Ohio attorney Tania Nemer serves as the community outreach prosecutor for The Summit County Prosecutor’s Office. Formerly a magistrate at the Akron Municipal Court presiding over small claims, traffic, civil and criminal matters, Nemer has spent the greater part of her career primarily practicing immigration and criminal law. In her current role, she litigates criminal cases and educates the community through speaking engagements and outreach advocacy. Recently, Attorney at Law Magazine had the opportunity to talk to her about her work, her family, and her passions.
AALM: What drew you to a career in the law and specifically your interest in immigration law?
TN: I am a child of Lebanese-American immigrants. I grew up in a home full of diversity and a huge family that inevitably experienced adversity. Even as a child, I’ve always had a burning desire to help people solve their problems. To that point, I will show my age by saying, as a child, I used to religiously watch “Matlock” on television. I loved how the main character, a lawyer, was able to resolve issues he encountered. That is key to what we as lawyers do; we are problem solvers. Individuals walk into our offices when they sometimes are at their lowest or most vulnerable point, and it is our job to think outside the box to come up with solutions to address their needs while upholding the ideals of the larger community.
AALM: Do you have any mentors currently or in the past? What are some of the most important lessons they taught you?
TN: I am fortunate and blessed to have befriended so many wonderfully talented and giving individuals in my personal and professional life, and I would not be the person I am today without their guidance and wisdom.
My greatest personal mentor is my father. He did not graduate high school, but he was by my side through contracts and property in law school. He immigrated to the United States when he was 16 years old and worked his way to owning businesses and rental properties. He used to have me take care of his paperwork when I was a kid, and he taught me the importance of negotiation and listening carefully. (I love you, Dad!)
Judge William McGinty is my greatest professional mentor in the practice of law. He taught me how to really use the law as a means and method of helping others and addressing problems. He also taught me to make sure I communicate my appreciation for others by remembering to write thank you cards to those I meet along the way.
AALM: Please describe risks you have taken to overcome obstacles in your career.
TN: Two risks immediately come to mind. The first was when I decided that, after seven years of private practice, I was going to transition into a nonprofit attorney role at Catholic Charities. I made this decision because the “billable hour” crushed my soul. That is, I could not look a vulnerable client in the eye and charge them anymore. This took a toll on me because I was trying to find ways to help clients without having to bill them while, at the same time, figuring out how to pay office rent and generate income for my firm to function. I wanted to help more people, though I did not want money to be a limiting factor.
This was a huge step not only for me financially, but for my family, and I worried that my decision would have a huge impact on my husband and children. It did, but for the better. While we had to adjust financially, my children and husband were able to see a more fulfilled Tania. I was able to take the connections that I had made and the savviness I developed in private practice and utilize it in the nonprofit world. Catholic Charities empowered and enabled me to serve thousands more people at little or no cost to them. This was an invaluable lesson for me; it taught me that following your heart might be a risk, but in the end, could also ultimately be a reward that solves a lot of problems.
The second risk I took was five years later when I decided to accept a job as a prosecutor, after being a defense attorney for 12 years. I left my role as defense attorney and Ohio liaison to Immigration Customs Enforcement (ICE) to work a different angle of the law. It has helped provide more perspective on how we can protect individuals and the community at large.
So, being community outreach prosecutor in the great State of Ohio is the perfect fit for me as it meshes my legal education with my natural love for my community. And I am still helping our most vulnerable populations. In this position, I am interacting with the public and learning from the people themselves what our problems are and what is needed to feel safe. I am then able to bring that knowledge and experience into the courtroom to help craft workable solutions for individuals who are charged with crimes.
My experience as both a defense attorney and prosecutor have put me in a unique position to understand both aspects and try to find answers that best address the really important concerns of this amazing community.
Bottom line: no matter who you are, and no matter where you are in life, there is always a place to make you and your community safer and stronger.
AALM: You authored a very riveting article, “Criminal and Immigration Laws: The Lines and The Lives They Cross.” Can you give us a synopsis of your overall message and talk about what prompted you to write it?
TN: I was working with many clients who were facing both criminal and immigration consequences, and I felt strongly that the article would contribute to a wider understanding of the circumstances I was seeing. At that time, the U.S. Supreme Court decided that criminal defense attorneys were required to advise their clients of potential deportation consequences. I knew this would make a huge impact on the defense bar and defense attorneys needed to be put on notice about the new requirements in this case law, see Padilla v. Kentucky, 559 U.S. (2010). As a result, I discussed the need for more legal options to be developed for immigrants to adequately address those changes.
AALM: What do you love about your job?
TN: The best part of my job is the ability to connect with my community while at the same time working within the justice system. Look, our justice system isn’t perfect, but I believe that it is worth working hard to protect and improve. I once heard, and it really resonated with me, that there are some human rights that are so deep that they are nonnegotiable. And I have spent so many years reminding our courts and myself of this and I will continue doing so. I am absolutely passionate about helping humanity. If everyone can give a little more of themselves, the world would be a better place for it.
AALM: What do you find most challenging about your profession?
TN: The hardest part of my job, from the first day I took on a case to 13 years later, is the inability to fully help every person on both sides of the bench. I love people, and I want to work with others to come to beneficial solutions. But, no matter what, when you are in the “system,” someone is going to walk away unhappy. And some walk away with a higher degree of unhappiness. No one wins when you cannot resolve disputes on your own. But I pride myself on trying to make it a success as much as possible for everyone involved.
AALM: Are there any changes in the legal community that you are excited about?
TN: A lot is going on in our community right now. Our nation is under attack by several crises, including the war for social justice and equality and the health pandemic we face from COVID-19. I take some solace that, in the time of complete chaos, we are compelled to find innovation and compassion. We will find solutions. These solutions will not be perfect, but they will be an improvement. I am excited for our legal minds to work together to create solutions to address what has happened but also address what will happen.
AALM: There is a lot of speculation about the faults in our justice system. As an insider on the front lines, tell us your perspective. Do you see areas for reform? What are the biggest issues?
TN: Our biggest issue is the inability to solve problems one at a time. Often, I find judges slapping a Band-Aid on it rather than addressing the root cause. In many cases, whether it be an ankle bracelet or a hefty court fine, we are not sufficiently fixing our system or adequately protecting our community, but rather we are setting ourselves up for more problems. We need to start in the municipal courts, the courts of first impression. We need to provide more resources by joining forces with our service providers. Reform should start with rehabilitation. I hope to see this in the form of more specialty courts, and I believe our legislature can and will make this happen. For instance, I have previously called for a specialized drug court in the area where I live. I think this would be very impactful in protecting our youth, keeping families together, and making the community safer.
AALM: What do you do in your spare time? Hobbies?
TN: In my spare time, I love reading anything I can get my hands on! I also love walking, hiking, and being outdoors with my loved ones. I am a big fan of the simple things in life: my kids remind me that seeing an animal or a flower in the wilderness is worth stopping for and discussing. I love to cook, play tennis, sit around chess and game boards with my kids, and have family movie nights. When I contemplate the life I have right now, it makes me all the more determined and passionate to protect it and the larger community.
AALM: What accomplishment are you most proud of achieving?
TN: One of the hardest, but most rewarding, accomplishments in my career was working at the United States-Mexico border representing women and children detained in Dilley, Texas. It was certainly a profound privilege to work with them. The women I met there experienced so much in their lives and turned to our great nation for refuge and guidance. I did my small part to help give them the chance to raise their children in peace, and I have been able to use my experiences as teachable moments for my children and other kids to not take our lives for granted. I have gone back to help again, and I hope to lend a hand in the future.