Little did Alumnus Kevin Butler '01 know that his Cleveland-Marshall roots go even deeper than he had imagined. What follows is a truly remarkable story of legacy and love.
Kevin entered a legacy at the law school when he enrolled at Cleveland-Marshall more than 20 years ago. His father Dennis ’69 was a C|M|LAW graduate and his older sister, Gerri ’98, was already attending the College as a night student.
Kevin, a past President of the Cleveland-Marshall Law Alumni Association, has always been proud to continue his family’s legacy in law and even helped organize a College of Law/Cleveland-Marshall Law Alumni Association co-sponsored event for legacy families that have attended Cleveland-Marshall. He attended that event with his father and sister, with whom he maintains a law practice in Lakewood.
“To follow my dad and sister at Cleveland-Marshall remains an honor to me,” Butler said, referring to Dennis and Gerri. But as Kevin discovered a few years ago, they are not his only family members to have graduated from Cleveland-Marshall.
The Butlers are not Kevin’s birth family. He was adopted into the Butler family where he has three sisters, one adopted like him, and two brothers. Having been adopted when he was just a few months old, Kevin never thought of a reunion with his birth parents and never wondered why he’d been put up for adoption. Nonetheless, when a new Ohio law went into effect in 2015, unsealing birth records of adoptees in the state born between 1964 and 1996, Kevin sent away for his birth certificate.
When Kevin received the birth document, he learned the shocking news that he already knew his birth father – Euclid Law Director Christopher Frey ‘87. Kevin was the law director of Brooklyn and Lakewood, and Frey was a colleague who he saw monthly at meetings of the Northeast Ohio Law Directors Association.
Chris Frey had met Janet Anderson when both worked at Higbee’s department store while he was attending Cleveland State University and she was at Lakeland Community College. Janet got pregnant shortly after they started dating and kept it hidden from everyone but Jan’s parents. Unprepared for raising a child, they had the child in secret and immediately gave Kevin up for adoption, never even getting to hold him at birth.
The secret pregnancy brought them closer together, and less than a year later they were engaged. Soon after Chris and Jan married Chris continued working at Higbee’s by day while attending Cleveland-Marshall College of Law as a evening student. Chris and Jan would go on to have six additional children together, the youngest of which, Marie Frey, is a 2014 Cleveland-Marshall graduate.
During the two years in which Kevin knew about his birth parents but had not revealed his identity, Chris had called Kevin because Lakewood was hiring an assistant prosecutor and was hoping Kevin could give Marie, who had recently passed the bar examination, consideration for the position. Knowing what he knew about their family, but what Chris didn’t, Kevin couldn’t hire Marie because of nepotism consideration. Kevin ignored the request but the incident nudged Butler to quit stalling about presenting Chris with the news.
“Every time I went to a law directors’ meeting, I would carry that original birth certificate in my pocket, just in case I could work up the courage to tell him,” Butler told Cleveland.com.
After two years of holding this secret, Kevin finally revealed his identity to Chris after a law directors’ meeting in September 2017. Kevin arranged to meet Chris and Jan, but insisted he did not want to insert himself in their lives. He met his six full brothers and sisters on the Frey side a week later. Two years after the initial meeting, Kevin has lunch frequently with Jan, and he and his wife and daughter get together often for dinner on the weekends with Chris and Jan.
While his second family was no longer a secret, many who know Kevin, professionally and otherwise, did not know the details of his family story until the Cleveland.com article ran in early December. Butler says the outreach since the story ran has been overwhelmingly strong and positive.
“I’ve heard from lawyers and non-lawyers alike, some of whom are adopted, adoptive parents or birth parents, supporting that we told this story and congratulating us on the heartwarming aspect of our reunion and the Butler family’s warm acceptance of my changed circumstances.”
It has been a busy time not only personally, but professionally for Butler as in October he joined the Cleveland office of McDonald Hopkins LLC as of counsel, where he will work in the firm’s burgeoning public law practice.
“Kevin’s experience speaks for itself and the value he will bring for our clients,” C|M|LAW Hall of Fame Member Teresa Metcalf Beasley ‘92, chair of the McDonald Hopkins’ Public Law Practice Group, said in a release. “We are extremely pleased to strengthen our Public Law Practice Group by adding someone with Kevin’s credentials.”
In the new position, Butler will provide counsel to government entities – local, county regional and state, as well as companies that do business with those entities. He is leaving Lakewood government at the end of 2019 but will continue as law director in Brooklyn. Butler will also continue his private practice, cherishing the opportunity to stay in practice with his father Dennis while he can. He is excited to be able to continue and expand his work in public law.
“I’ve always been energized that what we do ultimately serves and benefits citizens-at-large,” Butler said. “There is something wholesome and rewarding about that area of practice.”
Butler will also maintain his active presence with the Cleveland-Marshall Law Alumni Association, where he is a past president and honorary trustee. Butler has been involved with the CMLAA since he was a student at Cleveland-Marshall, attending and bartending at association events with past CMLAA Director Mary McKenna. He has chaired the association’s Continuing Legal Education committee for a number of years.
“I’ve really come to appreciate all the things that have been said about the law alumni association, that it is one of the strongest alumni organizations for any law school in the country. We really work hard to be a force in the community with all the activities we present,” said Butler.