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Former Environmental and Labor Law Attorney Puts Legal Skills to Work at the Archdiocese

More than 30 years after earning his law degree from the College of Law, Tom Coz ’79 began work as the first Safe Environment Coordinator for Children and Youth at the Archdiocese of Cincinnati. Coz joined the Archdiocese on Sept. 1, 2011, where he works with 214 Roman Catholic parishes and 116 Catholic schools. At the time of Coz’s hiring, the Archdiocese was the 38th largest diocese in the United States and home to the nation’s eighth largest Catholic school network.

In this role, Coz assures adherence to what is known as the Decree on Child Protection, overseeing all church employees and volunteers in order to ensure protection of children attending the Archdiocese’s parishes and schools.

“Between June 2012 and November 2012, I trained over 400 trainers on how to present a new child protection program called VIRTUS,” Coz said. “Those 400 trainers/facilitators have, to date, trained over 15,000 clerics, employees, volunteers, and others all across the 19 counties of the Archdiocese of Cincinnati by presenting three to three-and-a-half hour Child Awareness Sessions designed to make persons aware of the signs of child abuse, so that it does not happen in our church.”

Last month, Coz turned his focus to administering the new VIRTUS program, keeping in touch with the trainers and continuing to supervise the required fingerprinting and background check process for all persons who have contact with children in the Archdiocese.

“We manage two large databases of names: one has over 82,000 names on it; the other has approximately 16,000 names. Each new cleric, employee or volunteer in the Archdiocese must be fingerprinted, as well as those who have a ‘change in their locations of service,’” Coz said, noting this in-house work involving either Ohio and/or FBI background checks is done at 12 different fingerprint locations across the Archdiocese.”

Coz’s “wonderful” assistant Jackie Heinitz, does all database management and updating. He says he “could not do my job without her help.”

After working as an attorney from 1979 through 2010, Coz has been able to apply his past practice experience to his current position, which he refers to as “quasi-legal.”

“I use my law degree every day to interpret and author the Decree on Child Protection and author what I call ‘advisory opinions’ on it,” Coz said. “Since I started, there have been many requests, asking for clarifications of what various provisions of this Decree mean and how the Decree should be applied to given fact situations. I like to say that the Decree is our child protection ‘statute.’ My written advisory opinions are creating a body of administrative law. They construe the Decree in specific situations, just like state and federal regulations clarify and construe statutes.”

Childhood, Education and Work

Coz grew up in the northeast Ohio town of Ravenna (located between Akron and Youngstown), the second of five children. After attending high school in Canton, he moved to Cincinnati to attend Xavier University. After earning a bachelor of arts in history in 1976, Coz spent about a year working in the accounting department at Chemed Corporation in downtown Cincinnati.

The XU graduate then enrolled at the College of Law, attending UC on a full tuition scholarship. Coz, who said his interest in law school was piqued in the seventh grade, recalls the huge volumes of reading each night. His favorite classes included Criminal Law with Professor Ken Aplin, Contracts with Professor Alphonse Squillante, and Labor Law with Professor John Murphy.

Outside of the classroom and studying, Coz enjoyed playing on a law school softball team and playing board games with law school friends – several of whom are still good friends today. Coz also said he “talked (his) way into a clerkship” in Chemed’s legal department at the end of his 1L year. He worked there his first two summers and also part-time during the school years.

Upon graduating from the College of Law, Coz began working at ATE Management & Service Co., Inc. as a labor lawyer, where he did collective bargaining and grievance arbitration work in the urban mass transit industry. This position allowed him to travel across the country. In 1983, he decided to leave ATE when his wife (Maureen) was expecting.  

The Coz family moved to Fort Wayne, Ind., where he joined the PepsiCo, Inc. corporate legal department, working at its subsidiary NorthAmerican Van Lines, Inc. There, he expanded upon his labor law background by doing EEOC and U.S. Department of Labor work, corporate and general contract work, immigration law, and environmental law. 

In 1989, Coz left to pursue his budding interest in environmental law, and established northern Indiana’s first full-time environmental law practice, the Barrett & McNagny law firm. After three years with this firm, he and his wife (then parents of three) decided to return to Cincinnati to spend more time with Maureen’s aging parents.

“We ended up purchasing the home that my wife grew up in from her parents, in the Price Hill neighborhood, so our kids could grow up in the same house that their mother did,” Coz said.

In Cincinnati, Coz worked about three years at Benesch, Friedlander, Coplan & Aronoff, before he opened a solo practice. From 1995 to 2005, Coz continued to do environmental/Superfund work, picked up some grievance arbitration cases from the successor in interest to ATE, and began doing some real estate and estate planning/probate matters. In addition to his private practice work, the College of Law graduate began teaching at places such as Xavier, Cincinnati State, The University of Findlay and the Battelle Institute. He also was able to take on the occasional “supplemental” work, working for a legal publishing company and serving as part-time general counsel for another company.

In 2005, Coz began as a part-time attorney with WILD Flavors, Inc. in Northern Kentucky. In 2006, he became General Counsel, then Corporate Secretary and Senior Director of WILD’s Regulatory Department. Coz left this position in 2010, when WILD sold “a significant portion of its stock to a venture capital company.” Following one year of trying “early retirement,” Coz was hired by the Archdiocese.

Outside the Office

Today, Coz’s children are now all grown up: Joe, 29, is studying nursing at Good Samaritan Hospital in Cincinnati; Elizabeth, 26, is pursuing a graduate degree from Seattle University in public policy and non-profit leadership; and Michael, 23, is studying economics at UC.

When not at work, Coz enjoys spending time with his family, including a three-year-old golden doodle dog, “Murphy,” and six-year-old cat, “Allie.” Coz enjoys watching high school, college and professional football (rooting on the Bengals) as well as baseball with the Reds. When the weather is warm, he enjoys golfing on weekends. He and his wife love to travel as well, whenever possible with “Murphy” in tow. Coz also remains in close contact with several College of Law friends and with his former French roommate from his time studying in Paris during college

“As I get older, I see more and more clearly that the most important things in one’s life are faith, family and friends,” Coz said. “I have been very blessed to have had all of these, especially a healthy family. I have also had many opportunities to do different things in my life, both personally and professionally. I have used my UC law degree in just about every imaginable professional setting, and learned so much along the way.”

In the future, Coz would like to teach full time at the college level, he said.

“Few things are more rewarding to me than seeing the ‘light go on’ when a student understands a concept for the first time,” the former adjunct professor, visiting faculty member and guest lecturer said. “My years of business and law practice experience allow me to bring many real world examples into the classroom to illustrate the theory that the book(s) try to teach. I always end up learning as much from the students as the students learn – hopefully – from me.”

By Jordan Cohen, ‘13