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September 21, 2023

Ohio State Bar Foundation Announces 2023 Statewide Award Winners

Columbus, OH (September 2023) The Ohio State Bar Foundation (OSBF) is pleased to announce this year’s statewide honorees recognized for leadership in their communities through volunteer service. Members of the public are invited to celebrate these honorees and others at the OSBF All Rise Annual Awards Celebration – The Art of Giving: Creating a More Just Ohio on October 13, 2023, at Columbus Museum of Art. Members of the public are invited to join the celebration. For more information and to register, visit

“This year’s awards celebration theme, ‘The Art of Giving: Creating a More Just Ohio,’ reflects the beauty found in the act of giving back through selfless service,” said Judge David Hejmanowski, OSBF President. “It serves as a poignant reminder that through our collective efforts, we can work towards crafting a fairer and more equitable Ohio. We are proud to honor these exceptional honorees dedicated to bettering the world around them. Their extraordinary efforts have left a meaningful impact on the lives of so many.”

This year’s honorees are as follows:

The Ritter Award | The highest honor awarded by the Foundation; this award is given for a lifetime of service recognizing the accomplishments of the honoree in attaining and promoting the highest level of professionalism, integrity, and ethics in the practice of law.

Merle Wilberding, Dayton

Merle F. Wilberding is a distinguished attorney whose lifetime of service, legal expertise, and commitment to the Dayton region has left an indelible mark on both the legal profession and his community. 

Wilberding graduated from St. Mary’s University and earned his law degree from the University of Norte Dame School of Law. He received an MBA from the University of Dayton, a Master of Laws in Taxation from George Washington University, and a Master of Library and Information Science from the University of Wisconsin - Milwaukee. During the Vietnam War, he served as a U.S. Army Judge Advocate General Captain and represented the Army in 800 appeals and argued 100 cases, including the "My Lai Massacre" case, which involved the killing of more than 300 Vietnamese civilians, garnering immense public attention and becoming a flashpoint in the national debate about of the moral and ethical challenges posed by the Vietnam War.

After serving in the U.S. Army, Wilberding joined the Coolidge Wall law firm, embarking on a remarkable legal career that has spanned over five decades. He served as chairman of the firm's Tax Department for ten years. Wilberding has briefed and argued several tax cases in the Ohio Supreme Court and has testified before the United States Congress and Ohio legislature.

In addition to his legal achievements, Wilberding is a community leader and a passionate supporter of the arts in Dayton. He has served on the board of numerous arts and community nonprofit organizations and played a pivotal role as a founding trustee of the Dayton Literary Peace Prize Foundation. In addition, Wilberding served as the attorney for the iconic funk and R&B band, the Ohio Players.

In 2008, Wilberding worked with the family of Lance Cpl. Maria Lauterbach, who was savagely murdered by her sexual assailant, Cpl. Cesar Laurean. His tireless efforts, supported by numerous members of Congress, resulted in changes that have reshaped U.S. military justice, ensuring a safer environment for those who serve. In 2019, Wilberding was inducted into the Ohio Veterans Hall of Fame.

Wilberding is a Distinguished Life Fellow of the American Bar Foundation, the Ohio State Bar Foundation, and the Dayton Bar Association. From 2021-2022, he served as president of the Dayton Bar Association. He advocates for diversity and inclusion in the legal profession through his involvement with the Law & Leadership Institute and has authored seven books, including two children’s books providing civics education to disadvantaged students.

“Merle Wilberding has devoted over fifty years to the practice of law, reflecting the highest levels of professionalism, integrity, and ethics,” said Susan Elliott, Professor and Director of Zimmerman Law Library, University of Dayton School of Law. “He is deserving of this award for not only for his long and successful career as an attorney, but also for his extraordinary contributions to the military justice system, to the state and local bars, to the arts, to education, and to continuing efforts to enhance diversity, equity, and inclusion within our system of justice and the community at large.”

The Ramey Award for Distinguished Community Service | Given annually to an Ohio attorney whose career has been exemplified by dedication of the goals and values sought to be furthered by the Foundation; a lifetime of service to the public and the community, all while working with integrity, honor, courtesy, and professionalism.

Richard “Dick” Pogue, Cleveland

Richard W. "Dick" Pogue is an exceptional attorney known for his significant contributions to the legal profession, civic engagement, and community service in Northeast Ohio.

Pogue graduated from Cornell University and earned his law degree from the University of Michigan Law School. Following his education, he served as a Captain in the United States Army's Patents Division, Office of The Judge Advocate General. Pogue's remarkable contributions have earned him Honorary Doctorate degrees from the University of Akron and the Cleveland Institute of Music.

In 1957, Pogue joined Jones Day and specialized in antitrust law, corporate takeover work, and commercial arbitration/mediation throughout his tenure. He assumed the role of Managing Partner in 1984, and, under his leadership, helped to expand the firm exponentially and established a global presence for the firm with 20 offices worldwide. He currently serves as a Senior Advisor at Jones Day. 

Pogue has served in leadership positions for countless civic organizations and has been an instrumental fundraiser. He played a pivotal role in the successful $51.9 million United Way Campaign in Cleveland and was the driving force behind the establishment of the Regional Business Council of Northeast Ohio. Pogue is a champion of Legal Aid and helped raise millions for the Legal Aid Society of Cleveland Capital Campaign. He is an avid supporter of the arts and led efforts in re-establishing the Cleveland Ballet.

“Dick Pogue exemplifies the values of civic duty, engagement, and generosity. Since moving to Cleveland in 1957 to work as an attorney for Jones Day, he has dedicated himself to bettering the region. Mr. Pogue’s active involvement in civic groups and nonprofits has earned him the reputation as one of the most influential people in Cleveland, making a profound and lasting impact on his community and beyond,” said Melanie Shakarian, Director of Development & Communications, Legal Aid Society of Cleveland.

Pogue also served as a Trustee at the University of Akron and holds key positions at Case Western Reserve University, the Cleveland Institute of Music, and the Northeast Ohio Council on Higher Education. Pogue is a Visiting Professor at the University of Michigan Law School and chaired the Ohio Governor's Commission on Higher Education & the Economy. Since 2007, he has chaired the Dean's Advisory Council at the University of Michigan Law School.

Excellence in Diversity and Inclusion Award | The OSBF Excellence in Diversity & Inclusion Award is a new award this year which celebrates an attorney who has envisioned and cultivated diversity, equality, and inclusion in the legal system.

Joseph Mas, Columbus

Joseph L. Mas is a lifelong advocate for justice, diversity, and inclusion. At the age of 12, Mas came to the United States as a political refugee. For over four decades since, he has been a prominent legal figure and tireless advocate for those in need, especially the Latinx community.

Mas’s extensive community service record includes serving as chairman of Franklin County Children Services, the Ohio Hispanic Coalition, and the Ohio Construction Compliance Council. Mas served as the Chairman and Executive Director of the Ohio Commission on Hispanic/Latino Affairs and has been a member of the Franklin County Board of Elections since 2009, advocating for equitable electoral processes.

In January of 2021, the Worthington City Council recognized Joseph's exceptional leadership qualities by appointing him as Vice-Mayor of the City. For seventeen years, he made regular appearances as a guest contributor and political commentator on PBS - WOSU TV's Columbus on the Record. 

In addition, Mas was an adjunct professor at Urbana College and served as the Director of Equestrian Studies at Otterbein College. He is a graduate of Rollins College and earned his law degree from Capital University School of Law.

“For more than 40 years, Joe has maintained a robust and successful law practice while finding time to engage in extensive community service,” said Angie Lloyd, Executive Director of the Ohio Access to Justice Foundation. “He has an unwavering dedication to the legal profession’s ethical and moral obligation to work for the public good and a decades-long commitment to improving access to social and legal services for the Hispanic/Latino community.”

Outstanding Program or Organization Award | Given annually to a program or organization that promotes the dissemination of information about, increases access to, and/or generates improvements in the Ohio justice system.

Ohio Legal Help, Columbus

In 2015, the Supreme Court of Ohio convened members from various legal sectors to form the Task Force on Access to Justice, to address the civil justice gap in Ohio. The task force issued a report that included a pivotal recommendation: the development of a statewide website dedicated to offering free and accurate legal information to Ohio residents.

Responding to this call, a Steering Committee composed of diverse stakeholder groups came together to establish Ohio Legal Help, with a mission to break down barriers that hinder individuals from understanding their legal rights and accessing vital resources. The organization was formed in 2019 to ensure that every Ohioan can confidently navigate the legal system, make informed decisions, and connect with essential legal and community services.

In just 4 years, Ohio Legal Help has served more than 2.1 million Ohioans. To date, more than 45,000 referrals have been made to Legal Aid offices, and more than 64,000 referrals have been made to rental assistance organizations. Users from all 88 counties in Ohio have received assistance on critical issues like landlord and eviction issues, divorce, children’s custody, protection orders, consumer debt, immigration, and more.

As a nonprofit organization at the forefront of leveraging technology and innovation to enhance access to justice in Ohio, Ohio Legal Help is unwavering in its commitment to accuracy and reliability. All legal information provided by the organization is meticulously crafted by its team and undergoes rigorous review by expert private and legal aid lawyers. Through its dedication and innovation, Ohio Legal Help is helping to create a more equitable and just Ohio for all its residents.

“Ohio Legal Help continues to develop equitable and innovative legal tools for Ohioans. Because of Ohio Legal Help, Ohioans have one easy place to go for life-changing legal help and resources,” said Angie Lloyd, Executive Director, Ohio Access to Justice Foundation.

Community Service Award for Attorneys 40 and under | This award is presented to attorneys around 40 years of age or younger who contribute substantial time and effort in service to a local social service, or a local civic, artistic, or cultural organization. 

Cynthia Cunningham, Mt. Vernon

Cindy Cunningham is an exceptional attorney, civic leader, and dedicated volunteer with strong roots in her community. She is a partner at Kidwell and Cunningham, specializing in real estate law, probate and estate planning, and small business law. Cunningham is a graduate of Kenyon College and earned her law degree from Capital University.

As a community leader, Cunningham serves on a long list of organizations including New Directions Domestic Violence Support Center, the YMCA of Mount Vernon, and the United Way of Knox County and more. In her leadership roles, she has been an instrumental fundraiser and an uplifting presence within the community.

Cunningham is also a tireless advocate for individuals with developmental disabilities. She previously served as the Program and Policy Director for the Mental Health Addiction Advocacy Coalition and currently serves as Treasurer for the Knox County Board of Developmental Disabilities levy committee. 

“Everyone in Knox County respects Cindy and enjoys her knowledge, passion and great sense of humor," said Steve Oster, Superintendent of the Knox and Coshocton County Boards of Developmental Disabilities. “She has a deep sense of commitment and supports people, organizations, and causes with her whole heart, making Knox County a better place for everyone.”

About the Ohio State Bar Foundation:

The Ohio State Bar Foundation (OSBF) is a 501(c)(3) grantmaking organization and the largest bar foundation in the U.S. Through our grants and programs, the OSBF works to educate the public about the rule of law and help build a better justice system. Since 1992, the Ohio State Bar Foundation has awarded over $16 million in grants statewide. The OSBF also hosts an annual statewide awards program to recognize attorneys who give back to their communities through service, as well as a Fellows program, featuring a select group of attorneys who give their time, talent, and treasure to advance the OSBF’s mission.

For more information about the Ohio State Bar Foundation, please visit

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