The Trustees’ Award Marianna Bettman received from the Cincinnati Bar Association recently means a lot to her.
“To me it’s really kind of a culmination of the many different lives I have had in the bar, as a trial lawyer, judge and law professor,” she said. “That’s three very different careers each one of which I have thoroughly enjoyed.”
It means even more, especially since it came from her peers in law.
“There is something about the recognition of your peers that is especially meaningful, and honestly, especially meaningful at this time of my life, kind of at the twilight of my career.”
According to Maria Palermo, a senior counsel at the Cincinnati Bar Association, the award is “presented to a CBA attorney member for outstanding service to the CBA and the legal profession and the general community. The recipient must display a high level of commitment, dedication or courage and selected by the awards committee.”
Palermo said the Trustees’ Award is one of the highest awards given a member of the association. It was first awarded in 1989, and is selected by the CBA’s board of trustees.
The retired lawyer, judge and law professor has another career now – as a blogger on appellate cases before the Ohio Supreme Court.
She always writes a very popular monthly column – Legally Speaking – for The American Israelite.
“I really enjoy writing my column for the Israelite because I like getting the public, lay people, interested in law cases because (the cases) are really interesting,”
She said she chose to blog (her blog is called Legally Speaking Ohio) about the state Supreme Court because most people do not know much about the state’s court.
“There’s so many aspects of state law that really affect people’s lives, more than federal law. When you think about it birth, death, divorce, criminal law, custody fights, probate, wills, all of that is state law, it’s not federal law. Most peoples’ contact with court system is with the state court system.”
Bettman started in law at a time when not many women were lawyers. Her mother had always told her she should be a lawyer – she wanted to be a professional baseball player until she was 10 – but didn’t start law school until she was 30.
“(Her mother) just always really thought it would be the right career for me. Of course, I laugh because mothers know best,” she said.
When she graduated form the University of Cincinnati Law School, she didn’t want to be in a big law firm, so she started with a group of lawyers that included then-Cincinnati Mayor Tom Brush.
“I always wanted to be in a small firm, I was never a big law firm person ever,” she said. “So after doing that I went out on my own with my friend … again it wasn’t a firm it was space-sharing arrangement. I was always in a small practice and I was always represented plaintiffs, that’s the injured party side.”
After 15 years of being a trial lawyer, she decided to run for judge. Her husband, long-time Hamilton County Judge Gilbert Bettman was retiring so the name Bettman had good ballot recognition. She entered the race “almost as a lark.”
She chose the Court of Appeals race because, as a lawyer, she only handled civil cases, not criminal, so she only wanted to be an appellate judge.
“And now as I think back on it, appellate law is more scholarly it’s kind of a natural really when I became a professor.”
She made one attempt at the Ohio Supreme Court, lost, and then lost re-election to the Court of Appeals. She then asked the dean of the UC law school, Joseph Tomain, about a teaching position. She was hired as a visiting teacher.
At UC, she taught torts, legal ethics and a seminar on the Ohio Supreme Court.
“I did that for the next 15 years and it turns out I was really good at (teaching),” she said. “I loved teaching. I think that I had those other two careers is what makes me a really good teacher.”
She earned the UC Distinguished Teaching Professor Award in 2016, the year she retired from teaching.
“I think now what makes me the happiest is to see my former students out about town,” Bettman said. “(Hamilton County Clerk of Court Aftab Pureval) was one, the (Cincinnati) city solicitor is another. It really totally makes me happy to turn the world over to them completely. And that makes me happy about this award.”
She was asked by Pureval to set up and launch a Help Center Task Force in the clerk’s office for offering free legal advice. She set it up in six months, a joint venture between the Hamilton County Commissioners, the Clerk of Courts office and the UC College of Law.
“It’s just been an unbelievable success. It’s seen something like 17,000 people already,” she said. “Many come in just for quick question. About 900 have gotten real legal advice. We don’t go to court with them, but they learn how to represent themselves more effectively. It has been an unbelievable success.
“(The) people are treated with complete dignity and courtesy. You can see it in their eyes, and you can see they are not used to that in that system. They are just sort of shocked they are being treated so well. That is the most amazing thing for that center.”
Bettman also volunteers in the community as a board member of the Linton Chamber Music where she helped develop “relationships that have fostered such projects as a new music program at South Avondale Elementary School,” according to the bar association.
Pureval said in his Trustees’ Award nomination letter, “Professor Bettman embodies the criteria for the Trustees’ Award because she constantly displays a high level of commitment and education to the legal profession and to using her shills as a lawyer to make our community a better place.”