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Alumna works to protect Ohioans as senior assistant attorney general

November 9, 2015 | Alumni

On Angela Sullivan ’02’s first day of law school orientation, a faculty member imparted words of wisdom that she still honors today. “They said, ‘Look around you. Some of these people will be judges who you appear before. Some of them will be opposing counsel. Some of them, you will work with, or for. And your reputation starts today.’”

Sullivan, a senior assistant attorney general in the Ohio Attorney General’s office, said that nurturing a professional reputation in a community like Columbus  – “a large city with a small, tight bar” – means being polite to everyone – especially administrative assistants, court reporters, and paralegals – all of the time.

“I don’t think many young attorneys fully understand that their reputation is bigger than themselves, and that if you wreck your reputation with anyone, it’s very difficult to get back,” she explained.

Sullivan works in the executive agencies section of the attorney general’s office, where she represents about a dozen agencies at any given time, and they range in size from large, cabinet-level agencies (like the Department of Commerce – Division of the State Fire Marshal and the Ohio Department of Health) to smaller boards and commissions (like the Ohio Arts Council).

“The most challenging thing about my work is figuring out what each client needs,” she said. Larger agencies, for instance, often have their own in-house counsel, who she works closely with on litigation matters, while smaller agencies typically do not have a staff attorney. For them, she often serves as a de facto in-house counsel, explaining and interpreting the law in such a way that they understand what they need to do.

Sullivan didn’t always plan on becoming an attorney. In fact, growing up, she had her heart set on a career in archeology. After earning an undergraduate degree in history and sociology from the University of Dayton in 1998, she applied and was accepted into a graduate program in anthropology at Ohio State. Ultimately, however, she decided her personality would be better suited to a courtroom and law practice, so she switched gears and applied to only one law school – her top choice, Moritz College of Law – and the rest, as they say, is history.

The path to her current position, however, has not always been a smooth, or direct, one. The year that she graduated, in 2002, was marked by a small economic recession. “There were hiring freezes on a bunch of different jobs so I bounced around for a year,” Sullivan said. She clerked for the Ohio Civil Rights Commission part-time and picked up some additional work as a clerk for several private attorneys in Circleville before landing a job as a staff attorney for the Honorable John A. Connor in the Franklin County Common Pleas Court in Columbus.

Working with Judge Connor for three and a half years, was “just an amazing experience,” she said. “I learned so much about civil procedure. I don’t think I really understood what civil procedure was until I had to live it every day.”

She also gained a unique perspective on what judges look for from lawyers in their courtrooms, and said that has helped get to the point faster, and more succinctly, in her arguments.

When Sullivan came to the attorney general’s office in 2007, she was hired to work in the Tobacco Enforcement Unit (which has since become a unit within the executive agencies section).

“I was hired to represent the Ohio Department of Health and the smoking ban litigation, as it was first going into effect, and that took a lot longer and a lot more cases than you would ever have dreamed,” she explained. “I learned about every area of constitutional law in the process, and my first trial was appealed all the way to the Ohio Supreme Court.”

Now, she devotes time enforcing the 1988 Master Settlement Agreement between the settling states and the participating tobacco manufacturers, a massive, complicated settlement. One particularly interesting case that she worked on involved restrictions on marketing by tobacco companies, who agreed in the master settlement agreement not to use cartoons in their advertisements, or to market  to children. In late-2007, R.J. Reynolds ran a multi-page advertisement in Rolling Stone magazine for Camel cigarettes, and the ad was wrapped around cartoon illustrations. Though a handful of states sued the company, Ohio was the first to go to trial.

“We won against R.J. Reynolds in trial court, but then lost on appeal,” she said, “but it was still a great experience, and they changed their marketing practices because of it and are careful to ensure that cigarette ads are not placed near cartoons in magazines. Hopefully there won’t be this issue in the future.” ”

The most rewarding part of Sullivan’s job, she said, is “that I get to wear the white hat and protect the people of Ohio from entities that are violating the law: Tobacco companies that are trying to ride the line of what is acceptable by trying to advertise to children. Or, by enforcing the Fire Code on behalf of the State Fire Marshal. It’s nice that most of the time I feel like I am doing the best thing for the taxpayers and people of Ohio.”

And, although she did not become an archaeologist, Sullivan continues to enjoy traveling and learning about other cultures and places.