By Carol Hershenson
The Cincinnati Bar Foundation will present Marianna Brown Bettman with the 2020 John L. Muething Lifetime Achievement in Law Award at a virtual ceremony on Thursday Nov. 12. Bettman is familiar to readers of The American Israelite through her popular monthly column, “Legally Speaking.”
The Muething Award is presented for fifty years “of exemplary service as a lawyer.” The Bar Foundation judges the recipients to reflect “the highest principles and traditions of the legal profession” through their careers. The other honoree in 2020 is Thomas D. Heekin.
Bettman grew up in Cincinnati, attending Bond Hill Elementary, Walnut Hills High School, and the University of Cincinnati, where she majored in history — an interest she has rediscovered through online courses offered during the current pandemic. She entered the study of law by a round-about route, although she noted that her mother had always thought she should become a lawyer — one of those instances, she laughed, when mother really did know best. She had a career in community action after college but was attracted to the law because it is a field with “limits, rules and outcomes,” receiving her acceptance letter to law school on her thirtieth birthday.
Bettman’s legal career has been distinguished from the beginning; she received her 1977 degree with honors from the University of Cincinnati College of Law, when she won the Constitutional Law Prize. She had a successful career as an attorney in private practice until 1992, when she was elected to the Ohio First District Court of Appeals, where she served from 1993-1999. She returned to her alma mater in 1999 and taught in the University of Cincinnati College of Law until her retirement in 2016, when she received UC’s highest teaching award, the University of Cincinnati Distinguished Teaching Professor Award; she had received numerous previous teaching awards: the student-selected Goldman Prize for Excellence in Teaching, UC College of Law three times (2005, 2011, 2014) and University of Cincinnati A.B. "Dolly" Cohen Award for Excellence in Teaching (2008). She taught torts, legal ethics, and a seminar on the Ohio Supreme Court; in addition, she directed both the Judge-in-Residence Program that arranges for students to meet a judge annually who attends classes, and the Judicial Extern Program helping to arrange placements with judges for UC Law students.
Bettman has broken barriers throughout her career, both personally and for others. In her personal career, she was the first woman to achieve several positions: first female UC Law student to win the first prize in Trial Advocacy as a student, and the first woman elected to the Ohio First District Court of Appeals. She helped establish the Hamilton County Municipal Court Help Center, serving as chair of their task force and as a volunteer since her retirement. The Help Center, a joint project of the Hamilton County Commissioners, the Hamilton County Clerk of Courts and UC Law, provides assistance to pro se litigants (litigants who represent themselves).
Bettman’s current passion is eviction prevention, although she misses going to the courthouse in person during the current Covid-19 crisis. She takes great pride in the careers of her former students; four of the judicial candidates in the current election cycle, for example, are her former students. They fulfill the mandate from the famous quote by Ruth Bader Ginsburg that Bettman likes to cite: “Whatever you choose to do, leave tracks.”
Bettman has been the recipient of numerous previous awards for her service and achievements:
•2019 Trustee's Award, Cincinnati Bar Association
•2018 Seniors Who Rock, awarded by ProSeniors
•2016 University of Cincinnati Distinguished Alumni Award, College of Law
•2011 Excellence in Education award, Ohio Magazine
•2008 National Chapter NAACP Foot Soldiers in the Sand Award
•2008 Nettie Cronise Luttes award, Ohio State Bar Association
•2007 Cincinnati Chapter NAACP Fair and Courageous Award
•2001 University of Cincinnati Law Alumni Association Distinguished Alumna Award
•1998 University of Cincinnati Women's Studies Distinguished Alumna Award
•1998 Leading Women Award for Public Service and Government
•1996 Cincinnati Women's Political Caucus Outstanding Achievement Award
•1994 YWCA Career Woman of Achievement Award
•1993 Ohio Academy of Trial Lawyers Outstanding Journalism Award
Bettman has been contributing her column, “Legally Speaking,” to the American Israelite for more than two decades. It is one of the most popular columns on the American Israelite website, getting nearly half the clicks in the Arts & Entertainment section, and averaging over twenty-two hundred clicks per month. Her most popular column among American Israelite readers was titled “How many times can a criminal defendant be re-tried?” from December 2016.