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The Power of Storytelling: The Ohio Innocence Project, Cincinnati Opera Collaboration Brings Exonerees' Stories to Life

The Ohio Innocence Project and Cincinnati Opera’s new venture brings to the stage the experiences of the wrongfully convicted in a unique form—an opera—to debut in 2019.

Cincinnati, OH—The Ohio Innocence Project (OIP) at the University of Cincinnati College of Law, Cincinnati Opera, and the Young Professionals Choral Collective (YPCC) announce the creation of a contemporary opera, Blind Injustice. The opera is based on Cincinnati Law Professor Mark Godsey’s book by same name and interviews with six OIP exonerees.  Blind Injustice will bring to life the grace, perseverance and forgiveness of these incredible men and women.  Premiering during the 2019 opera season, this is the first collaboration of its kind. The opera will be composed by William Menefield to a libretto by David Cote. CCM Professor Robin Guarino will act as stage director and dramaturg.

“The stories of these six exonerees are powerful tales of perseverance and forgiveness after going through an ordeal most of us can’t even imagine,” says Mark Godsey, OIP Director. “Although the stories are inspirational in their own right, the music exponentially magnifies their emotional impact. So we are incredibly excited that the public will get to learn more about Ricky Jackson, Clarence Elkins, Nancy Smith, and the East Cleveland 3 in such a compelling, moving way.  These individuals are heroes, bringing them to stage and sharing them with the public in this medium is the right thing to do.  We feel incredibly lucky to be working with the Opera and YPCC on this important project.”

Blind Injustice is a story about survival and dignity and asks the question: How could our criminal justice system allow six innocent people be wrongfully accused and convicted?” says Robin Guarino, stage director and dramaturg for the opera.  “It is an honor to tell their story and to work with my creative team of David Cote, librettist; William Menefield, composer; Mark Godsey, author; the OIP; the YPCC; and Cincinnati Opera on this groundbreaking project."

Interim Dean of the Cincinnati Law School, Verna Williams, says, “This extraordinary collaboration sheds light on the tragedy of wrongful convictions plaguing our criminal justice system.  Even more, it will demonstrate the grace of the exonerees enduring unimaginable hardship, the steadfastness of OIP working for their freedom, and the transformative power of this project for all involved.  We are thrilled to be part of this creative exercise in social justice.”

“Cincinnati Opera is looking for innovative ways to collaborate with nontraditional partner organizations in an authentic way, to tell current stories of societal importance,” said Marcus Küchle, director of artistic operations and new works development at Cincinnati Opera. “We are keenly interested in breaking through the stereotypes of what opera is in the 21st century, and this project is a perfect example of the type of new works Cincinnati Opera will pursue in future seasons.”

The Birth of Blind Injustice, the Opera
Blind Injustice is the result of a three-part collaboration between the OIP, the Young Professionals Choral Collective (YPCC), and Cincinnati Opera. The OIP’s young professionals group, which focuses on building awareness about the OIP, reached out to the YPCC, an 800-member amateur chorus, in hopes of hosting a joint event. Once the parties started talking, they realized the impact that a joint performance piece could have. Soon thereafter, the Cincinnati Opera team joined the conversations, resulting in the conception of a one-of-a-kind musical performance. This unique artistic team hopes that sharing the real-life case stories of exonerees will bring greater understanding and empathy to the work of the OIP and other innocence organizations, as well as create opportunities for broader conversations about wrongful conviction in the United States.

About the Opera
The opera will focus on the life and experiences of these OIP exonerees:

  • Ricky Jackson: He spent nearly 40 years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit—murdering a money-order collector. Mr. Jackson was sentenced to death; it is now known that the conviction was based on a lie of a then-12-year-old boy. At the time of his release, Mr. Jackson set the record for the longest-serving person to be exonerated in U.S. history.
  • East Cleveland 3: Derrick Wheatt, Laurese Glover, and Eugene Johnson were wrongly incarcerated for 20 years. They were released after a key eyewitness recanted her testimony and after the revelation that information from police reports demonstrating their innocence had not been disclosed decades earlier.
  • Clarence Elkins: He spent seven and a half years in prison for a murder and rape he did not commit. Through DNA testing, Mr. Elkins was found innocent and the real perpetrator was caught; and  
  • Nancy Smith: A former bus driver, she served 15 years in prison for allegedly molesting small children in her care.  After being proven innocent and released, Ms. Smith’s case received national attention, including being featured on a one-hour episode of Dateline NBC.

In addition, the OIP will be represented through two characters. One will be a composite character representing Mark Godsey earlier in his career as a prosecutor and now as an innocence lawyer; the other will be a fictional OIP law student, representing all of the OIP law students who worked to free these individuals through the years.

“The unique thing about this format is that it allows us to share the story of wrongful conviction and exoneree experiences to a broad audience,” says Godsey. “These may be people whose only experience with wrongful conviction is through a television program. Now, they’ll be able to hear directly from the exonerees. They’ll share their painful stories and how they survived and overcame despite what happened to them. We know that once you hear their stories, your heart will be touched.”

Participants in the project include a variety of individuals:

  • From Cincinnati Opera: Marcus Küchle, Director of Artistic Operation and New Works Development and Co-Artistic Director of Opera Fusion: New Works
  • From the University of Cincinnati: Mark Godsey, the Daniel L. and Judith L. Carmichael Professor of Law and Director, OIP; Professor Robin Guarino, the J. Ralph Corbett Distinguished Chair in Opera, CCM, director and dramaturg for the opera.
  • Others: William Menefield, composer; David Cote, librettist and journalist; KellyAnn Nelson, Artistic Director, YPCC.

In addition to the operatic performance piece, Blind Injustice will include opportunities for community involvement. More information will be shared as plans are completed.


Media Hits

Read the story in the Cincinnati Enquirer (12/8): Innocence Project Leader's Book at Heart of Cincinnati Opera's New Work

Isabel Johnston, Law Student and Dreamer, Shares Her Story

On September 5, 2017 President Trump rescinded the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) policy, the immigration policy that allowed minors who illegally entered or remained in the US to receive deferment from deportation, as well as eligibility for work permits. The rescission was delayed six months to allow Congress to work out a resolution.

Isabel JohnstonThe young people affected by DACA are called “Dreamers,” and their fate is uncertain. As they have increasing reason to worry that they may be soon forced out of the country, most keep secret their identities as Dreamers.

Some Dreamers, however, have spoken out with the hope that sharing their stories will dispel the myths surrounding the immigration issue. Isabel Johnston, a first-year law student, is one such Dreamer.

Johnston’s father was the first in her immediate family to travel from Peru to the states. After eight months apart, the rest of the family flew in to join him.

Johnston, who was six at the time, recalls, “There was this long hallway, and my dad’s at the end of it, and I’m with my mom and my siblings. He gets down on one knee and opens his arms for us to run into them.

I looked up to my mom, because I didn’t know who he was. My dad [had been] a big guy. I thought it was my uncle who looks like my dad but is much thinner. My dad had been working three jobs, sleeping two hours, and not actually eating anything. I didn’t recognize him.”

Despite this initial shock, Johnston and her family settled in. They first lived in Florence, Kentucky, but later moved to Texas for two years. When she was 15, Johnston’s parents sat her down and informed her that they were undocumented immigrants and explained the legal implications. Johnston says, “I [already] knew we weren’t citizens and that my parents didn’t vote. I didn't know what being undocumented meant. All I really knew was that it was bad and ugly and shameful.” They instructed her not to share this information with her siblings – or anyone.

Johnston was worried and disheartened. She knew that her family came from Peru, but she had not previously felt like a foreigner. She notes, “we were well integrated, I think. I don’t have an accent.” Johnston recalls classmates, unaware of her immigration status, making occasional green card jokes, but she maintains that she fit in with her peers.

Her first major complication came when she was in high school and wanted to sign up for college courses. She needed to fill out forms that asked for a social security number. Confused, she came to realize that she did not have one. Her instructors did not know what to do. Eventually, she found out that she could use her father’s Tax ID, but the episode stirred her. “I was embarrassed, really.”

Things got worse as friends started getting their first jobs and drivers’ licenses. “I just told people that my parents were strict and wouldn’t let me drive, which was only partially true.” The family’s undocumented status remained a secret to her peers the whole time.

But, notably, not a secret to the government. Like many migrants, the Johnstons came on tourist visas and overstayed them. They have paid taxes from day one. “The government has always known that we’re here,” states Johnston. Of paying taxes she notes, “we don’t get anything from it. We’re never going to see any of that money.”

The situation looked up with DACA’s passage. During her senior year of high school, Johnston got a work permit, a driver's license, and a social security number. She saw doors opening to her that she previously could not have counted on.

She graduated from Transylvania University in Lexington, Kentucky. There, she completed a self-designed program of study that focused on social justice issues in Latin America and the Caribbean. While in college, johnston began to share her status with her closest friends, feeling safe under the protection of DACA.

After college, she came here to Cincinnati Law. This fall semester, she was in class when she learned about DACA’s rescission. She saw reports on social media and saw she had messages on her family’s group-text. She remembers, “my dad had opened with ‘don’t worry, you guys are safe right now.’” Johnston's immediate reaction was to cry--for herself, her family, and the hundreds of thousands of other young people affected by the decision.  Then she got to work, researching the issue to better understand what the future had in store for Dreamers.

Around this time, an immigration lawyer from Kentucky with whom Johnston had previously worked, contacted her and encouraged her to speak to a local news outlet about DACA. She thought, “no way my parents want me to do that.” They had always kept their identity secret.

But when Johnston mentioned to her father that she had been contacted by the news, he encouraged her to consider it. “My mind was blown,” she said. “We’ve been talking about the situation in a very different way than we would have before. I’ve been sharing my story and doing a lot more publicly.”

Coming out this way was not easy. Her decision initially left her mother worried, and her brother upset. Her father and sister, however, were supportive from the start. Johnston says they want her to “make sure that my message is clear and that there’s no confusion about what DACA is or was and what we’re looking for in the future.”

Johnston continues to be open about her status as a Dreamer. "Not only have I been open about my status, but I have been actively trying to make change," she said. (She plans to focus on human rights and immigration law as a career.) "I was interviewed on Fox19, I have spoken on immigration and Dreamer panels, and I have become more involved in the UC community. In October, I travelled to DC with and over 100 other DACA recipients from 25 states to meet with our members of Congress. I shared my story with Senator Portman, KY Representatives Barr and Yarmuth, and staff of other members. I was empowered through this experience by making connections with so many other people in the same situation—something I have never been able to do before.

"I am continuously educating my peers and fighting for immigrants. Next summer, I will be returning to DC for an internship at an immigration firm which focuses on asylum work. In addition to working with HRQ, I am the 1L rep for Latino Law Student Association and have helped to create informative material to share with others at the law school, so they too can participate in this fight."


Writer: Pete Mills

Working Abroad: Law Alum Mark Whittenburg’s Shanghai Experience

Mark Whittenburg ’92 has had an impressive career since graduating Cincinnati Law. Though he now works for Core & Main in St. Louis, Missouri, he spent the several preceding years in Shanghai, China.

Mark WhittenburgIt all started while he was working for General Electric here in the states. After moving back to Cincinnati for several months, he was contacted by a recruiter from Autoliv, a Fortune 500 company. Autliv is the world’s largest automotive safety supplier with sales to all the leading car manufacturers in the world. They develop, manufacture and market protective systems such as airbags, seatbelts, steering wheels, passive safety electronics and active safety systems including brake control systems, radar, night vision and camera vision systems. They also produce pedestrian protection systems.

He successfully navigated the interview process and was hired for the Vice President of Legal position. Whittenburg jumped at the opportunity, moving from Cincinnati to Shanghai, where he worked from 2011 to 2013.

When asked about the professional and cultural challenges of working abroad, Whittenburg makes it clear that those challenges are inseparable. “I had to do some cultural learning [because] what motivates people is a little bit different, so trying to lead a team in China isn’t the same as leading a team in Charlottesville, Virginia,” he said. While a handful of his coworkers were fellow foreigners, the overwhelming majority were Chinese natives.

Whittenburg also shared that “cultural awareness was my greatest learning curve—even more than, well . . . the law.”

Chinese law and the Chinese legal system differ radically from their American counterparts. In Whittenburg’s case, he had to learn them on the job and without mastery of Mandarin.

His studies at the law school proved helpful, however. He emphasizes that Cincinnati Law taught him that “it’s not really knowing all the answers but knowing how to find the answers and how to think through problems.”

Autliv’s Shanghai branch covers all Asian markets. Whittenburg’s work there gave him opportunities to travel to Japan, Korea, India, and Thailand.

What’s it Like Living in Shanghai?
His personal life in Shanghai was interesting. He lived in a rented house in a compound that was home to as many fellow expats as it was to native Shanghainese.Whittenburg recalls that seeing a man riding a bicycle with a tower of Styrofoam above and behind him was “one of [his] very first shocks.” Even with such surprises, his transition was smooth, and his memories of coworkers and neighbors are fond.

He experienced the local culinary culture in full. What did he eat? “I ate incredibly strange stuff . . . snake, turtle, intestines, and blood, and all kinds of stuff,” he chuckled. “I definitely prefer it to the China Kitchen.” [The China Kitchen is a United States Chinese restaurant.]

While Whittenburg warns against eating sautéed snakeskin (he likens it to “chewing on a tire”), he does strongly encourages lawyers take up opportunities to live and work abroad. “Do it in a heart beat,” he says. “It will change [you and your practice] in ways that nobody could ever explain.”

UC Law's Alumni Celebration a Big Hit!

Guest speakers. Great music. Amazing food. Lots of memories. Saturday, November 4, 2017 was the big day: Cincinnati Law’s "All Alumni Reunion". With sold-out events in the morning and a jammin' party atmosphere in the evening, UC Law was “the place” to be last weekend!

ICYMI: A Recap

 Alumni began the day with breakfast and the familiar faces of their peers and former professors. After the meet-and-greet, Dean Verna Williams commenced UC Next, a series of mini-lectures in the style of TedX talks.

Williams described the class of 2020 and the changes coming to Cincinnati Law. Of the latest class of JD candidates, she noted, “It’s 97 students strong, and for the first time in many years, we have more women than men. They’re diverse coming from as close as Indiana and Kentucky, and as far away as Utah and California.” Williams also shared the story of the successful LLM program, which brings in students from around the world and features a special partnership between UC Law and Javeriana University in Bogotå, Colombia.

The guest lectures were presented by distinguished alumni. In order of appearance, these were: Kathy Woeber Gardner, Sally Young, Chris Chapman, and William “Billy” Martin.

Gardner’s talk covered her professional path, in which she overcame career speed-bumps but ultimately landed her dream career. She even followed her husband out West and took the California bar exam, after years of practice in Ohio. Gardner now practices International Law and works with large companies in Silicon Valley and around the world.

Sally Young cracked up the alumni crowd, largely because her current line of work is atypical for someone with a law degree—or anyone else, for that matter. She writes romance novels, using the penname, Ann Christopher. Young referred to retiring from private practice after the birth of her second child, noting that she has “been in legal recovery for 18 years now.” Some time passed before she took up writing romance novels, but Young made it clear that reflection led her to do the things she enjoyed most in life.

Chris Chapman discussed the “image problem” the legal community faces. He noted that the stereotype of the greedy, heartless lawyer is entrenched in our culture, reaching as far back as Shakespeare’s joke, “First thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers.” Chapman noted, however, that lawyers can and often do give back to their communities, and that civilizations with many lawyers have historically been the most able to provide justice to all.

Billy Martin’s talk dealt with his rise to professional success as an attorney with a UC Law degree. He maintains that his education at UC Law prepared him for these heights within the legal profession. He shared that the pinnacle of his career was representing a witness in the impeachment trial of President Bill Clinton. Martin also shared an anecdote in which he represented movie star Wesley Snipes, when he was wanted by the Federal government for tax evasion. Snipes was at the time filming in Namibia, and would have faced immediate arrest if he went to any airport, because he had ignored an arraignment in order to continue filming. Martin smilingly recalled, “So what does an actor with unlimited resources do? We rent our own jet.” Snipes was able to surrender on US soil.

The alumni were then treated to a delicious, full barbecue meal provided by Cincinnati’s own Sweets and Meats, a client of our Entrepreneurship and Community Development Clinic. At lunch, Cincinnati Law alumnus and Hamilton County Clerk of Courts, Aftab Pureval addressed the crowd.

Pureval mentioned his own success story. On entering politics, he recalled, “people would say, ‘are you crazy? You’re running for this office that no one cares about, against an opponent who cannot be beat in conservative Hamilton County. And to do all that, you have to leave Proctor and Gamble. What are you thinking?’” He added, “and that was just my mom” to tremendous laughs.

Pureval’s run ended up being a successful, of course. His speech took a serious turn when he talked about the new Hamilton County Help Center. Pureval implored everyone in the room to put themselves in the shoes of those who are facing evictions and now have to deal with the legal system. He said there is cause to be optimistic, however, as the Help Center, which started only two months ago, has already aided over 800 people.

After an afternoon touring campus and the city of Cincinnati, alumni and friends gathered at the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center for the Red and Black Gala. This was an opportunity to continue catching up with old friends (and new ones), eat some good food, and enjoy the music of The Exoneree Band.

The band is comprised of musicians from around the country who were wrongfully imprisoned for a combined 100 years. One band member, Raymond Towler (who is also the manager), was freed through the work of our own Ohio Innocence Project.

Throughout the concert, the band members shared their stories and their music borne from their incarceration experience. They even covered great singers like Stevie Wonder. The crowd was literally on their feet, dancing the night away. In the end, they didn’t want to leave… and the crowd didn’t either.

Thanks for everyone who came and we’ll see you next year for #Celebration2018!

Here's a peek at the day! (More pics and video to come soon!): Celebration2017

Writers: Pete Mills, Sherry English

College of Law Announces $183,800 Gift for Student Scholarships

Cincinnati, OH—Thanks to an anonymous donor, student scholarships will be more plentiful at the University of Cincinnati College of Law. October’s $183,800 planned gift is the second significant contribution to student scholarships in as many months, enabling the law school to continue to attract and support a diverse student body.

“This funder from the Class of 1977 joins countless others in demonstrating their commitment to the continued success of the College of Law,” said Verna Williams, Interim Dean and Nippert Professor of Law.   “Such support is essential to fulfilling our mission to educate and inspire the next generation of leaders.  This gift will make a substantial impact on the lives of students,” Williams said.  

The scholarship will be awarded to a student who plans to practice criminal law upon graduation.

“This latest gift represents a deep appreciation for the College of Law and is the result of a long and illustrious legal career,” explained Thomas Giffin, senior director of development at the law school. “The work of the College continues, thanks in large part, to alumni and friends who provide support in their wills, trusts, life income gifts, retirement plans, life insurance designations, and other planned gifts. We are forever thankful for their generosity.”

This Class of 1977 donor becomes a part of the Herman Schneider Legacy Society, founded to recognize University of Cincinnati benefactors whose contributions to educational excellence are realized through gift plans. The Society was named for University of Cincinnati educator Herman Schneider, founder of the university’s cooperative education program, whose vision propelled UC to the forefront of higher education early in the 20th century.


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. Its distinguished alumni include a U.S. president, a Nobel Peace Prize winner and six governors. The College cultivates an intimate learning experience with a 9:1 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 .

Date: October 30, 2017


Words of Wisdom from Alum Billy Martin

His past clients have included a range of high profile people, from sports stars Allen Iverson and Michael Vick to politicians Bill Campbell and Larry Craig.  But William “Billy” Martin (class of ’76) spends more time doing less-publicized work for large corporations in complex civil and white collar criminal cases, not to mention his past as a prosecutor for the city of Cincinnati, and later, the federal government.  He is delighted to return to his alma mater tomorrow, November 4th,  to speak at the All Alumni Reunion. 

 Martin set aside time to take a few questions for Cincinnati Law.

To understate it, you’ve had an impressive career.  Have lessons learned at UC Law proved beneficial along the way?

 The legal education I received at the University of Cincinnati has prepared me to litigate all over the world.  I’ve been in Europe and Africa, in the Caribbean, as well as almost every state.  I have a degree of confidence that was given to me by the professors and the work I did at UC.  Leaving [there] I felt ready to compete.

 What was your first major career move after graduating?

 I actually had a clerking position with the city solicitor’s office in my second year and third year.  They hired me immediately to go into the city prosecutor’s office.  From there I went to the US Attorney’s office.

 What was the experience of moving up the federal level like?

 It greatly expanded the type of legal issues that I was dealing with.  I went from dealing with, say, a petty theft or DUI, to dealing with the interstate transportation of stolen goods.  Or maybe I’d find myself dealing with Constitutional issues around the Fourth Amendment.  It really exposed me to a broader type of legal practice. It all ultimately culminated in—and UC actually prepared me to—represent a witness in the impeachment proceeding of a president.

It must have felt inescapable that you were in the ‘big leagues’ then.

You are in the ‘bigs.’   It felt like going to federal court as a federal prosecutor that you’d moved up.  People would say, “you’re in the big court now.”  It strikes me when people ask “well, where did you go to law school?”  I proudly represent the University of Cincinnati at some of the highest levels of litigation.

When you’re approaching trial law, and the client is amid scandal and the case is being heavily publicized in the media, how do you deal with that kind of scrutiny?

 You move very carefully.  I use two or three lawyers for every one of these cases, and there are no moves made and no decisions made without having the benefit of the team of your lawyers.   It’s not the time to be a solo practitioner.

 Do you have any words of advice for soon-to-be law graduates?

 I absolutely do.  Part of my talk on Saturday is going to cover the notion that in order to accomplish the goal, you have to believe in yourself that you can do it.  And, if you have the benefit of three years of legal education from the University of Cincinnati, and you pass the bar exam, you should feel that these three years have prepared you.  Whatever it is you want to do, you can do it.  You have to believe that yourself.  That’s the basis of my talk.  UC prepares you, and hopefully, you have the confidence to apply that which you’ve learned at the College of Law.

International Business Law Expert Comes to Speak at UC Law Reunion

From Cincinnati to Brussels to sunny San Francisco, Kathy Woeber Gardner ’88 has traveled the globe in her distinguished legal career.  But on November 4, she will be back with us in Clifton to speak at the All Alumni Reunion.

Gardner feels that the farther she has advanced in her profession, the more she has come to appreciate her time studying at Cincinnati Law.  She recalls that her participation in the Philip C. Jessup International Law Moot Court Competition during her third year of JD studies was one the “real drivers toward the rest of [her] career.”  Her team came in first that year, and Gardner’s lifelong passion for international law began.

Gardner also credits members of UC’s faculty for having a lasting influence on her.  She recalls that Associate Dean Emerita Dean Barbara Watts and Assistant Dean for Career Planning Center Kathy Grant helped bridge her studies and her early professional life.   Gardner notes that these mentors “took a really strong interest in me and helped me in terms of interviews and making introductions for me to lawyers.” 

Her next big move was participating in the American Bar Association’s International Legal Exchange program.  She interned at two law firms in Brussels, Belgium.  Gardner was only a third year lawyer at the time.  With this international experience, she returned to the states—first to Chicago, then to San Francisco, where she and a partner began a boutique international corporate law firm.

Gardner’s work as a partner at Montgomery Pacific Law Group LLP sees her working with clients who come from all over Europe and Latin America.  She also works with clients in Silicon Valley who seek to expand their businesses internationally.   When legal matters arise abroad, Gardner handpicks lawyers to represent her companies. 

Kathy Woeber Gardner’s at the top of her field, so if you are an alum who wants to hear from her and chat with her, come out to the reunion!

College of Law Celebrates the Life of Professor Christo Lassiter

Cincinnati, OH—The University of Cincinnati College of Law community mourns the loss of Professor Christo Lassiter who died last Wednesday, October 25, 2017 after a prolonged illness. Professor Lassiter remained active in the classroom until just a few weeks before his death.

“We are saddened to lose one of our long-time colleagues,” said Verna Williams, Interim Dean and Nippert Professor of Law.  “Our faculty will not be the same without Christo.”

Professor Lassiter joined the College of Law in 1991. He also was a Professor of Criminal Justice at UC’s College of Education, Criminal Justice, and Human Services.

Lassiter taught courses in criminal law, criminal procedure, antitrust and white collar crime. An award-winning teacher, Professor Lassiter was the recipient of the Goldman Prize for Excellence in Teaching on three occasions (1993, 2006, and 2008). He also received the Innovative Excellence in Teaching, Learning and Technology award in 1998.

Merging thought-provoking hypotheticals and meaningful discussion, Professor Lassiter challenged students to think harder while clarifying difficult legal issues. It was uncommon for a student to leave his class without having learned something.
 “He expounds the idea that law school is about ‘learning to think like a lawyer,’ ” wrote his students when nominating him for the 2008 Goldman Award.

Students also noted that Professor Lassiter “…demonstrated over and over that he genuinely cared about student education and their professional experiences. He was always eager to help, whether judging Moot Court practice rounds or participating in panel discussions.”  Students commented that his intelligence, energy, theatrics and occasional song kept them coming back.

Professor Lassiter’s scholarship appeared in many legal journals and publications, including the International Journal of Law and Technology, the Michigan Journal of Race and Law, and the National Black Journal. Lassiter also lectured internationally on ethics, corruption, and countering terrorism for the Defense Institute for International Legal Studies, presenting in Malawi, Mali, and Argentina.

Professor Lassiter was active in the community and at the University.  For example, he served on the boards of the Kentucky Veterans Hall of Fame Foundation, Ohio GI Promise (member of the Governor’s Council), Housing Opportunities Made Equal, and the YMCA of Cincinnati. He was a member of Cincinnati Citizens Patrol Association, served as a university appeals officer and president of the Order of the Coif at the College of Law.

Professor Lassiter enjoyed commenting on the issues of the day, writing editorials, and appearing on television, providing a legal perspective for the Cincinnati Enquirer, the (now defunct) Cincinnati Post, local TV stations, FOX News Hosted by Shepherd Smith (national coverage), and Court TV.  In addition, he worked as a film consultant for The Affair, a joint HBO-BBC production concerning a false allegation of interracial rape against a black American soldier in World War II.

A sports aficionado, Lassiter coached Christo’s Angels, an intramural softball team; served as national chair for the United States Specialty Sports Association (USSAA) Track and Field Program; and coached track and field in a variety of settings, including Moeller and Walnut Hills High Schools.

Professor Lassiter came to the academy after serving in the Judge Advocate United States Marine Corps and in private practice. 

He will be missed at the College of Law. We will remember him as an insightful, hard-working colleague, as well as a mentor and friend to students.

University of Cincinnati College of Law Bar Results Announced; Students Continue to Beat State-wide Average

82% of all Cincinnati LawTakers Pass the July 2017 Ohio Bar Exam

Cincinnati, OH—Today, October 27, 2017, the results of the July 2017 Ohio Bar Exam were released and the University of Cincinnati College of Law recorded an 82 percent passage rate for Cincinnati Law first time exam takers, outpacing the state’s first-time taker pass rate of 77 percent.

“Congratulations to our Cincinnati Law graduates who successfully passed the bar,” said Verna Williams, Interim Dean and Nippert Professor of Law. “We are so proud of you and what you have accomplished.  Passing the bar is not an easy feat; but through hard work, studying and determination, you did it. Good luck as you move forward with your career.”

The overall passage rate for Cincinnati Law’s bar exam takers was 81 percent. This rate exceeds the state-wide average passing rate of 70.9 percent.  Over 900 aspiring attorneys from across the state and the country took the July exam.

Applicants who successfully passed the examination and who satisfied all of the Supreme Court’s other requirements for admission will be invited to take the attorney oath of office on November 13, 2017 at 10:30 a.m. during a special session of the Supreme Court of Ohio at the historic Ohio Theatre in Columbus, OH.

Professor Timothy Armstrong’s Article Discussed in SCOTUS Order

Professor Timothy Armstrong’s article “Chevron Deference and Agency Self-Interest” (published in the Cornell Journal of Law & Public Policy) was cited on October 16, 2017 in the Scenic America, Inc. v. Dep’t of Transp. statement of Justice Neil Gorsuch, joined by Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito, respecting the denial of certiorari.

Here’s Professor Armstrong’s take on the development:

Although I no longer specialize in the area, I handled quite a few matters dealing with administrative law during my career in private practice. My clients in such cases had disagreements with federal government agencies over the terms of the statutes those agencies administered. As administrative-law specialists know, federal agencies enjoy a significant advantage in litigation over other parties where disputes arise over the meaning of an agency’s governing statute. Agencies usually win such disputes because, under the reasoning of Chevron USA Inc. v. Natural Resources Defense Council, Inc., 467 U.S. 837 (1984), courts are obliged to defer to an agency’s interpretation of its own statute in many instances, on the grounds that Congress meant for the agency itself to fill in the gaps and resolve any ambiguities in the legislation as enacted.


My article, “Chevron Deference and Agency Self-Interest,” argued that sometimes more important policies superseded the rationale of the Chevron decision. The article argued, specifically, that the courts should not defer to agencies’ legal interpretations when those interpretations tended to affect the scope of the agency’s regulatory authority or the agency’s financial interests, because in those scenarios, reasonable observers might doubt whether the agency’s action rested upon a dispassionate and impartial assessment of what the law actually required. The Court rejected my position, insofar as agencies’ regulatory authority is concerned, a few years ago in City of Arlington v. FCC, 133 S. Ct. 1863 (2013).


Monday’s Order, however, indicates that at least some of the Justices remain concerned about an agency’s reliance on the Chevron doctrine where the agency's legal interpretation redounds to its financial advantage. It is interesting that Justice Gorsuch drafted the order issued Monday, because his predecessor on the Court (the late Justice Antonin Scalia) wrote the majority opinion in City of Arlington and generally took a far more expansive view of the circumstances when Chevron deference was appropriate. For Justice Gorsuch to be signaling more discomfort with Chevron (as he also did during his years on the Court of Appeals) is a hint that the change in the composition of the Court in the few years since City of Arlington may become quite significant down the road if a new case raising the question of deference to agencies’ contractual interpretations should come before the Court.