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OSBA to Recognize Professional Excellence at its Annual Meeting

The event will celebrate the work of Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor

On Friday, May 10, 2019, the Ohio State Bar Association (OSBA) will recognize excellence in the legal profession at its 2019 Annual Meeting and Awards Luncheon at the Grand Event Center in Grandview. The event will include the presentation of the Ohio Bar Medal – the OSBA’s highest honor – to Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Ohio Maureen O’Connor.

In addition, Columbus attorney Heather Sowald will receive the OSBA Women in the Profession Section’s Nettie Cronise Lutes Award. The OSBA’s Eugene Weir Award for Ethics and Professionalism will go to Akron attorney John “Jack” P. Sahl. And the Ohio Legal Assistance Foundation will present its Presidential Award for Pro Bono Service to Robert Curry of Dayton.

The Ohio Bar Medal is the OSBA’s highest honor, awarded to those who have given unselfishly of their time and talent by taking prominent leadership roles on the bench and in the organized bar and who have worked quietly to earn the deep admiration and respect of their colleagues and their community.

O’Connor is Ohio’s 10th Chief Justice and the first woman in the state’s history to hold this position. Her career in public service and the law spans three decades and includes service as a private lawyer, magistrate, common pleas court judge, prosecutor, Ohio lieutenant governor and Supreme Court justice. Her election to the state’s highest court in 2002 gave the institution its first female majority. During her time on the bench, O’Connor has led significant reforms and improvements to Ohio’s judicial system and has set a national example as a champion for the administration of justice, including her collaborative work to address the opiates crisis and to reform our bail system.

Whether it be on the state, national or international stage, O’Connor has used her considerable and growing influence to champion judicial reform, judicial independence and judicial accountability. In her pursuit of an extensive agenda to strengthen the judicial branch as well as public trust therein, O’Connor has gained the admiration and deep respect of her colleagues and the well-deserved recognition of the OSBA.

The OSBA Women in the Profession Section created the Nettie Cronise Lutes Award to recognize women lawyers who demonstrate a high level of professionalism and open doors for other women and girls. The award commemorates the first woman to practice law in Ohio.

Heather Sowald is a founding member of Sowald, Sowald, Anderson & Hawley, a domestic relations firm located in Columbus. Her practice includes family law, child support, custody matters and divorce. Sowald is a former president of the Ohio State Bar Association and former chair of the Columbus Bar Association’s Family Law Committee. She also served as past president of the Columbus Bar Association and the Franklin County Trial Lawyers’ Association. Sowald also is the co-founder and member of the Collaborative Family Law Council of Central Ohio, a nonprofit organization consisting of lawyers, financial professionals, mental health professionals and others. The goal of the organization is to provide information to clients as an available alternative when ending a marriage, offering trained professionals to assist in the process and promote training for collaborative professionals. She has taught family law at The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law and is a frequent speaker at legal seminars where she presents on domestic relations law, professionalism and ethics. She received her undergraduate degree from Case Western Reserve University and her law degree from Capital University Law School.

The OSBA Board of Governors established the Weir Award in 1998 to honor the memory of Eugene R. Weir, a former member of the board. Weir championed improvements in lawyer regulation and strongly advocated for professionalism and legal ethics. Each year this award is given to one lawyer who has worked to promote and uphold legal professionalism and ethics.

John “Jack” P. Sahl is a professor of law and director of The Joseph G. Miller and William C. Becker Center for Professional Responsibility at The University of Akron School of Law. He is a former research fellow of the Constitutional Law Center where his research interests included professional ethics, legal malpractice, lawyer discipline, judicial ethics and administration, cinema and the legal profession, and sports and entertainment law.  He served as senior counsel to the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on the Constitution, Federalism and Property Rights and is chair of the Publications Board of Editors for the ABA Center for Professional Responsibility. He currently serves on the center’s Michael Franck Professional Responsibility Award Selection Committee. Sahl was a member of the American Bar Association’s (ABA) Standing Committee on Professional Discipline and was appointed to the ABA Commission on Ethics 20/20 Inbound Foreign Lawyer Working Group and its Uniformity, Choice of Law and Conflicts of Interest Working Group. He also served as chair of the American Association of Law Schools Professional Responsibility Section. By appointment of the Ohio Supreme Court, he served a three-year term on the Commission for the Unauthorized Practice of Law and he is a former member of the OSBA’s Future of the Legal Profession Advisory Committee. 

A prolific writer, Sahl has coauthored three books and several manuals on ethics and professionalism. Each year, he is instrumental in hosting the Miller Becker Institute that serves to educate bar counsel and grievance committee members throughout the state. He is a long-time and active member of the OSBA Ethics Committee and has organized and conducted a popular annual seminar for the committee, which he has presented at past OSBA Forums for more than a dozen years.

The Ohio Legal Assistance Foundation established the Presidential Award for Pro Bono Service in 1996 to recognize individuals, law firms or organizations that have made outstanding efforts in improving access to justice in Ohio.

Robert Curry is a partner in Thompson Hine’s real estate practice group and former partner-in-charge of the Dayton office. He balances his professional responsibilities with a commitment to pro bono service. Curry serves as board president for Advocates for Basic Legal Equality (ABLE) and Legal Aid of Western Ohio (LAWO), where he oversees legal services provided by both organizations. In 2017, he was instrumental in raising more than $1.3 million for ABLE/LAWO’s campaign to expand civil legal assistance to low-income Ohioans who cannot afford an attorney. Curry generously gives his own time to serve as a pro bono attorney and encourages his fellow attorneys to do the same. He also champions Thompson Hine’s landlord/tenant clinics, a valuable resource in helping Ohioans understand their rights and prepare for eviction hearings, so that they may stay stably housed. In 2014, ABLE/LAWO honored Bob’s dedication with the Distinguished Service Award for his ongoing commitment to legal aid’s work.

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