From a Small Town in India to Bustling Cincinnati, Pradeep Kandambath Continue to Pursue a Legal Career
From the small town of Payyanur in a region of southern India known for its long, sandy beaches, coconut trees, monsoon rains, and exotic spices, Pradeepkumar Kandambath moved to the United States looking to pursue a legal career. That was over 12 years ago. His circuitous journey, however, brought him to the College of Law as a student in the LLM program.
Kandambath attended Payyanur College (which is affiliated with Calicut University) and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in history. He then went on to attend Symbiosis Law School in Pune, a university town not too far from Mumbai. Not done with academia yet, Kandambath also received a diploma in electronic commerce in Bangalore from Asset International, an institute renowned for its programs in e-commerce and computer and information technologies.
“I was, in fact, born in a family of lawyers! My father, the late K.U. Narayana Poduval, was a civil lawyer and freedom fighter who began his practice in the 1940’s with former state minister of law and education K. Chandrashekharan. My uncle, the late K.U. Kunhikrishna Poduval, and my elder brother, the late Jagdishchandran, were also lawyers who have inspired me to take the legal profession with utmost seriousness and a sense of dedication,” Kandambath said.
From 1997 to 2002, Kandambath practiced in the areas of property law, employment law, contracts, and company law in a small firm at Kochi and at the High Court of Kerala. At Kochi, he had the opportunity to intern with former Judge of the Supreme Court of India and world renowned human rights activist, Justice V.R. Krishna Iyer, which he considers to be a milestone in his career.
“Cincinnati looked almost unreal to me when I first arrived,” said Kandambath. He contrasted Cincinnati with what he knew about urban life in India, where poverty, noise, and pollution are integral parts of urban life. “One thing noteworthy about the Cincinnati is that it is a bustling cosmopolitan city like any other major city in the U.S.,” shared Kandambath, “except for the rush and difficult commutes.”
Having never cooked before moving to the U.S., cooking is now one of Kandambath hobbies along with travelling and music. A notable difference culturally, Kandambath shared that the cooking back home was usually done by servants. “It may sound strange to a Westerner” he laughed. “I had not even seen the whole kitchen in the house I was born in and lived at for more than 25 years!”
Having established his life in Cincinnati, Kandambath admittedly had almost given up his goal of establishing a legal practice here. When he moved to the Queen City years ago, no LLM program existed, and impracticalities and cost prevented him and his family from moving to another city. Then when he was online searching for short-term courses in law, he discovered UC Law’s new LLM program and jumped at the opportunity to pursue his dream. “I always wanted to have a post graduate degree in legal studies,” he said. “The LLM program has been the most exciting thing that has happened to me since I came to the United States.”
Now nearing graduation, Kandambath hopes to work with a law firm or business establishment where he can utilize his unique, multinational educational background. “I have benefitted immensely by doing the LLM program at UC,” he said. “I would strongly recommend it to anyone who is interested in any career path in the legal field.
Faculty members at UC have extensive experience in legal practice and bring outstanding scholarship and teaching experience to the class. I would advise every student to take full advantage of this as well as the career support at the university.”
3L Caroline Hyatt Wins Second Place in National Writing Competition
Congratulations to third year law student Caroline Hyatt who placed second in the 2013-2014 Louis Jackson National Memorial Student Writing Competition in Labor and Employment Law for her paper, “The Legal Enforcement of 'Proper' Gender Performance Through Title VII.”
The competition is sponsored by the national labor and employment law firm Jackson Lewis in memory of Mr. Jackson, one of the firm’s founders. The competition has been administered by IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law’s, Institute for Law and the Workplace. Her essay will be published on the Institute for Law and the Workplace website and she will receive a $1,000 scholarship.
Hyatt, a native of Cincinnati, is a graduate of the university with a bachelor’s degree in International Affairs with certificates in Asian Studies and in International Human Rights.
What have been some of the best experiences at the law school and why?
“In the summer following my first year of law school, I worked at the EEOC in the Office of Federal Operations in Washington D.C. Federal employees with discrimination complaints go through a longer administrative process before they have the option of going to federal court and this office is responsible for the appellate decisions of these claims. About a month before I started working there, they issued an exciting decision in Macy v. Holder. This case established that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 protects employees from discrimination based on gender identity. Following this monumental decision, the EEOC had a panel that summer to discuss the impact of the case that I got to attend. This discussion triggered the nagging question in the back of my mind that eventually led to my MA/JD final project.
“That fall I started researching the topic of employment discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity and the extent to which it might be protected under Title VII with the help of my MA/JD final project committee, made up of Professors Deb Meem from Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies and Sandra Sperino and Chris Bryant from the law school. Working on that project, a paper that utilized the theoretical concepts that I learned in the Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies MA program and applying them to a legal problem in a new and unique way, made my 2L year the most challenging and rewarding year of my academic career. The work I did with the EEOC and on my paper also led me to the specialty I plan to practice in when I graduate: LGBT employment discrimination.”
How did you get involved with the writing competition?
“When I finished the paper I wrote for my MA/JD final project, I knew that I wanted to rewrite it in a form that focused on the legal aspect of my work so that I could get the ideas out there in the legal field. While there have been huge gains in protecting the LGBT community from employment discrimination, there is a lot of work still to be done, and my research can help ensure that that work creates real change instead of just the appearance of change or even reinforcing the very societal norms that we are trying to shift. Professor Sperino recommended places to submit my work and all of my committee helped me edit and prepare my paper. I submitted my paper to the writing competition this past January and was just so excited to find out that my paper, “The Legal Enforcement of “Proper” Gender Performance Through Title VII,” had won second place!”
How will this experience help in your career?
“The opportunity to become so deeply knowledgeable in one area of law through the work I did on my article, which I spent a whole year on, has helped me focus my experiences toward a specialty in LGBT employment discrimination. This area of law is new and changing and it’s exciting to be a part of it.
Participating specifically in the writing competition and in winning second place puts my work and my ideas out there on a much larger scale. It’s accessible online to anyone who wants to see it and I hope that it can contribute to a larger conversation, in legal academia and among practitioners, about the direction the law is moving.”
Last Question: what did you think when you heard you won?
“I was so excited! I didn’t know when to expect an answer, so I was completely caught off guard. It was a great feeling after working so hard on something for so long to have that work recognized on a national scale.”
Hyatt plans to work in employment discrimination, doing litigation on behalf of employees, and specializing in working to protect the LGBT community from discrimination.
Sam Ginocchio ’15 Shares Thoughts for Small Business Owners
Sam Ginocchio ’15 is a former owner of A Tavola Bar and Trattoria, a Tri-state hotspot located in the revitalized downtown Over-The-Rhine community. He shares his thoughts on why law school is important for small business owners.
As a small business owner you can have a great idea, entrepreneurial drive and a willingness to work long hours, but to succeed you need to couple those with an understanding that you're operating in a larger world. It’s a world where there are many competing interests - from other businesses, suppliers, government entities and the larger community as a whole. Besides the traditional legal fields of property, contracts, and commercial transactions, law school trains you to ask questions that you might not have realized were a part of your business vision, and develops collaborative problem solving skills which hopefully enhance whatever practical abilities and gut instinct you bring to your business. My goals haven't changed as much as they've been refined; I still believe small businesses are key for our city's vibrancy and an important engine for Cincinnati's growth.
Law Student Places 2nd in Cincinnati’s Flying Pig Marathon
Donnie Warner, a 2014 College of Law graduate, placed second in the 15th Annual Marathon, held May 4, 2014. He says his next marathon will involve studying for the Ohio Bar.
Law student Donnie Warner ’14 has a lot to celebrate this month. He’s completed three years of law school. He’s scheduled to graduate from the College on May 17th. And, oh yes, he just finished 2nd place in the 15th Annual Flying Pig Marathon, held Sunday, May 4, 2014 in Cincinnati. He finished the grueling race with a time of 2:28:39, besting third place winner Kota Reichart by 18 seconds; he was 1 minute and 18 seconds behind three-time winner Sergio Reyes.
Warner’s running career started when he was 8 or 9 years old, he said. He went on to run for his high school team in Michigan. Next, he ran for DePaul University, earning a scholarship for cross country and track along the way. He ran his first Flying Pig marathon in 2010, placing fourth and running about eight minutes slower than he did this year. “It was a disappointing result for me,” Warner said. “The silver lining was that I gained experience. This year that experience paid off with a smarter [running] strategy!” During law school he continued to race in marathons, placing seventh in the Columbus Marathon in 2012 and sixth in the Indianapolis Monumental Marathon in 2013.
The Reason He Runs
With over 20 years under his belt, Warner has many reasons for why he runs. What he likes most, however, is the opportunity to meet interesting people. “Through running I've had the opportunity to become friends with runners from around the world, including Ethiopia, Kenya, Ireland, England, Morocco, and South Africa. When I lived on the Navajo Nation, I learned that my student's uncle was a famous runner; before long I was visiting his house and learning about his career. I am fascinated by how running brings people together.”
His wife is also a runner and the two enjoy running together to catch up on the day’s or week’s events.
Why This Year’s Race was so Important
The 2014 Flying Pig had special significant for Warner. This year he ran in support of a local organization – Elementz Hip-Hop Youth Center in Over-The-Rhine. Elementz teaches and encourages art that comes out of urban life and experience. Thus, through rap, spoken word, stepping, urban photography, music production and video production, youth are able to express themselves and communicate their message of respect, hope, and achieving success. “I think that Elementz does very important work in our community, so I was happy to find a way to help out.” He has raised $1300 to date.
Warner isn’t sure when or where his next race will be. He’ll be a little occupied for the next few months preparing for the Ohio Bar Exam. “I guess studying for the bar is kind of a marathon! I am going to start with that (the Bar Exam) and then see what (race) looks interesting. Someday, though, I’d really like to run an international marathon.”
As for after the bar, Warner says he has enjoyed his experiences working in criminal defense and employment law. He hoping to find a career in one of those areas, or perhaps something else. He’s open to possibilities!
Guest Student Program
Many professionals would benefit by obtaining knowledge of the law, including those working in such fields as business, criminal justice, engineering, medicine, psychiatry or psychology, education, human resources, journalism, and many more. These professionals, along with graduate students studying in other fields, can enhance their knowledge of law by enrolling in one or two classes at the College of Law as a "Guest Student." Guest Students can take up to six credits at the College in classes that will enhance their knowledge of law in topics of particular interest to them. If you are interested in taking a class as a guest student, contact Charlene Carpenter, registrar, for more information at 513.556.0070.
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.
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. .
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
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
Meet Matthew Barnes: 2013 UC Law Graduate and Equal Justice Works Fellow
What are your plans for the summer? A family vacation at camp or the beach? Relaxing at home? For Matthew Barnes, a recent UC law graduate, summer will bring an opportunity to get a jumpstart on his legal career. Barnes is a recipient of the prestigious Equal Justice Works Fellowship. Learn more about Matt, his experiences, and why the Fellowship is so important to him.
Tell us about your background.
I was born in Kansas City and have moved around a bit, but I mostly grew up in Naperville, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago. I went to undergraduate school at Miami University (Ohio); I was a political science major (with an economics minor). One interesting fact about me—that many people don’t know—is that I’ve been an extra in several Skyline Chili commercials. It’s a source of both pride…and shame!
Why did you choose UC for law school?
I was living in Cincinnati at the time, having just completed a year in AmeriCorps, when I decided I wanted to go to law school. I had been living in Ohio for about five years through my undergraduate years at Miami University and decided I wanted to stay in the area. UC's law school was not only close, but it was a well-respected nationally ranked school that would be more affordable as an in-state resident. I also liked that the school was relatively small and urban-based, and would allow for more of a community feel and give me more time with professors.
What activities were you involved with at UC Law?
I'm a judge in Student Court, which has been a really fun experience. I'm also a Book Review Editor on the Immigration and Nationality Law Review. I participated in the Tenant Information Project my first year as well, and recommend it to anyone looking for some service hours.
What type of law do you want to practice and why?
I’m attracted to the public interest field generally, administrative law, tax law, property, wills and estate planning.
I'm interested in politics, especially policy. I have always wanted to help others, especially those who are underserved in society, through making better policy or implementing policy in a better, more effective manner. I believe that governmental policies and regulations have the most potential to help others, but sometimes can cause a lot of harm if not done right. I think it's a very important and relevant way to try to improve the world around me, by understanding or even being involved in policy making or policy implementation.
Why did you apply to be an Equal Justice Works Fellow?
The Fellowship fit with what I wanted to do and what I had been doing. My experience in AmeriCorps and two summer internships while I was at law school, including Housing Opportunities Made Equal and Pro Seniors, were wonderful and confirmed that public interest law was an area with a lot of need. It is something I wanted to do. The Fellowship gives me the opportunity to make a difference in my own community, since I will be staying here in Cincinnati, and also to gain valuable experience as a legal professional.
Tell us about your EJW Fellowship project.
I am sponsored by the Ohio Legal Assistance Foundation, an organization that focuses on ensuring that resources, programs and services exist statewide to serve the unmet civil legal needs of Ohio's low-income population.
I will be working at Pro Seniors, which I interned at last summer. Pro Seniors is a non-profit organization that assists seniors with a variety of legal issues. Many of them are part of the underserved community, some due to their income (or lack of). I will be working specifically on developing a program that will help Pro Seniors’ thousands of clients find out what benefits they qualify for and how to obtain them.
Many seniors who are living paycheck to paycheck qualify for benefits they do not know about or do not have the confidence or expertise to obtain. I will also be working with other senior care providers in the area, such as nursing homes or Meals on Wheels, giving presentations and providing information to the staff as well as the seniors themselves on how to access the benefits they qualify for. At Pro Seniors, I will be working with other staff attorneys on specific cases where a client may be having difficulty with a government agency in obtaining benefits, or is having their benefits reduced or taken away in an unfair manner, and would help with litigation on their behalf.
What does this opportunity mean to you?
It means being given the chance to give back to my community in a meaningful, effective way. I was lucky enough to be born into a world where I had a lot of opportunities and advantages given to me by my parents, my community, and by society in general that others never get. This Fellowship allows me to fulfill what I feel is my duty to try to help others have the same opportunities and benefits I received.
What are your plans post fellowships?
I have been told that the vast majority of fellows stay in public interest afterwards, and that is my plan, though I'm not sure on the specifics. I would want to stay in either a non-profit environment or move on to a governmental agency dealing with an underserved population.
About the Equal Justice Works Program
The Equal Justice Works Fellowship program is the largest postgraduate legal fellowship program in the nation, with nearly 100 Fellows working across the country each year to provide legal assistance to those who could not otherwise afford it. Equal Justice Works Fellows design their fellowship projects with nonprofit organizations, targeting the most crucial needs of the communities they serve. Funding for Equal Justice Works Fellowships is provided by donations from law firms, corporations and foundations from around the country.
*Barnes is a 2013 Equal Justice Works fellow, sponsored by the Ohio Legal Assistance Foundation.