PDT Staff Writer
There is a thread that runs through the Franklin T. Gerlach family. That thread is a passion for the law and advocacy of those who sometimes fall through the cracks. That passion was evident recently when Franklin Gerlach and his daughter, Valarie K. Gerlach, sat side by side at the defense table in the Scioto County Common Pleas Courtroom of Judge William T. Marshall.
“It was wonderful,” Valarie Gerlach said. “It was energizing. He was energized. Trials energize him. He had all of this adrenaline. But it’s like watching a master at work. The truth is, he makes it look so easy and so effortless. And when you get ready to try to do it yourself, you freeze. He was born to do trial work. Since I was little, my brother and I used to go watch his trials.”
Valarie Gerlach has been able to learn from both her parents. After all, she was able to attend law school at the same time and in the same school, as her mother. Cynthia K. Gerlach graduated from the University of Cincinnati’s College of Nursing and Health, and had worked as an operating room scrub nurse and as a psychiatric nurse, when she went to work in her husband’s law firm.
“When Frank originally opened his law office, it was in our home,” Cynthia Gerlach said. “He did all of his typing, and I answered the telephone, and he would start to say - ‘I’m gonna make you a lawyer some day.’”
What spurned her on toward Law School was attending depositions, and somehow, despite her intelligence, made to feel inadequate by the people she had to work with in the court.
“The court reporter would go around the table and say, ‘who are you? and who are you? and who are you?’ and Frank would always say, ‘this is my wife, and she’s a registered nurse,’ and they would say - ‘oh, you’re nothing.’”
When her youngest child went off to college, Cynthia decided it was time to go to law school, and entered that college at Capital University, where she graduated in 1985.
“I think it was fantastic,” Cynthia said. “By the time she was starting law school, I was now a senior in law school, and so I only had to go maybe three days a week, and when I would get up to see her, and park my car and get ready to go to class, she’d be waiting for me in the parking lot crying. It was very, very stressful for her to go to law school. She was very perfectionistic, and she wanted to be the best of the best of the best.”
As it turns out, she was the best of the best of the best, finishing tops in her class of 193 graduates.
“I don’t remember the crying,” Valarie said. “I’m not saying it wasn’t true, but my first experience was, one of the guys in my class, a very good looking guy, comes up and tells me - ‘wow, your mother’s a fox,’ but that was nice that the guys in my class thought she was so attractive.”
Valarie says her mother really did make her law school years “a piece of cake.”
“She gave me all the tips and tricks - this professor looks for this kind of thing on a test, and this professor cares about this, so it was a breeze for me because I didn’t have to struggle for that,” Valarie said. “I had her pointing the way or giving me the tips and tricks. I attribute all of my success to her.”
While Franklin Gerlach is best known for handling the Cold War cases, in which his job is to get money and medical benefits for those who worked in the nuclear industry and related fields. But the Gerlach law firm handles a wide variety of cases.
“Basically, the ladies do a lot of Social Security work. I used to do Social Security work, but because I’m doing this, I don’t have time to do it,” Franklin said. “They have picked it up and refined it and refined it, and so they do a real super job in representing their clients to see if they qualify for Social Security. Cynthia had done bankruptcy for some period of time, and that was back when it was real big. She was known as the bankruptcy queen, because she had more cases than anybody else. And she had a nice rapport with the people, and getting the information they needed to make things go smooth. Valarie is a researcher, and recently we had the pleasure of working on a case together, and that was exciting because I am sort of the corporate person, and she knows the research and motions. She took care of that part.”
When Franklin Gerlach was a teenager, a motorcycle cop said he didn’t stop at a stop sign. But Franklin said he did stop. He ended up going into Municipal Court, where the judge found out he was 17, and began the process of telling those involved in the case that he shouldn’t even be in the courtroom.
“I thought that was sort of fun, so I decided, ‘I think law would be a good thing to try,’” Franklin said. “No one in my family had ever gone to college, so I decided I would like it.”
The first year of law school wasn’t much to his liking, so he decided to go ahead and get a Master’s Degree in public administration. He stuck it out and graduated from the University of Cincinnati Law School. In 2011, the Scioto County Bar Association presented him with a certificate honoring his 50 years in the practice of law. But as time goes on, one thing has not changed for him. It is still sparring in the halls of justice that energizes him.
“I like the people, and being in the courtroom,” Franklin said. “It’s like selling a product to a jury, whether it’s a civil case or a criminal case. I enjoy doing that.”
Frank Lewis may be reached at 740-353-3101, ext. 252, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.For breaking news, follow Frank on Twitter @FrankLewisPDT.