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Famous D.C. attorney back at UC

law alumni honor

by Mary Niehaus

Today Billy Martin is a seasoned, nationally known litigator who counts among his clients the families of Washington interns Monica Lewinsky and Chandra Levy. Long before he developed his reputation as the go-to defense attorney in D.C. and years before diving headfirst into the capital's seediest scandal cases, Martin took up the defense of a small orange car on the University of Cincinnati campus.

A student at the College of Law 27 years ago, Martin spontaneously launched into verbal sparring with a truck driver determined to tow away a classmate's car. Asking hard questions and employing the extra retort are techniques that have served Martin well, whether in defense of high-profile athletes, a Fortune 500 company or a humble Volkswagen. Alvarene Owens, JD '76, remembers her classmate's tenacity. It was her VW.

"I had some unpaid tickets, so I knew the risks of parking on campus," the Dayton area lawyer recalls. "When I saw the parking services' tow truck, I took an attitude of resignation, but Billy was energized. He began talking as fast and as persuasively to the officer as he could. I knew then that Billy was going to be a good advocate."

Although he couldn't save classmate Alvarene Owens' VW from the impound lot, law student Billy Martin did refine the art of convincing argument. The prominent Washington attorney was back at the UC College of Law in May sharing memories, serving as law school commencement speaker, enjoying the company of other UC grads and accepting a Distinguished Alumni Award, along with this year's other honoree, Barbara Watts, MEd '69, JD '78, popular associate dean.

Currently a partner in Dyer Ellis & Joseph, a leading D.C. firm, the charismatic Martin is a highly respected member of the capital's legal community. Beginning as a government prosecutor in Cincinnati, he moved on to the Department of Justice where his cases dealt with mob activity, drug dealers and union corruption. He has called his public service work "the best thing I've ever done."

In private practice, Martin has represented and advised professional and college athletes and sports teams, large corporations, the Lewinskys during the grand jury investigation of President Clinton and the parents of murdered Washington intern Chandra Levy. This past year, the City of Cincinnati hired him as its special counsel during a Justice Department investigation into charges of racial profiling and excessive force by local police.

"It was a great thing when my friend Billy came back to Cincinnati," Mayor Charlie Luken, JD '76, told the law alumni group. "I hadn't seen him in years. When I asked him why he was in town, he said, 'I'm your lawyer, now!' That scared the hell out of me," Luken joked.

"Seriously, I don't think we could have achieved what we did without Billy Martin. In his efforts for the city, he showed the same skill as has characterized his successful public life. He has done the College of Law and the University of Cincinnati proud."

"In a city like Washington," Billy Martin observed, "you get people who are always boasting about who they are and what their pedigree is. When they ask me what made me choose UC, I like to say it's because I had the foresight 30 years ago to know that this is one of the top law schools in the country. There is no institution of which I'm more proud than the UC College of Law.

"I'm very glad to have graduated from UC, to have been able to take my education, go across the country, across the world really, to litigate with the skills I acquired in this fine institution. To all who came today to say hello, thank you for keeping the name of the University of Cincinnati law school on the map."

Martin's longtime friend Richard Jackson, JD '75, an assistant general counsel for the Tennessee Board of Regents, came in from Nashville to congratulate him. He described the prominent Washington lawyer as an outgoing, "never-meets-a-stranger" kind of person.

"It's obvious that Billy enjoys what he does," said Jackson. "Whether as a prosecutor or defense attorney, he prefers something he can be passionate about. It keeps him in focus."

Other recollections about Martin's student years revealed his penchant for wearing tank tops and sweater caps, his conviction that taking time for fun is absolutely essential to balance hard work, his enjoyment of the academic atmosphere and his "go-getter" personality. Only the wardrobe has changed.

Barbara Watts

Barbara Watts, enjoying hugs from her nieces, believes her career was guided by her parents' words: "Help others and work hard." Photo/Mark Bowen

Distinguished law alumna and associate dean Barbara Watts heartily endorsed Martin's kudos for the College of Law. "I tell our students, 'You're getting a great law education,'" she declared. "And that's as true today as when I went to school."

Watts was introduced as "the heart of the law school" -- just one in a litany of accolades honoring the dean's contributions to the college, profession and community. Her efforts to ensure fairness, opportunity and gender equity, person by person, as well as her assistance to those struggling with personal issues, has repeatedly enabled law students to "do what they didn't think they could do," according to colleague Beth Myers, JD '82. "Barbara is one of the few, rare people in life who can inspire others just because of who she is."

Dean Watts estimated that during her years at UC she had touched the lives of at least half of all living alumni of the College of Law -- more than 2,000 graduates. "To the students who have crossed my path in the last 20 years, I want you to know that it's been a real privilege to work with you," she said. "Your goals have become my goals."

Watts expressed her thanks to family, friends and Dean Joseph Tomain who supported her "pet project," the development at UC of the nation's first joint-degree program between law and women's studies.


Barbara Watts and an Olympic honor