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A Discussion with Commissioner William W. Patmon III

The word that best sums up Commissioner Patmon is passion – passion for the law, passion for the Commission’s mission, and passion for treating everyone fairly. William W. Patmon III – a practicing attorney in a small Columbus law firm that he started – was appointed to the Commission in 2012.    
Commissioner Patmon’s first exposure to the law was in high school when his government teacher took his class to the courthouse to observe different legal proceedings. When he first walked into the courtroom he wasn’t sure that the practice of law was for him, but curiosity got the best of him and he kept going back. That experience inspired him. Before long, he was a proud graduate of The Ohio State University’s Moritz College of Law.
His passion for the law grew while clerking for District Court Judge Graham, who taught him that the practice of law was more of a calling than a vocation. In the federal courts, he saw firsthand how the law can impact people’s lives and create real change. It was that desire to make real change that initially inspired Commissioner Patmon to work for Jones Day. As an attorney practicing securities law, Commissioner Patmon traveled across the country litigating cases.

Still, his dream was to start his own business. When he finally took the leap, Commissioner Patmon was both excited and overwhelmed by what it meant to be a small business owner. He learned that you have to do everything, from issuing subpoenas to trying cases yourself. While learning the intricacies of the practice of law was a challenge, he finally felt like he was making a difference.
Commissioner Patmon’s passion for the law is rivaled only by his passion for the mission of the Ohio Civil Rights Commission. What drives this passion? First, he and his fellow commissioners are concerned about Ohio’s families. The loss of a job or the loss of housing affects families. When aggrieved people come before the Commission, he and his fellow commissioners take the matter seriously.
Second, small business owners generate a lot of jobs for Ohioans. They too, he recognized, have a lot of challenges. It costs time and money to appear before the Commission. “We need to balance the interest of businesses, which create jobs, and the families that need those jobs to survive. This isn’t an academic exercise.” As Commissioner Patmon summarized, “These are real business owners who have to deal with the cost of being found liable for discrimination. These are real families who have to deal with the real issues of not having a job anymore. We understand that our biggest challenge is always balancing those two interests and making sure that we come out on the right side of it.”
To Commissioner Patmon, the Commission is a problem solver for Ohio’s families and businesses. One way the Commission helps solve problems is through its alternative dispute resolution program. As a mediator for the Franklin County Common Pleas Court, and someone who has participated in countless mediations in federal court, Commissioner Patmon touted the Commission’s role in helping parties reach common ground.
He commented that agencies, like the Commission, needed to play an important role in resolving cases early and amicably. For families, that means getting a quicker resolution without the need to hire a lawyer. For businesses, that means a significant cost savings. The way Commissioner Patmon sees it, “Everything doesn’t have to go to the courthouse. Everything doesn’t have to be litigated. Things can be resolved amicably at the Commission level where you’ll get a good result for both sides with costs that are significantly less.”
Of course, not all cases can be resolved informally. When that happens, Commissioner Patmon is passionate about making sure that everyone gets a fair shake before the Commission. “It is hard work being a commissioner,” he commented. “You have to balance the law and human emotions.” Fortunately, the commissioners can rely on the experience and expertise of their fellow commissioners when making decisions. Whether someone has an attorney, the commissioners make sure that they get the full story. And if they don’t have enough information to decide a case, they do not hesitate to send a case back for further investigation.

Complainants and respondents don’t always understand the law and innocent mistakes happen. Despite this, Commissioner Patmon is determined to apply Ohio’s Civil Rights Laws regardless of his personal feelings. “You’ve got to apply the law fairly,” he said. “People have to believe that the process is fair.”
Commissioner Patmon’s commitment to public service is in keeping with his family’s commitment to serving the people of Ohio that he learned from his father, Representative William Patmon Jr. That commitment carries on in his children. His 15-year-old son recently advocated for the passage of a House bill honoring first responders, and his eldest daughter is preparing for law school.