Login | August 14, 2022

Judge Giulitto starts DR court clinic at Akron Law

Four University of Akron School of Law students are taking part in a new domestic relations court clinic started by Portage County Domestic Relations Judge Paula Giulitto. From left are: Gwendolyn Starda, legal intern; Elliousa Baier, legal intern; Tony Stankiewicz, court bailiff; William Roberts, legal intern and Lauren Knight, legal intern. (Photo courtesy of The University of Akron).

Legal News Reporter

Published: March 30, 2016

When Portage County Domestic Relations Court Judge Paula Giulitto was still a student at The University of Akron School of Law, she had the opportunity to find out what being a lawyer is all about through a criminal law clinic.

Now, she wants to give back to other students while helping low-income Portage County residents.

At Akron Law, the criminal law clinic enabled Giulitto and other students to get an internship license from the Supreme Court of Ohio and practice criminal law under a licensed practicing attorney.

“I argued a case at the 9th District Court of Appeals as a student,” the judge recalled.

Giulitto’s positive experience inspired her to start a domestic relations court clinic at her alma mater.

The judge first approached law school Dean Matthew J. Wilson, who loved the idea. Wilson then referred Giulitto to Tracy Thomas, the school’s associate dean for institutional excellence and a family law professor.

Tracy Thomas then found the perfect mentor for the initial class of four third-year Akron Law students – Ravenna attorney Timothy Thomas of McClelland & Thomas.

All four students have obtained intern certificates from the Ohio Supreme Court.

“Tim was very excited about taking on this project. He is uniquely positioned to mentor these students,” Giulitto said. “A significant portion of his practice is dedicated to domestic relations.”

The Domestic Relations I clinic officially launched Jan. 19, with the first full-fledged hearing -- an uncontested divorce - set for April 1.

“The primary benefit this clinic will yield is to the litigants, who will have free representation,” the judge said. “It also gives students a practical education to apply their schooling in real-life situations, plus get college credit. These students had to pay to take a class to represent people for free, but it’s a good way to start their legal experience.”

Timothy Thomas, who has practiced law for 38 years, said he was surprised – and pleased - to be chosen to lead the new clinic as an adjunct professor.

“I have never taught in any capacity,” he said. “There is no real course curriculum. It’s been a good experience. The students have been very open.”

As a law student in Toledo, Timothy Thomas took part in a prosecutor’s clinic and found it an indispensable experience.

“It allows you to put what you learned into a textbook into practice. My goal this semester is to have interns handle the cases from start to finish,” he said. “They’re drafting their own pleadings, signing pleadings and interviewing. They will conduct hearings with me in court.”

The course also will allow students to provide legal services for civil protection and child support contempt and dissolution.

The class meets every Friday, and more often as necessary.

Tracy Thomas said the plan is to offer the course every semester.

“I worked with the dean to get a little funding, and we hope to get more,” she said. “We have a huge interest. We have a waiting list for students. Family law is quite complicated, and prevalent. It has this whole layer of constitutionalism now. There are so many different types of families now, with same-sex marriages, surrogacy and other issues. There is a reason there are still lawyers. You can’t do everything on the Internet.”

Tracy Thomas added that she has high hopes for the new clinic.

“You are getting direct mentoring,” she said. “For students, this is the art of lawyering. There is a push for more experimental learning. It’s not like book learning isn’t important, but this is high stakes. It’s the real thing. It’s invaluable to their future ability to be a lawyer.”

Community Legal Aid, a non-profit agency that provides free legal services to low-income residents in eight central Northeast Ohio communities, screens potential clinic candidates for the law school.

Sara Strattan, executive director of Community Legal Aid, said the non-profit was thrilled to help out with the effort.

“We get thousands of applications for divorce each year. We can’t handle all the responses,” said Strattan. “This is a wonderful way to train law students in family law. I commend the judge for getting it all started. We hope to send 20 to 25 cases to them over the course of a year.

“I think the popularity of the clinic will continue to grow, and we hope the students will continue to do pro bono work in the future.”

Aurora resident Will Roberts, one of Timothy Thomas’ students at the clinic, said he has already finished work on the divorce cases of two clients and is on his third.

“The clinic is a chance to do it instead of just sit around and talk about it,” Roberts said. “We’ve interviewed clients and reduced it to a complaint and affidavits. We’re actually going to be able to go to court and resolve the matter before Judge Giulitto.”