Career Commitment to Helping Others Earns Moritz Public Service Award for Gene King '83
|Son Jordan, wife Nancy, and daughter Caroline with Gene|
Driven by a desire for public interest work, the Cleveland native left a teaching career to pursue law at Ohio State. Upon his graduation in 1983, Gene took a job with the Ohio State Legal Services Association (OSLSA) after clerking for the organization before his third year. He remains there today, as motivated as ever, with the same dedication that netted him the 2005-2006 Moritz College of Law Public Service Award.
"I feel like a lucky guy," Gene said. "I like my job. I like the people I work with. I work on issues every day that change people's lives, issues that might not be addressed otherwise."
While his wife attended law school in Cleveland, Gene taught in the city's public school system. Witnessing the problems of the economically disadvantaged first-hand was an experience that remains with him to this day. "We picked books by counting heads, then going to the book room to count out books," he said. "Classes didn't even have the same books. It politicized me."
Since assuming the mantle of managing attorney at OSLSA, he has made healthcare his priority, particularly collection defense and access issues. He chairs a statewide task force that monitors Medicaid, Medicare and welfare rules, and sets the statewide health agenda for legal aid. Gene said he considers each one of the 1.6 million people on Medicaid in Ohio in a given year to be his clients. "The biggest problem for my clients is they have no discretionary income," he said. "They can only make decisions based on economic need. My clients don't have many choices; that's why I do this work."
As he approaches twenty-five years in his chosen field, he remains as driven as ever, in part because he thinks his clients are worse off now than they were twenty years ago.
"The laws, the social services support system have become more restrictive," he said. "There is less of an understanding of poverty in this country and Ohio. When laws are proposed, policy makers do not understand the impact on low-income Ohioans." He cites a $3.00 Medicaid prescription co-pay, which to most people sounds inexpensive. To someone making $150.00 per month, $3.00 constitutes 2% of their income--and the percentage quickly increases with multiple prescriptions. It is issues such as this which keep him fighting, day-in and day-out. "Because OSLSA is underfunded, we carry a heavy responsibility to identify the highest priorities for our clients; that is an appealing and challenging task," he said.
In a career marked with successes, one that Gene himself enjoys noting is a battle with the state that netted three months of Medicaid eligibility and the right to reapply for 168,000 recipients who had been wrongfully terminated from the program. It took 18 months and a statewide coalition of work, but he said the sheer numbers of those he helped made all the effort worth it.
Gene said there are 220 legal services lawyers across the state, representing 1.4 million people-about ten percent of the state's population. That leaves more than 30,000 lawyers for the remaining ninety percent. "We're good, but we're not that good," he said. "I encourage alumni to think about pro bono work or volunteering to provide legal aid. It is a valuable experience."
He is delighted and flattered with the recognition from his alma mater. "Public interest work is often low-profile work," Gene said. "It is a fault of ours that we don't go for publicity very often."
He credits much of his success to the support he receives from his family. Gene's wife, Nancy King, is the chief public defender in the juvenile unit for Franklin County. "Having a spouse that works in the same area as I do is very important to me. It reinforces the issues we're dealing with," Gene said. "My clients are her clients on different days of the week."Gene and Nancy live in Upper Arlington with their 17-year-old son Jordan and their 21-year-old daughter Caroline, who is attending Rhodes College. An avid bicycler and fly-fisherman, Gene is also an active member of the Board of the Grandview Heights Public Library. Those wishing to congratulate him can write to Gene at firstname.lastname@example.org.