross the Mississippi (River),” Kmetz said. “I knew I was ready for this, and that I was leaving that behind, and I just had to be in a different mindset.”
With two years of law school under his belt, Kmetz has been able to successfully change gears, although the transition back to the classroom involved a bit of an adjustment period.
“It took a little while to adjust to the studying, taking notes. I hadn’t taken notes in 15 years or better,” the 38-year old Kmetz said. “I didn’t have the problem with the time commitment, in terms of reading. Sitting through the hour, or whatever length it is for these classes, is a little difficult at times.”
Getting His Start in Film
Kmetz began college at Indiana University in 1993. While he only attended school there two years, it was in the Hoosier State where he had a pair of experiences that led him to Hollywood.
The summer after his freshman year, Kmetz found an unpaid production assistant internship for a feature film being shot in Indiana, and “absolutely loved it.” That fall, Kmetz went on a double date to see the new Quentin Tarantino film “Pulp Fiction” the first week it came out, in October 1994. Kmetz said he walked out of the theater “blown away by it.”
“They thought it was terrible,” Kmetz said. “I said, ‘Are you guys kidding me? That was like the greatest film I’ve ever seen.”
The next morning, Kmetz saw the first showing of the film, which was ultimately nominated for several Oscars, including “Best Picture.” Between that movie and his summer experience, Kmetz noticed there was something powerful about the film medium and realized “storytelling can find its voice through film and through screenwriting.”
During his sophomore year, Kmetz applied to the University of Southern California (USC), known for its prestigious film school. The film school was difficult to get into, and Kmetz was rejected three times. He eventually earned a business degree in 1998 from USC, where he studied film financing.
While at USC, Kmetz developed some contacts through people he met on campus. During his junior year, Kmetz did part-time unpaid work at a production company at Universal Studios, reading “bottom of the barrel scripts,” some of which actually got picked up by the studios. Kmetz felt he could write better scripts, so he presented some ideas to people around the office, and they told him to put his ideas down on paper.
After his first year at USC, he returned home for the summer and wrote his first script, “The Other Side of Simple.” He had read screenwriting books, which suggested he write a film in his hometown with locations he knew and people who would work for free. Upon returning to USC in the fall, Kmetz put a business plan together, intent on raising at least $50,000 to eventually shoot the movie in Canton.
Unbeknownst to Kmetz, his script got circulated around and, during his senior year spring break, he received a call from a literary manager who liked his script. While meeting in person, he convinced Kmetz to take himself off as the director and producer, and he would be able to sell the script to a studio and kick start Kmetz’s screenwriting career. About six months after his Dec. 1998 graduation, it sold to New Line Cinema.
Screenwriting Career Takes Off
In the six months between graduation and New Line Cinema buying “The Other Side of Simple,” Kmetz worked his way into an assistant position for a creative executive at Paramount Pictures. When his screenwriting career later took off, Kmetz was able to return to Paramount and sell them a pitch. That pitch was a script for an action movie called “Tag.” Will Smith heard about it and eventually came on board. But the film never came to fruition and Smith moved onto other projects.
Meanwhile, “The Other Side of Simple” was getting fast-tracked at New Line Cinema, and the script went from a $50,000 budget to $18 million. After the first director left to shoot “The Bourne Identity,” Kmetz received a call from Ted Demme, who had recently finished directing “Blow,” starring Johnny Depp. Demme read the script and wanted to meet. The next Saturday, Kmetz met Demme at a two-story guest house in the back of Demme’s property.
“He is in this big screening room and Johnny Depp is hanging out on the couch, and Ted’s dancing around the room because they just got back rushes for the day from “Blow,”” Kmetz said. “So they’re watching these scenes from the movie for the first time together. Johnny Depp’s just chilling on the couch, smoking a cigarette, (and) I get introduced around.”
Demme was on board to direct the project, and soon after a strong cast was hired as well, including Don Cheadle, Vince Vaughn, Hayden Christensen, Shannyn Sossamon, and Method Man. In the meantime, Demme had brought Kmetz under his wing, brought him along to several meetings, and later hired Kmetz to write another script for him.
Not So “Simple”
While Kmetz’s screenwriting career began to take off, he was regularly taking trips back to Ohio. About a year and a half earlier his brother, Brian, had been diagnosed with testicular cancer. “He fought that for about two years, and then he ended up losing that battle in late August 2001,” Kmetz said.
Kmetz temporarily moved back to Ohio to be with his parents. Meanwhile, “The Other Side of Simple” was on track to begin shooting in Toronto in early 2002. In January, he received a call that Demme had collapsed on a basketball court and had died of a sudden heart attack.
“So I just lost my brother and I just lost one of my closest friends in the film industry, who was also like my mentor, in the course of about fourth months of each other,” Kmetz said.
Kmetz returned to Los Angeles and the film was otherwise ready to go, save for one major problem: no director. A new director was eventually hired to replace Demme, and everyone was sent up to Toronto in November to film “The Other Side of Simple.”
“It was just a big disaster,” Kmetz said. The new director did not seem to have the grasp on the script like Demme. The director started to alienate himself from the cast, and he sort of secretly brought on one of his friends to rewrite the script.
“He wanted to change it from a brother story – which was what I had written – to this sort of love triangle. Having just lost my brother within the year, and I based the whole relationship in the script off our relationship, I couldn’t make those changes,” Kmetz said. “It was terrible. I cried.”
During the holiday break, nearly every actor walked off the project. In early January, Kmetz was told to clean his stuff out in Toronto. The studio had pulled the plug on the film.
A New Beginning
Kmetz decided to take a break from Hollywood and put his career on hold. He placed his belongings in a storage unit, cancelled his cell phone service, and boarded an airplane with a one-way ticket. “That began like a 14-month journey for me, where I just lived out of backpack, traveled through Europe for a while, then ended up getting to Southeast Asia, where I stayed in Laos for about six months and taught English,” Kmetz said.
He helped build an English school there, bought a motorcycle, and traveled through Vietnam and Thailand.
Then Kmetz decided to get back into the film business.
He applied to the prestigious American Film Institute (AFI) and returned to California for round two; only now, he hoped to work his way up as a writer, producer, and director – the “triple threat.” The Canton native began the two-year program in 2005, and he started directing, writing, and producing short films. He wrote one script in particular that James Franco liked, and soon after Franco was the lead in Kmetz’s short film, “Grasshopper.”
Around the same time, a short film of Kmetz’s from prior to leaving the country, was “shortlisted” for an Academy Award. This film, “The Book and the Rose,” was played at nearly 40 film festivals around the world and was selected as a finalist by the Academy. The film narrowly missed the top five, which would have put his film in the awards show.
Writers go on strike
After Kmetz returned to California and completed the AFI program, he was re-energized and beginning to establish himself. But he emerged from AFI in debt, because of his travels and two years at AFI. Then, the Writers Guild of America went on strike from Nov. 2007 through Feb. 2008, although it effectively shut down the industry for more than a year. Kmetz could not get work, as no one was buying scripts.
After the strike ended, Hollywood “emerged in such a different landscape.” Kmetz said the larger studios swallowed up the smaller distribution companies and the major companies were mostly interested in sequels, movies based on books with pre-existing audiences, and superheroes/comic books.
“The movies that inspired me could not get made in the new landscape,” Kmetz said.
As Kmetz struggled to find work, he learned editing and began working as an assistant editor for promo commercials for the TV show “Gossip Girl.” It was his first “9-to-5” job since the six months at Paramount, and he said it was “torture” for him.
“Hollywood wasn’t the place it was when I got into it when I was 21 years old,” he said. “I decided that if I left, first, it would give me a break away from Hollywood to decide if I really wanted to do this the rest of my life. Next, I could also get an education other than writing. When you’re an out of work screenwriter, there aren’t a lot of other avenues to go to make money.”
So Kmetz decided to attend law school as a way to develop another skillset and position himself for a potentially new career.
The ‘Twisted World of Hollywood’
Before leaving California, Kmetz sold the 2007 Franco project to a small distribution company on the East coast. With a tiny market for short films, he did not expect much to come from it.
One night in 2010, Kmetz attended an American Film Market event at a hotel, which featured mostly low-quality B-movies, including the likes of “Sharktopus” and “Teenage Mutant Girl Squad.” While on the top floor, a poster across the room caught his eye. The film was called “Love and Distrust,” and the poster featured several big-name actors, including Franco, Robert Downey, Jr., and Robert Pattinson. Kmetz wondered how a movie like that was made under the radar and being sold there.
“I went over to the poster to see who made this film, and at the bottom of the poster it says, ‘written and directed by Eric Kmetz,’” he said. “So bizarre.”
As it turns out, this company bought five short films (including “Grasshopper”), and edited them together to make it look like a feature film. Since Kmetz was the only writer and director of one of the five films, they decided to use his name. Apparently it had been shown on Showtime in Russia and Hungary, was being sold on Amazon and Netflix, plus was a lead film on Redbox.
“I went home and looked it up,” Kmetz said. “It’s getting all these (really bad) reviews, mostly from Robert Pattinson fans who think they’ve discovered the “underground” Robert Pattinson movie right after he did “Twilight.”
Kmetz, who called this combined film “unwatchable,” said the company did not even contact him to get the master tapes with good sound and visuals.
“I went out to L.A. to make movies and it took about 11 years for me to actually make one, and ultimately I didn’t even know I made it,” he said. “It’s the twisted world of Hollywood.”
Life in Cincinnati
Kmetz will graduate from the College of Law in 12 months, in May 2014. One factor in his decision to come to Cincinnati was that it was “a good school for the money,” especially with the graduate metro rate. Moreover, a good friend of his is practicing in town. In fact, this summer Kmetz will be working with that friend at Markovits Stock & DeMarco, a civil firm located downtown.
Kmetz is a member of Law Review, he just finished a year with the Ohio Innocence Project, and he was recently named the 3L Student Bar Association representative and head of the chess club for the 2013-14 school year. This past year, he was involved with the Trial Practice Team, and has since been named its vice president.
“Trial team has been a great outlet for storytelling,” he said. “Hopefully, I think this appreciation of storytelling is going to find its voice now through law. I’m just not sure where or how.”
Kmetz is interested in being in the courtroom, although he does not think he wants to pursue criminal law. Of course, Kmetz has not officially closed the book on Hollywood.
“Coming to law school is sort of a way to get a larger, diverse skillset, that if I do get back to writing, directing, producing, or another avenue of entertainment, I think I’ll have more knowledge about how to actually capitalize on it,” Kmetz said. “If I don’t go back into entertainment, then it will just open up new doors and I can build a new career.”
In his free time, Kmetz still writes and works on scripts and screen plays. Anything arts-related is up his alley, whether that is seeing plays at Covington’s The Carnegie, operas at Music Hall, or just movies. Kmetz has also been to some Reds games. In March, Kmetz got an Italian Greyhound dog, Wendell, and he goes to the park almost daily.
While he is fully settled into life in the Cincinnati area, Kmetz says he has a “yearning to still get back to an ocean area, whether it’s California or whether it manifests this time on the East Coast.”
Wherever Kmetz may end up and whatever he may do after law school, it will be but another step on his journey. Even if he does not make it back to Hollywood, it is unlikely that he will ever stop writing – even if just for fun. To this day, Kmetz is most proud of his work on “The Other Side of Simple.”
“Everything after that was chasing a paycheck,” Kmetz said. “It took me almost 10 years to realize that.”
By Jordan Cohen, ‘13
Mary Sullivan '80 Joins Observatory Board
CINCINNATI, Ohio, May 2013 – Peck Shaffer attorney Mary Sullivan has been elected to the board of the Cincinnati Observatory Center.
The Cincinnati Observatory Center maintains an observatory in Mount Lookout that has been designated a national historic landmark. Designed by the renowned Cincinnati architect Samuel Hannaford in 1873, the observatory houses the world’s oldest professional telescope still in public use, manufactured by the German firm of Merz and Mahler in 1842. A second telescope, made by Alvan Clark and Sons in 1904, is also still in use. The Observatory also promotes the study and practice of astronomy and provides assistance to professional and amateur astronomers, schools and universities.
Ms. Sullivan has been with Peck Shaffer for more than 30 years and is currently Of Counsel to the firm. She has served as both bond counsel and underwriter’s counsel in transactions throughout the country, including serving as bond counsel to the Ohio Turnpike Commission for 16 years. Ms. Sullivan earned her bachelor’s degree from Xavier University in 1977 and her law degree from the University of Cincinnati College of Law in 1980.
Ms. Sullivan is active with civic groups in Cincinnati and Ohio. She is a member of the Ohio Women’s Bar Foundation Advisory Committee and served as a board member for Seton High School, the Seton High School Foundation, Catholic Social Services of Southwestern Ohio, and the Cincinnati Area Chapter of the American Red Cross, among other activities.
About Peck Shaffer
Peck Shaffer is a national leader in public finance law, with offices in Cincinnati and Columbus, Ohio, Covington, Kentucky, Atlanta and Macon, Georgia, Chicago, Illinois, and Denver, Colorado. Peck Shaffer is regularly ranked among the top bond counsel firms in the country (based on principal amount) by information intelligence company Thomson Reuters. More information can be found at www.peckshaffer.com.