A look at three families with multiple generations of UC Law connections
As the UC College of Law moves into its new building this year, leaving behind a spot it has occupied on campus since 1925, it will mark a new chapter for one of the nation’s oldest law schools.
History can be tracked that way. It can also be tracked through the human stories that meaningfully illuminate the history of any institution of higher learning.
Legacies have unique utility in telling the stories that truly define a place like the College of Law. Even as a small school in terms of enrollment, there are dozens of legacy stories intertwined with the history of the College, as you might expect from the fourth-oldest continuously operated law school in the nation. In this feature, we explore the long-standing ties to UC Law for three families who have made significant impacts in the surrounding southern Ohio legal community – the Cutright/Sarra family, the Hill/Craig family and the Rittgers family.
The Cutright/Sarra family
For alumni reading this piece, you are most likely familiar with the name Martha Cutright Sarra, a member of the Class of ’88 and now Vice President and Chief Ethics and Compliance Officer for Kroger, and her son, John Sarra, a 2016 graduate who is now Real Estate Council for Philips Edison & Company.
It’s a legacy name, and one that is guaranteed to be continued well into the College’s future: the trial courtroom in the new College of Law building will be named for Judge David Alan Cutright, a 1959 graduate of the College of Law.
Judge Cutright himself was a second-generation UC Law legacy, in a family history that now spans four generations.
“My dad always had a fondness for UC, because it was the place where he earned his undergraduate degree and then his law degree,” remembers Martha Cutright Sarra. “He always spoke favorably of UC’s law school, and to me, it became kind of a neat thing to think about going to the same school that he did.”
To trace the family’s full history with the law, you have to go back three generations beyond Martha. That’s when her great-grandfather, Judge Elijah J. Cutright, Sr., started the family’s legal tradition. He was a lawyer who truly came from a different time – he earned a college degree from Lebanon University, but was a self-taught lawyer who passed the Ohio Bar in 1893. He would eventually ascend to a post as a Probate Judge serving Ross County in south-central Ohio, working from the courthouse in Chillicothe, the county seat.
The first member of the family to graduate from UC Law was Martha’s grandfather, James F. Cutright, a 1924 graduate. His was the last class to finish before the dedication of Taft Hall in 1925, the first permanent home for the College on UC’s west campus on the corner of Clifton and Calhoun.
James F. Cutright actually had two sons who graduated from UC Law. The first was Martha’s uncle, James M. Cutright, a 1950 graduate who went on to a long career as an attorney in Chillicothe, and then her father, Judge David Alan Cutright, followed. He also returned to the family’s roots in Ross County following his graduation in 1959 for a long public sector legal career, including two terms as Chillicothe’s city solicitor, two terms as Ross County prosecutor and then, beginning in 1978, an 18-year run as a judge with the Chillicothe Municipal Court.
Martha became the third generation of the family legacy when she chose to attend UC Law after completing her undergraduate degree at Ohio State. Her son John extended the family tradition, completing his undergraduate education at Ohio State before enrolling at UC Law.
The law has always been a high calling with the family. John, who at one point wasn’t necessarily sure the law was going to be his calling, remembers having talks with his grandfather as he was growing up. “Getting to know him and seeing him day to day, I always respected what he did and how he did it, making the right choice whether it was the easy one or not,” John says. “I recall in high school writing several papers about my grandpa. He was someone whose example you wanted to live up to.”
John becoming the fourth generation for the family at UC Law also reinvigorated Martha’s connection to the school. “We were discussing whether law school was the right path for him, and then we looked at different schools. There was always that factor of UC and how I had gone there and how I felt about the school. It did help me sort of reconnect and I ended up on the Dean’s Advisory Board at that time, and that’s something I’ve continued through to this day.”
UC Law has been a special experience in their family’s story, and that helped make it a logical decision to support the school and its future students by making a gift in Judge Cutright’s name for the new trial courtroom.
“My dad said to me when I was in college that there was nothing more important than a good education,” Martha recalls, so he told her he was willing to pay for her to finish hers, whether she chose law school or medical school.
“That was a lesson he showed us, the opportunity to pursue your education without worrying about those immediate concerns of how you were going to pay it back. He told me, ‘My gift to you is an education.’ When we thought about a good way of recognizing that, I felt we could honor his legacy by doing something similar. Here was something that we could do for today’s students who may not have that same kind of support. It’s money that can help them have a better education. This was an idea at the top of our list when thinking about our family and our long connection to the law school.”
The Hill/Craig family
The Hill/Craig legacy is shorter, covering just two generations, but their experiences run deep into the UC College of Law community. It began when Constance Hill made the decision to attend law school at UC, graduating in the Class of 1979. It became a family tradition when her son Brandon Craig followed her path, graduating with the Class of 2009.
Constance has made her career in Cincinnati and is now general counsel at d.e. Foxx & Associates. Brandon, too, has stayed in Cincinnati and has a full plate of obligations, serving as UC’s interim executive director of the Office of Equal Opportunity and Access and the president of the UC Law Alumni Association. He was also elected to the Cincinnati Public Schools Board of Education last November.
Both grew up as Cincinnatians, but it was never a sure thing that they would end up at UC Law.
Constance was from Evanston and attended St. Ursula Academy before going to Howard University in Washington, D.C. She was considering law but not necessarily UC until a recruiting visit to Howard’s campus by College of Law Associate Dean Elwin Griffith, who earlier in the decade had become the first law professor of color to join the College’s faculty.
For Constance, attending UC Law meant making the choice of coming back from Howard, perhaps the most prominent of the nation’s historically black colleges and universities, to a much different dynamic in her hometown.
“It was an interesting transition from Howard,” she recalls. “But Dean Griffith was African American and another professor, Professor (Stephen) Leacock, was also African American, so we did have some support on the faculty level. I think there were maybe 10 African Americans in my class and maybe about half were female.
“There was camaraderie between the African American students, but we also interacted with the student body as a whole,” she recalls. “Unlike when I went to St. Ursula, where there were students who had never interacted with African Americans before, in law school most students had, and so it was more a matter of there were just certain people that you really developed a friendship with in law school.”
When it came time for Brandon to choose a college, he initially set off from Walnut Hills High School for Hampton University. But he soon transferred back to UC and earned his bachelor’s degree in economics. Once he had decided to attend law school and apply to UC, he remembers feeling particularly impacted by outreach from Professor Rafael Gely.
“He sent out something by email that talked about labor and employment law and the classes they offered, and it really intrigued me and it really made me feel very connected,” Brandon says. Along with those other factors, UC Law became his first choice. “Being able to stay at home and be close to my family and knowing that my mom had been through the process and how that could give me a step-up in understanding and I could lean on her made UC a really easy decision to make for me,” he recalls.
Candace says she thought it was the right choice.
“I think UC is a good school,” she says. “I had the impression that Brandon intended to stay in this area, and so it's always good if you go to school in an area where you plan to practice because you get to make those connections. I was happy with his choice.”
Both Candace and Brandon say the strength of having those connections has been borne out by their experiences. That’s helped build their enthusiasm for being involved. Candace was a key organizer for the College’s first African American graduate reunion in 1996, while Brandon served in the same role for the most recent reunion, held virtually in 2020.
In his current role of leading the College’s Alumni Association, he takes great pride in the growth shown by the College even since his time there as a student 15 years ago. Over time he’s come to believe UC Law’s relative smallness as a school makes it a great choice since it ensures access to the College’s faculty.
“One of the things I think is really amazing and has been true of UC for years is that we have some of the greatest professors,” he says. “Many times they proved to be great teachers because they were the ones who had written the treatises they were teaching or they had written pivotal cases. So, it's amazing to me that the amount of connectivity to great scholarly work that students have these days.”
The Rittgers Family
The Rittgers family is another UC Law legacy that has developed into significant connections with the legal community in the surrounding area. Charles H. Rittgers graduated UC Law in 1978 and married Ellen Biscotti (now Rittgers) from the Class of ’79. Their son, Charles M. Rittgers, followed in their footsteps when he graduated from UC Law in the Class of 2010.
Today they are all in practice together at Rittgers & Rittgers, a family firm that started in Lebanon, Ohio, and now has 23 lawyers in seven offices across Southwest Ohio and Northern Kentucky.
The Rittgers name has been attached to a number of high-profile cases through the years as defense counsel, including defense work and successful appeal of the original conviction of Ryan Widmer, accused of killing his wife who drowned in the bathtub, and the acquittal of Skylar Richardson, a teenager who had falsely confessed in the death of her newborn child. Father and son do the bulk of their work in criminal and civil cases, including personal injury cases, while Ellen’s practice focuses on family law.
Ellen remembers her and her husband’s relationship taking shape in a way that resembles how a lot of marriages that started at the UC College of Law began. There was time spent together in the old Student Lounge, pot-luck dinners among student groups and flag football games. (Ellen was on the women’s team that won the intramural league championship at UC.)
“There was a lot of camaraderie and we're still really close to lots and lots of people in each of our classes,” says Ellen. “It was a great education. So many of our classmates that we continue to see, they're hugely successful lawyers and judges, which says a lot. I have nothing but good things to say about UC Law.”
The Rittgers were married in 1979, but didn’t found their firm until more than a decade after. Charles H. started as a prosecutor for Warren County and then went to work at a firm in Lebanon. Ellen was working at a different firm, starting her practice in family law.
Despite some hesitancy about the idea of a family firm, Rittgers & Rittgers has prospered. Charles H. has handled numerous high-profile cases throughout his career. Both Ellen and Charles H. have been elected to terms as president of the Warren County Bar Association. Charles H. is also a past president of the Ohio Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. One aspect that makes him particularly proud of his alma mater is that it is home to the Ohio Innocence Project.
“I’m very proud of the fact that the Innocence Project has a home at UC Law,” says Charles H. “It’s primarily based in the area of law that my career has been based upon, and the good they do on behalf of people who were wrongfully convicted.”
It was a great education. So many of our classmates that we continue to see, they're hugely successful lawyers and judges, which says a lot. I have nothing but good things to say about UC Law.
Ellen Rittgers Class of 1979
As their son, Charles M. Rittgers couldn’t help but grow up around the law. There was also some football involved in his life, as he played quarterback for Lebanon High School and then collegiately for Dartmouth. He values the real-world aspects his UC Law education provided, which, through a clinic experience, had him in the courtroom trying his first case in his third year. “That was through the Indigent Defense Clinic with the Ohio Justice & Policy Center, and I think that was my best experience of my time in law school. UC Law provided the most practical educational experience of my life and introduced me to classmates who are now my peers and great friends.”
Father and son sometimes now end up working on cases together for what has become one of the most well-known trial firms in southern Ohio.
“Our philosophy is that we treat every client who comes to us with their issue, we know that’s the most important issue in their life at that time, and we try to treat them accordingly,” Charles H. says. “I think that’s one reason our firm has been successful over the years. Our clients do know that we care and that we’ll do everything possible to try and help them.”