By John Walsh
If you live in Northeast Ohio, you’ve surely seen the ubiquitous commercials: A bald, intimidating-looking lawyer stares into the camera and says “I’ll make them pay.”
But Tim Misny ’77, a prominent personal injury attorney, isn’t a mean guy. His concern for others’ welfare and the way he approaches law has been influenced heavily by Fr. Paul Woelfl, S.J., the founder of the political science department at John Carroll. JCU was Misny’s first and only choice for college because he knew if he did well at Carroll he’d have a great chance of attending law school. The graduate of the then St. Joseph High School in Cleveland wanted to be a lawyer when he was 7 years old after the accidental death of his immigrant grandfather at a construction site.
“I was the quintessential brown bagger,” says Misny, who worked as a journalist for the Sun Newspapers while attending Carroll. “Iwas there for one thing – to get a degree.”
On the first day of Misny’s political science class, Fr. Woelfl wrote “politics is the art of compromise” on the chalkboard. Then the class had a lively discussion – which included Fr. Woelfl quoting Thomas Aquinas, Aristotle, and John Kennedy – about what that meant. Misny realized he was in the presence of greatness, and at that point, the priest became his personal guru and remained in that capacity for 33 years.
“I took Fr. Woelfl for every class he taught,” says Misny, who graduated with a 3.9 GPA as political science/pre-law student. “I asked him to be my faculty advisor, and he helped plan my course curriculum and wrote a letter of recommendation for me to get into law school that made all the difference.”
After he earned a degree from Cleveland- Marshall College of Law and began practicing as an assistant prosecuting attorney, Misny kept in touch with Fr. Woelfl regularly. The political science professor, who retired from JCU in 1983, became a pastoral minister at Gesu Parish in Toledo, Ohio, for 22 years.
“His schedule boggled my mind with all the baptisms, weddings, funerals, and daily Masses,” Misny says. “One day I showed up, and he was sweeping the steps in front of the church. He embodied what it means to be a Jesuit – he was a scholar, a Spartan, and selfless.”
As a scholar, Fr. Woelfl, who once ran for Congress, was well read and articulate.
“It was like visiting a wise man atop a mountain,” Misny says. “He loved to exchange ideas with people. I bought him a daily subscription to the New York Times, and he cut out articles and filed them in folders based on the topic. He was intellectually active to his last days.” As a Spartan, Fr. Woelfl slept on a simple cot in a small room filled with books. As a selfless person, Misny cites his wake.
“My wife, Stephanie, was surprised there weren’t more people there, and I said, ‘This is the way Fr. Woelfl would’ve wanted it because he never wanted to be the center of attention.’”
Before Fr. Woelfl died at age 93 in 2006, Misny was able to spend time with him to tell him how much he loved him, how he inspired him, and how he wanted to be like him. Toward the end of the priest’s life, Misny asked him where he wanted to go that he’d never been – it was the Hoover Dam and Grand Canyon.
“We rented a helicopter, and I was white knuckling it,” Misny says. “I looked over and saw Fr. Woelfl with a big smile on his face with his hands folded in his lap looking out the window. He was always at peace.”
The 6-foot 5-inch attorney still reflects on the Jesuit influence.
“It’s not just about doing the right thing, it’s your rationale and how you think through the decisions you make and the basis for those decisions,” he says. “Furthermore, it’s about your duty to act on those decisions.”
Misny launched his own web-based (misnylaw.com) reality show, “Misny Makes Them Pay,” that features his relationships with friends, family, and clients, as well as stories about cases from his 32-year career. The show’s goal is to inspire a new generation of advocates for the disadvantaged. The third- generation Slovakian encourages students to write a one-page letter explaining why they’d be an effective advocate for the downtrodden, incorporating examples from the show. The student who writes the most persuasive letter will receive a college scholarship. Misny hopes to inspire students the way Fr. Woelfl inspired him and to pass on the Jesuit priest’s legacy to his 3-year-old son, Max.
“I intend to tell Max all about Fr. Woelfl,” he says. “Maybe one day, Max, too, when confronted with a moral dilemma, will ask himself, ‘What would Fr. Woelfl do?’” JCU