To many of his clients, Ryan Muennich ’08 serves as the only lifeline in their fight to continue pursuing their American dream, and it is not something the 30-year-old immigration attorney takes lightly. Once he gets a call from a potential client seeking immigration assistance, Muennich immediately jumps into research mode. All facts and cases are reviewed ahead of time.
“Some attorneys may not want to do that type of research until they’re actually retained. But I’ve found that doing it beforehand makes me more knowledgeable about the case, and I can really explain things to the potential client in a clearer way,” Muennich said. “A really high percentage of people that I have consultations with end up hiring me, in part, because I’m prepared to discuss their issue in detail.”
As a lawyer practicing in the melting pot that is New York City, this graduate of The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law represents people from across the globe. His clients include people from Senegal, Guyana, India, China, Hungary, Russia, and Honduras.
“That’s why I love New York so much, that you really have all the different nationalities represented here,” he explained.
During a summer clerkship as a PILF fellow at Community Refugee Immigration Services, a nonprofit, Columbus-based refugee center, Muennich was exposed to the issues faced by immigrants in the Central Ohio area. Add that to his proficiency in speaking Mandarin Chinese, thanks to a foreign language area studies fellowship awarded to Muennich through Ohio State, he was convinced that immigration law was right for him.
He co-founded Muennich and Bussard LLP with his friend Chris Bussard in 2010. While Muennich specializes in all areas on immigration law, Bussard focuses on bankruptcy, trusts, estates, and wills. Muennich also possesses trial experience in the New York immigration courts as well as the New York Field Office for U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
Muennich had worked for a boutique law firm based in Queens prior to starting his own practice. A combination of wanting to be his own boss and having no say in the types of cases picked up by his former firm factored into his decision to break out on his own with Bussard. “I thought it would be better if I would be able to control which clients I have,” Muennich said.
Though the thought of running a law firm seemed daunting to Muennich at first, the key to successfully running a law firm, he found, is to “educate yourself to comply with the ethics rules so you know what you’re doing.”
Muennich added that certain courses he took while at Moritz, such as Immigration Law and Legislation, come in handy in court. “The exposure to statutory interpretation by former Professor Donald Tobin early on really has informed everything I do now in immigration law. I always go to the statute first, and I always think in terms of statutory construction right from the beginning,” he said.
Muennich recently argued a precedential decision issued by the Third Circuit Court of Appeals (Hanif v. Holder, 694 F.3d 479) dealing with criminal conviction waivers for green card holders based on statutory construction. “It’s definitely my proudest achievement so far, because this case has the potential to help hundreds of future immigrants, not just my own client.”
With his relatively new law firm, most of Muennich’s cases deal with deportation defense. Some prove extremely difficult, as was the case with 29-year-old Jose Luis Martinez, who, after living in the U.S. for 24 years, was deported to Honduras. Martinez was convicted of DUI, simple marijuana possession, and misdemeanor drug possessions.
“His drug possession convictions were vacated by the criminal courts because they were not constitutionally sound. (But) by the time that happened, his stay of removal had already been denied, and we had to try to reopen the case before they put him on a plane. The Board of Immigration Appeals declined to reopen the case, relying on a terrible decision from August that says if they deport someone they can turn around and deny the motion for lack of jurisdiction. It definitely gives the government the wrong incentive.” Muennich said.
When he is not in court, Muennich spends his time catching up on immigration news and reading new cases. He gets updates from Bender’s Immigration Bulletin, the American Immigration Lawyers Association, his local chapter of AILA, and the American Immigration Council.
Kelley Griesmer ’93 is drenched in lime green, from her shirt to her wristwatch to her messenger bag. A stack of posters are tucked under one elbow, as she cradles a smartphone and large caffeinated tea in her hand.
Two radios are clipped to her skirt, and another snakes over her left shoulder. Incredibly, she finds a free hand to tug at the latter.“I understand water bottles are on their way here with one of the trucks, but do we have any cups in the meantime?” she asks. “There’s been a small corps of volunteers here since 8 a.m., and they’re getting kind of thirsty.”
Before she has an answer, Griesmer starts walking across the fields at Chemical Abstracts Service toward a small check-in tent for volunteers of the wildly popular grassroots bicycle tour and fundraiser, Pelotonia.
“We’re working on it!” she says, her perpetual smile growing broader, as a measure of reassurance.
Still holding her tea and posters, Griesmer turns and walks briskly toward another field, where dozens of volunteers are lugging tables and folding chairs to a large tent. In seven hours, more than 10,000 people will converge upon here for dinner.
Griesmer addresses three or four other questions from staff, vendors and sponsors as she walks. Her radio squawks as she nears the dining tent. Someone found cups.
“Guys! Hey, there’s water over there and cups now, too!” she calls out. “Take a break and get some water, please. You are doing great! Thank you!”
Griesmer’s day at work has changed considerably in the last four years.
Before Griesmer became chief operating officer of Pelotonia, she was a partner at Jones Day, representing clients in complex commercial litigation. She handled Chapter 11 adversary proceedings, took on class action claims, defended breach of contract actions, and successfully argued before the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, securing a multimillion-dollar judgment on behalf of one client.
“When I had the opportunity to work at Jones Day, I knew it would be an amazing experience to be involved in the large litigation they do and learn from the extraordinary lawyers there,” she said. “I thrived a little bit more than I thought I would.”
The work was complicated and intellectually challenging. Among her colleagues were many friends dating back to their days as students at The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law. When six of them made partner at the same time, Griesmer said, “It was an all in the family thing.”
Yet, she had a nagging feeling that, in the long run, she would not be completely fulfilled by what she was doing. Griesmer began to watch closer the people working at the nonprofit organizations where she was a board member.
Around that time, Tom Lennox was diagnosed with colon cancer. While his treatment was successful, it was an awakening for his family, including his sister-in-law Elizabeth “Liza” Kessler ’93, and friends like Griesmer.
“He’s just a very alive person, and it was a pretty big hit to watch him go through that,” Griesmer said. “It solidified my thinking that I needed to do something else.”
After Lennox and Mike Caligiuri, director of The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center, rode bicycles 163 miles across Cape Cod in support of the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, they were determined to create a similar event in Columbus with one goal: to end cancer.
Lennox resigned from his vice president of corporate communications post at Abercrombie & Fitch to devote his energies entirely to founding Pelotonia. He needed someone to head up operations and turned to Griesmer.
“It was hard and easy for me to leave Jones Day,” she recalled. “I had a lot of great friends there, and I had a successful practice there. But I knew I was going to get more out of this, and that’s been 150 percent true.”
Griesmer’s legal experience was critical for Pelotonia as it took shape. Lennox and Jessica Kinman, director of publicity and communications, were tasked with big-picture, creative work. Griesmer methodically attacked the nitty-gritty details in contracts with vendors and venues, forging relationships with multiple public safety organizations, solidifying trademarks, making arrangements with insurance providers, and more.
“A law degree is a valuable thing to have. I know how to take large, complex situations and chip away strategically to get to the place where we want to be,” she said. “We look at Pelotonia as big business, and we’re in the business of saving lives.”
Pelotonia is big, especially when considering the nonprofit organization is only in its fifth year of existence.
In 2013, it attracted almost 7,000 riders, who thus far have raised more than $13 million for cancer research at the The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center – Arthur G. James Cancer Hospital and Richard J. Solove Research Institute. Participants raised $13.1 million in 2011.
Because corporate partners cover the expenses – such as Chemical Abstracts Service allowing free use of its 50-plus acres for Pelotonia activities gratis – every penny raised by riders goes directly to cancer research. They have raised more than $61 million since the first Pelotonia in 2009.
But those figures aren’t being discussed on a cloudless Friday afternoon, just hours before riders arrive to receive their jerseys, explore the exposition tents, and listen to live music designed to amplify the excitement prior to a two-day, weekend ride.
Griesmer is fine-tuning details with insurance providers to caterers. She occasionally bumps into other lawyers she has recruited to help for the weekend, such as April Bott ’96 and Kim Rhoads ’93. Attorneys, Griesmer said, are problem-solvers and good organizers. They do not require a lot of hand-holding, which is paramount today, as Griesmer is pulled in different directions.
Looking at her watch, Griesmer surveys the acres of activity around her. Directional flags are going up, and the mountain of folding chairs and tables disappeared long ago thanks to those volunteers. “Good,” she says with a deep breath. “If it’s this quiet, we’re good.”
For all that Pelotonia has accomplished in such a short time, Griesmer is reticent to say the organization is successful.
“We’re going up against a big thing,” she said. “Until you don’t have to hear stories about the next person going in for treatment, you don’t feel that you’ve succeeded. It’s not that we’re pessimistic. It will take a lot of dollars to cure this disease, and it’s going to be cured.”
For this reason, Griesmer flicks her aviator sunglasses down on the bridge of her nose and sets off on another 200-yard walk to make sure a delivery of bicycles from the New York City offices of The Limited Brands, Inc. is going smoothly.
For this reason, Griesmer has worked until 11 p.m. every night for the last three weeks, seeing little of the two people who have supported her most, husband Gregory Gorospe ’93 and their 9-year-old son, Keiran.
For this reason, she left her well-appointed office at Jones Day.
“It comes down to being brave,” she said of making the leap from a traditional practice to the nonprofit sector. “By most people’s measurements, I was going to be successful, but I knew I wasn’t ultimately going to be happy. I believe that you have to know yourself well enough to be honest with yourself, and I’ve never regretted it.”