This is Rob Cohen. I am with Michael Gertner in his office at 175 S. Third Street in Columbus, OH. This is an Oral History for the Columbus Jewish Historical Society. Interview took place October 29th, 2014.
Interviewer: Michael, thank you for agreeing to give your oral history.
Gertner: Thank you for inviting me to do so.
Interviewer: Why don’t we begin at the beginning? You grew up here in Columbus?
Gertner: Yes. I was born August 26, 1941. My parents were Abraham and Edythe Gertner. My mom’s maiden name was Luper. I was born on Wilson Avenue in Columbus before my parents moved to Bexley when I was approximately 8 years old. I know I started 4th grade, whatever age that would have been. Prior to that, I had gone to University School, which was up at OSU on Woodruff and High. I guess the first thing on this outline is about my early life with my parents. So my father was a lawyer before I was, obviously. He was not only a lawyer practicing law of counsel with Isidore Topper and Arbruck Alloway, which firm later, through Vic Goodman, joined up with Jimmy Feibel and became the Columbus office of Bennett Friedlander, I think. So my dad was very bright. He got a Ph.D. at Yale. I have the degree right here in Latin, but I think it is 1935. It is written in Latin and I am not sure what the date was. What he did was he had a Kohl’s Fellowship. Actually, his story is kind of interesting because his father was Morris Gertner, who I am named after – Moshe Chaim. I never knew him, except interestingly enough, my dad had three brothers. They, showing ingenuity, named their kids either Mike or Mark. So there are two Mike Gertners and there are two Mark Gertners. Lou’s son (the oldest) was named Mark. And he evidently had a different Hebrew name because my grandfather Morris was still alive. Abe, the next, was my father and named me Michael Harvey. Next was Irving, who named his son Mark Howard. And then the next was Benny, who named his son Michael Howard. So that was mass confusion in the schools, etc.
Interviewer: Were you all going to school together in Bexley?
Gertner: Michael Howard went to Columbus Academy. The other three of us went to Bexley. By the time I got there, they called me Mark because of my cousin Mark. By the time little Mark got there, they were calling him Mike because of me. We all did pretty well in school. As a matter of fact, big Mark (the oldest) was in Judah Folkman’s class. It is kind of funny in retrospect. Big Mark got in to Harvard and Judah didn’t. Judah became this great, great Harvard professor working on cancer. Mark then came back to Ohio State on the Law Review. I’m trying to distinguish that there are two Mikes and two Marks. I think Michael uses his full name. I like the name Mike. I hate the name Harvey, but hey. My grandfather Morris was quote unquote “mayor of Flytown.” That was on Goodale Road, and that was a Jewish area. He would round up the votes at that time for the Republicans. My dad’s early career as he worked his way through school and college and after he came back from Yale while he was writing his dissertation, he went to Ohio State Law School. Dad founded the Law Review. It should be the first name in the Ohio State Law Journal because there are a lot of Law Reviews. While he was doing all of that, I think he came in second in his graduating class at Ohio State. He worked in the legislature and actually served booze during prohibition. If you wanted to get a good drink and didn’t want to embargo, this is the way it went. If you wanted to get a good drink, the best booze in the state was served at the Capitol. Dad also taught since everybody called him “professor.” He taught the A.B Gertner cram course. It started out because he was tutoring students for extra money because he was poor as could be. The whole family was poor. So when he was a second year student, he taught first year students. When he was a third year student, he tutored the second year students. When he got out, they asked him to put together this course to help them with the bar. So he taught the A.B. Gertner Bar Review, which, in central Ohio, was the only course. He taught it from about somewhere in the 1930’s to 1961. In his class he had Howard Metzenbaum, he had Bill Saxbe and C. William O’Neil. He had some of the people who went on to fame.
Interviewer: When you are talking about the Bar Review, for those who don’t know, the Bar Review is a cram course for the Ohio State Bar Exam. After lawyers graduate, they take the cram course to prepare for the Bar Exam.
Gertner: He had tremendous energy when he was young. He would practice law all day and would then teach the cram course on the weekends. Three weeks before, he would teach the cram course at night and on the weekends. He called that his intensive course as opposed to the long term course. Yet he was still practicing law. When he started practicing law, I think he shared an office with my mother’s brother, Sam Luper, for just a year or two where they actually had these name plates where they slid across the door, depending on who had the client because they didn’t have enough money for one office. And then dad went off on his own. Dad was of counsel to Iz Topper, who was the Jewish liquor lawyer of his time and Arbruck Alloway, who was a good trial lawyer. They also represented some of the unions – the hotel and restaurant workers’ union – whatever that is presently called. His biggest case that he ever tried was the Neil House strike case. That was because no one in that office, Iz Topper’s law office really wanted to represent the union because the union went on strike. A bomb went off at the Neil House, which is the old hotel where the Huntington Center is now.
Interviewer: What was the time frame?
Gertner: It was in the early 1950’s. Somewhere between 1950-1955. A bomb went off, or some sort of explosion went off in the hotel. The hotel sued the union for, at that time, I think $3 million. It was a lot more money then. The Dispatch, which is still conservative, was way conservative at that time. Every day he was getting murdered in the papers in terms of the publicity and the trial. Dad was trying this case, mind you, while he was teaching his course at night and on the weekends. It might have been in the late 1940’s because I was at University School. The daughter of the manager of the hotel, The Neil House, was a classmate of mine at University School, where I went the first three years before my parents moved to Bexley and I went to Bexley. He won the case representing the union. He goose egged the hotel. Dad told the reporters that it was bad enough that they killed me or crucified him every day, but when I won, why did it get the back page story in the Dispatch? The reporter said, “Abe, I just write them, I don’t place them.” So that had to do with the editorial staff. That was his biggest case. He did a lot of criminal defense before that. Later on in his life, he became a Social Security/Disability judge for what was at that time, Health, Education & Welfare. He heard Social Security cases. That’s when I went to Washington and he thought we wouldn’t hook up, but we did later.
Interviewer: So with you growing up during this time period, he must have had an influence on you. I say that because I’m sitting in your law office today.
Gertner: When I was five or six years old, I said to dad that I was worried about passing the Bar Exam. He said to me, “Why don’t you worry about getting in to elementary school first.” What happened was that he referred to his students as his boys. That was before there were women lawyers. He would be at the steps at Veterans’ Memorial where they gave the three day exam. Even David Bloomfield, who is a colleague of mine down the hall, would say that he was running up and down the steps yelling “Don’t forget the rule against perpetuities and the rule on Shelley’s Case,” and all that. He would go to a Catholic Church and light candles for his Catholic students. They would call him at night during the exam and say, “Abe, how do you answer that question?” He would give them the answer and said not to tell anyone else. Five minutes later somebody else would call and ask the same question. They were talking. Dad kept saying “Forget the last question. Go on to the next question. Don’t beat yourself up over something that already happened. Keep going.” In those days they didn’t even have the multi-state objective test. So it was just three days of questions, five questions and you picked four. And so, that’s what he was really known for although he represented, most of his clients were, early on were from the “hood” more or less. He represented some of the guys that got in trouble with drugs and the drug cases. He tried those cases. One of the reasons he stopped was because he said he was winning too many of the cases, and he didn’t feel good about it. He then went in to Social Security and disability law. When I came back from Washington, he resigned and we hooked up together. We restarted his practice.
Interviewer: Let’s go back. When did you graduate?
Gertner: I graduated from high school in 1959, college in 1963, and law school in 1966. Ohio State, Ohio State.
Interviewer: So you went directly through school?
Gertner: Yes. No breaks.
Interviewer: Anything significant in terms of your college or law school education?
Gertner: Long and boring. I enjoyed undergraduate school much more than law school. I also was a member of a fraternity which I think did me a lot of good because I was sort of book-ish. A lot book-ish. I was lucky enough to get in to (ZBT) Zeta Beta Tau, which at that time was a Jewish fraternity. I think they were thrown off campus but may have restarted again.
Interviewer: I think it comes and goes over the years.
Gertner: Now Sammy might be or AEPi the best, but the Jewish boys from Bexley were going to ZBT at that time. Before me was Mel Schottenstein, some of the big guys. In my class it was Alan Blue and David Brand. Alan’s a lawyer and David’s a doctor. Nothing spectacular. I did graduate cum laude. I did make Phi Beta Kappa. I made it in my senior year, while my dad made it in his junior year. That rivalry was there. I was an only child.
Interviewer: Still a significant accomplishment.
Gertner: So, law school I found to be very boring. I did not like it. Interesting that one of my areas is administrative law, Social Security, which I couldn’t stand the course. Dad said his worst course was criminal law, and that’s what he turned out to be very good at. So when I graduated in 1966, law school … I’m skipping my mother, which I don’t want to do. She was a stay-at-home mom even in those days. She was a college graduate from Ohio State. Over the years I did not realize how close I was to my parents, which is why after I went to Washington, I came back. Her maiden name was Luper. Louis and Rose Luper were her parents. She had three sisters and one brother. The brother was Sam, whose son is Fred, who also practices law. I think he is pretty much in the process of retiring. His daughter is running for judge at this point. There have been a lot of lawyers in the family on both sides of the family. Some of my cousins are lawyers. My cousin Mark was very bright in the Law Review, went to Toledo and practiced there. He retired recently and passed away. My dad started the Law Review, Law Journal in 1935 at Ohio State. He practiced law and the cram course, and there was really no choice on my part. I was going to be a lawyer. He would come home and tell how exciting everything was. It just made it very interesting. I did think about medical school, but I was the Jewish boy who couldn’t stand the sight of blood. I graduated law school in 1966 and then I became a law clerk to a Supreme Court judge in Ohio, Louis Schneider. He was from Cincinnati with a German background. Interesting that his prior law clerk was Nick or Norbert A. Nadel, who is a judge in Cincinnati now. He was my predecessor, I can’t think of who my successor was, but I think he was Jewish, too. I think it was Jeff Rich. After that, there was Ira Kane, married to Debbie Kane. I don’t know of anything significant there, but one opinion I would say that I contributed to substantially was I’ve always been sort of interested in civil rights and academic freedom and free speech, even though you can’t make a living doing that kind of law. Nicky Schwartz, whose father was the original director of the JCC, and who was born and raised in Bexley but now lives in Cleveland, was a nice guy. He has a brother named Jeff. Nicky was a couple of years older than me. Nicky was very bright. He was brilliant, and he practiced criminal law. When they had the Lucasville riots, he was the one that both sides trusted, and he helped settle the riots at the prison in Lucasville. When I was in law school and was not an optimist, that’s never been my calling, I was worried about certain of my classes. I called Nicky and he invited me over. He talked to me for four hours on constitutional law without letting me take a note. I got the highest grade in the class, all because of Nicky. Later, Nicky argued his case for the Supreme Court of Ohio, where he is representing someone who was arrested and convicted for handing out socialist literature on the campus of Bowling Green. I would have to go back and find it, but it would have to be somewhere between 1966-1968. All I can remember is the syllabus that I wrote that had to do with peripatetic political proselytizers. Judge Mathias asked where the hell I found the word peripatetic, and I didn’t have the heart to tell him that I was reading Playboy Magazine, and they were using that as descriptive, and I looked it up. The alliteration was so good. Other than that, it was a two-year law clerkship, and from there, almost at the day I was leaving, Jerry Donahue, who ran Bill Saxbe’s campaign for the United States Senate, gave me the garbage that people were interested in substance and not politics, and we need someone to help write position papers. So I started to work for dad, wrote position papers. Saxbe was elected but wasn’t supposed to be. He thought he was running against Frank Lausche, who had been a senator forever. John Gilligan came in and beat him on the liberal side, and those people that were disaffected with Gilligan came in and voted for Saxbe. Gilligan later became Governor, but Saxbe was running for the Senate. He had been the majority leader in the legislature, Speaker of the Ohio House, I think. He was doing this as a warmup to run for governor. He never expected to be elected. He never expected to go to Washington. I think he always really wanted to be what they called him “The Squire of Mechanicsburg” and to be back there and run the State. He was elected in 1968. His term was obviously for six years, but he left a year early because he announced he wasn’t going to run. Then when they had the Nixon Watergate problem in Washington, and I was there at that time, … I’m trying to remember how this worked … when Nixon had Elliot Richardson I think was the Attorney General and Ruckelshouse was the Deputy Attorney General, and then Robert Bourke was the Solicitor General. That was the order. Then you had Archibald Cox who was investigating as special counsel to Nixon. So when Cox got too close to where Nixon was, Nixon asked Elliot Richardson to fire Cox, and Elliot Richardson refused and resigned. The Boston Brahmin great great man. That’s when, to me, being a moderate Republican was a proud thing to be. Then Ruckelshouse was next up, and he resigned rather than fire Archibald Cox. Next up was Robert Bourke, and he fired Archibald Cox. So now we had no Attorney General, and the Democratic controlled Senate wasn’t going to approve anybody. And so Saxbe got along with a lot of the Democrats because of his moderate position on things. I was working in his office as a legislative assistant. I had top secret clearance and I had Senate floor privileges, which meant I could walk on the Senate floor, and I was privy to certain discussions when Saxbe was on the Armed Services Committee. I got to see the test of certain weapon systems out west.
Interviewer: This was October, 1973, right?
Gertner: Well, Saxbe was then appointed Attorney General and confirmed by the Senate, because he was the only one that Nixon could get through the Senate. He was there until Nixon resigned, at which point when Ford came in, he appointed someone from the University of Chicago, and Saxbe became Ambassador to India. When Saxbe became Attorney General, I had my pick of several things that I could do in the Justice Department, but I really wanted to try cases. So I said I wanted to become an Assistant U.S. Attorney. So that is what I became in Washington. They said, “Why are you going so low to do that because you start at the beginning.”
I said it was because I wanted to try it. That is what I always wanted to do. I was there for a couple of years. At that time I had some vocal problems, and so I had to do more of the appellate work, and then that was before they knew that when stomach acid reflux gets in your throat, it causes an ulcer. So I wound up with an ulcer that was discovered here, and they treated it with antacids and it got better.
Interviewer: How long did you spend in the Justice Department?
Gertner: I was there for two years. I was sworn in by Earl Solver and was there during the Nixon thing. I did not play any role in anything. I was too low on the totem pole at that point. So going back to when I was in the Senate, I can’t think of much that I could talk about that I did other than that Javitz mentioned me thanking the workers for the Coal Mine Safety Bill (pneumoconiosis). I did work with Larry Silverman, who was a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington. He was Deputy Secretary of Labor, and we worked on Occupational Health and Safety. But my name should be somewhere on the Congressional Record with Javitz if I could find it. I actually went down in the coal mines, whereas some of the Senators wouldn’t do that. I just wanted to see what was going on, not in any really bad coal mines.
Interviewer: This was known as the “black lung?” That’s what you were working on?
Gertner: Yes, yes. I was into health issues and safety issues, and later on developed an interest in that with the Social Security Disability Law, which is about half of my practice.
Interviewer: Talk for a moment about the politics of getting those laws through Congress at that time.
Gertner: Well, you can imagine that the coal mine operators didn’t want the pneumoconiosis, the black lung bill. I can’t talk too much about that, but I can tell you that what I heard from Larry Silverman was that everyone was saying that you had to put this language and that language, I said it doesn’t matter because there was going to be a filibuster. I told him about the politics that was going on in the U.S. Senate, and that was my entrée. He offered me a job there, but I didn’t want it. A lot of these things are like Marlon Brando. You know, I could have been a contender of that great line he has in “On the Waterfront.” I could have been a contenderr. I also was offered a job with the House Wednesday Club. This was a group of liberal moderate Republicans. Saxbe was in the Wednesday Club in the Senate.
Interviewer: Why did they call it the Wednesday Club?
Gertner: I just said that but I’m trying to think where that came from. It was the moderate group. Interestingly enough, maybe I could have been somebody. I had friends who were also legislative assistants. One of them you may have heard of. His name was Mitch McConnell. He came with me to my parents’ house and stayed over and watched an Ohio State football game and flew back. Needless to say, I have not had much contact with him since or any. And I probably wouldn’t support him at this point, but I knew him once. Okay? I could say since this is not off record I could say some things which he did, which I think Alice and Leonard Grimes would like to know that I don’t even want to talk about right now. From there, from the U.S. Attorney’s office I teamed up with Voorhees and worked in the Washington office with Voorhees for about a year. When I came back to Columbus, my dad was beginning to decline, so he resigned from being an administrative law judge on Social Security and we went into practice together. I came back to Columbus in 1977, having left in 1968 to go with Saxbe. Dad and I hooked up in about 1979 or thereabouts. I was still with Voorhees for a little bit. Then dad and I opened up our law office at 88 E. Broad Street, which is now the KeyBank building. I did some interesting things in Washington. Tom Dine, who later became head of AIPAC, was a legislative assistant to Frank Church, and we went to India. I got a free trip to India and to Japan actually. On my trip to Japan, I went back through Israel. I asked for a round trip ticket. That’s the only time I’ve been there. Tom and I wrote the Saxbe-Church Amendment on his kitchen table one Sunday morning with Joan, his lovely wife, serving us breakfast. It was an amendment to whatever appropriations bill that was being passed which cut off arms to Pakistan when Pakistan was fighting Bangladesh, which was East Pakistan at that time. The Bengalis vs. the West Pakistanis. India is in the middle for geographic purposes. Remember that Saxbe was the Ambassador to India. We wrote the amendment cutting off arms to Pakistan. I do remember after it was passed, one Sunday I got a call from Tad Schultz of the New York Times. He said, “We have some bills of lading showing weapons being shipped to Pakistan.” I said you couldn’t because the law said you can’t do it.” “Can I bring them over?” I quickly thought. He said that they were stamped “Top Secret.” I said, “No, you can’t.” You can bring them over to the center office and we’ll show Saxbe. I didn’t want any of those documents at my place. Think about what could have been. Actually, during the Vietnam War, somebody who went over, and I can’t think of the name, to the Institute for Policy Studies (IPS), a very liberal group, would call me and one of their people went over to Vietnam. He called me off the Senate floor and said he just came back and he wanted to talk to Hughes Scott, who was the Senate Republican leader. I asked, “Are you sure you want to tell me all this stuff on the phone? Why don’t you just come in?” He came in and he and Saxbe met. And they talked about it. So there are all kinds of little things that occurred. I did go to India for a week. I got a chance to go up to Nepal in 1971. In 1972 I went to Japan, and I had a first class ticket. When I was done I asked if I could go round trip and trade it in and go to Israel. I was there for four days. I wrote Saxbe’s Federation speech in I think it was 1973. I am trying to find it. I told Jackie Jacobs that I wrote it, and I remember what I wrote. It was good. Saxbe gave a speech in Columbus raising money for the Federation. Saxbe had had some problems with the Jewish community because Scoop Jackson had an amendment cutting off most favorite nation status to Russia, at that time the Soviet Union, because of the immigration policies forbidding Jews to leave. Saxbe, who was a farmer at heart, represented the farmers, and it wasn’t going to go along with Scoop Jackson. So that caught me in the middle with the pressure that was coming from Dave Brody from the ADL there.
Interviewer: The Jewish community was supporting Scoop Jackson.
Gertner: Absolutely. And Richard Pearl, who is one of the neo coms now, was his legislative assistant. You used to be able to see the CIA operatives walking to that office. Scoop knew more about what was going on than some of the people in the armed services committee. So, I was friends with everybody because I like everybody, and so I could see what was going on both sides.
Interviewer: Let’s go back to the Saxbe speech. So he was trying to mend fences?
Gertner: Mel Schottenstein used to call me all the time. His good friends were Mel Schottenstein, Leon Friedman and Leon Schottenstein, which was always confusing when he said to get him Leon. They asked him to come back. I wrote out the speech. Saxbe had been to Israel. There was a gap in the middle for him to talk about his Israel speech. I wrote the speech. It is really good. If I could find it, some of my bona fide ease now in terms of what my feelings are when I get into discussions at the JCC are called into question. Not only that. Anytime Javitz had a pro-Israel resolution, Saxbe’s name was on it whether he knew it or not. I put it on.
Interviewer: I want to put this in context. 1973 was the Yom Kippur War. Do you remember if the speech was before or after the Yom Kippur War?
Gertner: It must have been before because I think the fundraiser was in March or April.
Interviewer: The war didn’t start until October. Tell me about how the speech came about.
Gertner: He had gone there and he was called. They were looking for someone to speak. He probably was trying to mend fences a little bit. But he normally was extemporaneous, but he said to put something together. So I did and I just really got into it. I went over to the Israeli Embassy, which was kind of funny because I had not been there before. This was before the real security that they have now. I walked in the first door, which slammed behind me. There was a second door. And right there, standing there, was an Israeli security guy about twice my size, muscular, and I was thinking that I didn’t realize we had people that big. That’s great. I’m on your side, buddy. They helped me with it a little bit. I got some stuff out of the New York Times. I wrote some of my own feelings on it. He obviously does stuff extemporaneously, too. I remember once I wrote the word “juridical” and he asked if I meant “judicial.” I said no, I meant juridical. That’s the way he was. He was very, very bright but was not detail oriented. He would let us do the detail work. We had a really great office. It was a good staff. I enjoyed it. That’s probably the five best years of my life other than recently being married to Marjie. That was a wonderful time. Then I came back here. Am I missing anything here?
Interviewer: You’re fine. So you and your father started practicing together in 1979.
Gertner: Yes. He was on the decline. And my mom got sick. My mom had a disease called Wegener’s granulomatosis. Now they have blood tests for it. In those days they did not. They had to crack the lung open and get tissue samples. They were not sure if it was cancer or not. We got her to do it. I called some people. I got her into the National Institute of Health (NIH). This would have been like in the 80’s. Her doctor was Dr. Anthony Fouchy. Does that ring a bell with Ebola? He was working on this one day a week and HIV the rest of the time. This was an immune disease, so it was his expertise. They saved her life. She made it to 97. Dad made it to 87, but the last 7 years were not good. Mom was lecturing me on her death bed, still going strong. I would get calls. My mom had one of those call buttons. She once fell and directed her butt into the clothes basket and pushed the button. She said to call the resident manager, but it was lunch. They said we are supposed to call your son. She said, “No, he is a busy lawyer. I’ll just sit here until the resident manager gets here.” Same way a Jewish mother changes a light bulb. I’ll sit her in the dark.
Interviewer: We’ll take a break here.
Interviewer: The recorder is back on.
Gertner: Thanks for the break. I had a five hour deposition yesterday. My voice was a little raspy and that was one of the things … a lawyer that gets raspy when he talks too much. Sandy Koufax was the Jewish boy whose arm hurt, but he was…I use that as an excuse, he was a pretty good pitcher I was never a politician. I was not a political guy. I was more of a substantive guy behind the scenes. I was never out front. I was with Saxbe, I was with Schneider, I campaigned when Schneider was running for election. I went around the state on the Wonderful World of Ohio bus with Jim Rhoads and made sure that Schneider’s name was prominently displayed because he was supposed to lose but didn’t. He ran against Clifford Brown and actually beat him before Clifford Brown ran and won another time. That was my introduction to politics as such. Jim Rhoads was an interesting guy because his rule of politics was, and this was the governor of Ohio way back and, of course, he was people. This was before he got caught in the Kent State crisis and shooting, for which a lot of people were upset with him. I don’t know what degree of fault he had. But before this, he was a hell of a politician. And he basically said that the only thing people in politics are concerned about is me here and now. And I never forgot that. He gave the same speech everywhere he went. “I’m going to put in a road for you in Guernsey County, Coshocton County, whatever it is this year.” The here and now. I would write stuff but not be the upfront guy. I guess now I’m back in Columbus. I met some interesting people. I took the Saxbe letter to Nixon, which is why he should vote for Carswell, because he voted against Haynesworth for the court.
Interviewer: Do you mean for the Supreme Court nomination?
Gertner: Right. It was obviously a set up because Nixon wanted to explain why he was going to vote when Saxbe was on his nice kick with Nixon before. So there was a lot of “why should I vote?” I made it through the first door. Everybody else in the office of substance went in there. But my politics were such that I was not pro-Nixon. I never liked the guy, and I never hide my thoughts and feelings. I guess they knew about it.
Interviewer: You’re talking about the people at the White House?
Gertner: The people at the White House knew what was going on. I was asked by one of the security services when I put together the trip to India whether they could talk to me after I came back. I said that of course they could. I care about the country, but I just don’t like some of the things, and I state what I like and what I don’t like. Some of the weapons systems made money or when a test couldn’t work, I made sure that they knew. We called them “the boss,” because in Washington when you are sitting in a restaurant, you don’t want to refer to who your boss is because you don’t know who is sitting next to you. So that was just sort of a thing that we learned.
Interviewer: I got interested in the end of this story. So you were taking a letter from Saxbe to the White House?
Gertner: Yes. So Saxbe voted for him because he was responsible, but my point was that I’m not a political guy. I was at one bill signing ceremony once where I saw Nixon. But other than that …
Interviewer: Was that one of the bills that we talked about earlier?
Gertner: No, It could have been coal mine safety or occupational safety. And I was invited to sit there and watch it when they used 100 different pens to sign their name, you know. I didn’t even get a pen. I get an eraser. I really enjoyed meeting people and seeing people. It is the apex of power and knowing who the Senators were. I still follow the New York Times – kind of a hobby of mine – to watch the news channels. That’s what I do.
Interviewer: If I can, because you were in Washington at a pretty critical time in the early 1970’s. Things were pretty partisan then, and we are in a pretty partisan now. Do you have some thoughts on comparing the two time frames? Are there similarities or differences?
Gertner: Since I’m not in Washington, I don’t really know what’s going on now. I can only tell you what I see. I can tell you I think they were much more collegial then than they are now. I was friends with some of the McGovern people, and they said if Nixon did this to us when he had a substantial lead, G-d forbid what would have happened if we were closer. Interesting. John, I can’t remember his name, said that. I was friends with Steve Bossmyer, who was Tom Eagleton’s legislative assistant when the McGovern thing and Eagleton had this history of depression with electric shock, and they threw him off the ticket and put on Sargent Shriver. But when you see them walking collegiately on the Senate floor, arm in arm, you think they are talking about matters of state. In fact, when Charlie Goodell (Roger’s father) was a senator from New York for a brief time, was walking arm in arm with Tom Eagleton, the discussion was Steve Bossmyer, Eagleton’s aide, dating Heidi Wolf, who was Jewish. Goodell wondered how long it would take them to become intimate. I don’t know how to say it any better than that. They are real people – human – they were friends. I don’t see that going on now.
Interviewer: The bills that you talked about, OSHA, and you were working for a Republican senator, and it was a Republican majority at the time …
Gertner: I’m trying to remember. Dirksen … I thought Robert Byrd became Senate Majority Leader. The problem was I thought that as a Republican it wouldn’t go any farther. That is one of the reasons I came back, too, outside of my parents having some health problems. In fact, there was a period of time afterwards when the Republicans were, you know, in control of things. I didn’t have any contacts in the Ford White House. I came back here and really wanted to try cases. I really wanted to be a trial lawyer and try cases. This is always what I wanted to be when I was a little boy because of my dad.
Interviewer: So when you and your father started practicing, was it a trial practice?
Gertner: It was but my dad ended up with dementia. He also had some bladder tumors. He was slipping fast. When my mom had her health crisis, they both were sick. Dad didn’t stay in the practice with me too long. I know that Jackie Jacobs will attest to this. Twenty to twenty-five years of my life I spent taking care of my parents, whether moving in with them and taking care of them, and then dad went to Heritage House. Mom went for two years when she was ninety-five. You do it day by day, but I’m practicing law, and at that time before cell phones, I’m calling hospitals because of my parents. I knew more of what was going on at Heritage House because the nurses all knew me. I could go in the kitchen at all hours and then feed my dad. They let me do it. I was there when they had the problem with Jerry Cohen, who was the head at that time, and there were some financial problems. They went through a series of directors.
Interviewer: Your parents were at Heritage House during this time period.
Gertner: No, my dad was but my mom wasn’t. She died four years ago and was only there for a year and a half. My dad was there for six years. He died in 1996. My mom was sick but I could take of her. Dad had a catheter, couldn’t walk, had dementia. We tried to keep him at home, but he felt like we were admonished by an emergency room. I would say that if I turned on my car, it would head for the nearest emergency room. I would get called out of haircuts and barber shops because one of them had to go to the hospital. There was one time when mom was in bed. I wanted to stay with her, but dad had to go to the hospital for some emergency. I didn’t know what to do, which way to go. I had two federal cases that I tried. In one I was representing police officer Calvin Booth. That’s one of the significant cases. His son played pro basketball, seven footer. I represented the defendant. This was before Judge Kinneary, who was a trip to be in front of. I got the jury verdict and felt really good. Calvin was a police officer with Columbus PD. He was in uniform in his vehicle going to direct traffic at a pizza place on a Friday night after a football game. He parked his cruiser, got in his car and saw a guy rear ending him because he wasn’t going fast enough – honking his horn and was drunk. Calvin got out of his car and went over. He was 6’6” and 240 pounds, all muscle. At that point there is a discrepancy as to what happened. Calvin said he only hit him three times. But Calvin’s fist was bigger than both of mine together. The guy’s seat from his sports car wound up on the pavement, and he alleged that Calvin had pulled him out of the car, seat and all. We had to establish in his defense, that the seat was loose. We goose egged him, and that case was brought by John Marshall, not the disciplinary lawyer, but the civil rights one, who at that time was with Spater Gittes. Since that time I have gotten a lot of civil suits from the Columbus PD. The latest being the Boughcamper case, which is in my website. You can actually go look at that and then read the decision, where a Columbus policewoman detective (I always say woman not to be sexist), but I am trying to identify that it was her husband who was dying of cancer and went for the last couple weeks of his life to live with his brother who lived in Russell Springs in Logan County, near Bellefontaine because he had hospice and worked out of his home, and she was on duty and couldn’t take care of him. The substance of this is that there was a $200,000 life insurance policy which the husband had on his life. His wife was the beneficiary. During that two-week period, the beneficiary was changed to the half-brother, and the balance to the decedent’s two sons from a first marriage. We filed the law suit suing the insurance company, and they paid the money to the clerk’s office, thank G-d. The clerk’s office kept the money, and we tried it here because that’s where the insurance policy was signed. The attorney for Snider tried to get the venue transferred to Logan County. It’s interesting because subsequently, he became the prosecutor for Logan County. There’s another county I don’t particularly want to drive through. Interestingly enough, we found out through good civil discovery, that this is the page (I’m showing a cardboard blow up, although when I tried it I had a law clerk who could do PowerPoint, because digitally I’m left in the age of paper and pen, although I do have a laptop in the other room.) that all the decedent did was sign his name on this. The form was filled out by the brother. The new change in beneficiary was put in two days after Boughcamper signed by the guy who is now prosecutor. We argued that he didn’t have the capacity to change it. These are the hospice records that show severely impaired insight, emotional behavior and thought organizational and problem with judgement severely impaired. One argument was that he didn’t have the capacity to change it. The other argument was the contract was complete when he signed it. You can’t add it later. He said the client told him to do that.
Interviewer: Did you try the case before a jury?
Gertner: We tried the case before a magistrate, Chris Lippe. She wrote down a nice decision, which we won. I’m surprised they went ahead and tried it because we had him locked in. I would have liked to have tried it in front of a jury. The Calvin Booth case was in front of a jury. This one was not. But the good part about this is that the decision is written out, and you can actually go on it. And then I think it was Judge …, I forget who Lippe was the magistrate for. Then it was affirmed by the judge later. It was not appealed. I had it on a contingency basis, which was okay. Of course, it took about two years. But that is a significant case. The interesting case that you would find interesting was when my dad started to slip, the guy that took over as my mentor was John Zonak. It used to be Zonakis, but Zonak. He was one hell fire hell raiser. He was in Columbus Monthly as one of the ten biggest SOBs in Columbus and all of that. He was a student of my dad’s.
Interviewer: I remember him trying a lot of cases.
Gertner: And he was a student of my dad’s and my dad evidently, he was last in his class at Capital, whatever it was at that Franklin/Capital law school.
Interviewer: Alphabetically or academically?
Gertner: Academically, both both (laughing). Actually the number one student who was Howard Bruner didn’t make it the first time. Zonak made it the first time because dad picked on him unmercifully. And Zonak said, “I was so p.o. ed at your father that I forgot I was afraid of the bar, forgot that I didn’t have grades, I forgot that I didn’t study. I studied only to prove to your dad that I could pass it.” Then he said, “I’m going to do the same damn thing to you.” He would walk me into court and say, “I’ll be right back” and never come back. He would walk me into a deposition and do the same thing. Anyway, Zonak represented Earl Bruce. I am the one that literally filed that case. Zonak…they did it real fast and I looked at it and I filed it Friday, I stood there, five till five Friday before the Michigan game. Filed it. Brought back file stamped copies, drove to the university, went into the team meeting, sat there with the assistant coaches. They had no motes, no alligators, I just walked right in. I bet you couldn’t get close to it now. But anyway, I just handed it to John; he announced it after the Michigan game. Interesting little sidelight, we filed in the wrong court. We should have filed in the court of claims because it was against Ohio State University, we filed in common pleas court, but hey, you know, such is life. It still settled for a goodly amount. Stuff happens is what I can say. We’ve all done this, “holy —- we filed in the wrong court.” But it worked and cases can be transferred. I do remember when they settled the case that I had the entry of dismissal and Zonak and Earl Bruce were in Florida. John Ealey(?) who is the presiding partner at Vorys, whom I had known when I worked there briefly, and loved the guy. I just wish I could have worked with him. He called me and said that the copy he had didn’t have Tommy Thompson’s, the judge’s name on the dismissal. I said yes because he signed one and then they file stamped all the others. He said, “Mike, if you tell me that, I believe you. If John Zonak told me that I wouldn’t believe him.”
Interviewer: We only have a few moments left.
Gertner: I’m sorry.
Interviewer: No apologies needed.
Gertner: I have been on the Agudas Achim board, I have been on the Wexner board, I’m now just going to be on the Jewish Historical board after saying I would never be on another board again. I don’t want this to go without saying. I had a brief marriage earlier in my life and never thought I would get married again. I married a very, very wonderful woman, she’s not Jewish, but she does go to church, she goes to synagogue with me. She hasn’t converted but she goes to shul. I tell her she is reading book one and that she can read her book on her own time, we kid about that. Her name was, when I married her was Margie Susan Littleton. She is the executive assistant to the managing partner at Ernst & Young or E & Y. That’s your building, isn’t it?
Gertner: She is on the 11th floor.
Interviewer: I’m up on 30.
Gertner: They are moving this summer to Grand View Yard. But she is the office manager and executive assistant to the last four. It went Jim Zid, Jim Bachmann, Julia Conkel… I might be missing some. I can’t think of her current boss’s name, but she works 50-55 hours a week. She has one daughter and two granddaughters. We are taking the oldest granddaughter who is 12 years old and has played soccer as a goalie for six years, to the Capital University soccer game tonight because I know the coach and they are going to run her out on the field after the game. I’m trying to work my way in. The littlest one used to call me Nike.
Interviewer: How long have you been married?
Gertner: We got married January 5, 2008, by Judge Pat Sheeran. We have been an item since January 21, 2006, which I believe is our real anniversary. The first night we went out we closed down the Top and we have been together ever since. She had a dog that was an overgrown Sheltie that my mom said couldn’t come into the apartment, but Margie could, she could be there and we brought the dog anyway when mom was sick. The dog took 30 seconds to find mom in the bedroom, laid down next to mom and then Margie couldn’t come unless she brought the dog. So, they were buddies. I don’t want to leave out the Jewish Center.
Interviewer: So, you work out on a pretty regular basis?
Gertner: Yes, and I mean up until I met Margie I was there almost every day. Now, I’m there four of five times a week. That was my release from work and taking care of my parents that’s all I did, basically. I worked, I worked out and I took care of my parents. I asked Rabbi Kozberg what I could do to relieve the stress. I used to swim until it was hard to get lanes, and I was a runner in Washington. I liked to run; I was a member of the Watergate Health Club. I’ve run for 40 years, which is why I limp now. Because I got severe spinal stenosis in my back I can still do the elliptical for 64 minutes. I burned 600 calories last night. I went for 10.2 miles, I think. So that’s my release and my entrée back into the Jewish community outside of Heritage House. Agudas Achim, yes. But, JCC is wonderful and they have been wonderful to me. Other than Margie and my law practice, it has been the greatest thing in my life. I am in the workout area all the time. I love it. They used to have to throw me out when they closed at 10 p.m. I just love the place. The facilities are terrific. I’m sure I’ll think of something I should have told you, but I don’t know that any of this is significant other than the fact that I’m sort of the progeny of two long-term Jewish families. I try to do the right thing. My love is representing people that need representation. I couldn’t do that in the criminal law area which was my background because it was pretty well tied up with some really good Jewish lawyers, Terry Sherman and Sam Shamansky and you know the others. So there would seem to be with Social Security Disability and some of these civil litigation things an opening to do that, and that is what I do and will continue to do as long as I can.
Interviewer: Thank you for your time.
Gertner: Thank you for your time.
Interviewer: On behalf of the Columbus Jewish Historical Society, and welcome to the board. That will wrap it up, and I thank you.
Transcribed by Phyllis Komerofsky
March 8, 2015