Amy Schermer’s Incredible Journey
How a Columbus business attorney made the most of her second chance
Published in 2011 Ohio Rising Stars magazine
on December 13, 2010
Updated on December 20, 2010
Amy Schermer has come a long way—both literally and figuratively. Abandoned as an infant in Seoul, South Korea, she spent her first six months in orphanages before flying halfway around the globe in 1973 to join her adoptive American parents. Today, she’s a commercial litigator at Weston Hurd in Columbus.
“I was found in a train station, picked up by a police officer,” says Schermer, whose name on the photo sent out by the adoption agency translated to “Jane Doe.” At the orphanage, she slept on rice mats on the floor. When she arrived in the United States, she was hospitalized within 24 hours because of severe vitamin deficiencies and parasites.
But the rough beginnings have no place in her memory—only in a few photos between the covers of a scrapbook kept by her mother. “I just remember the love from the family and growing up as an ordinary kid,” she says. She’s the youngest child of Phyllis and Joseph Schermer, who also have two biological sons and a daughter, all considerably older than Schermer. “But we got along,” she says, “and had the typical fights that siblings would have.”
Her arrival on a plane full of Korean infants from the adoption agency created a media stir. “I was one of 19 babies who flew halfway around the world to Chicago,” says Schermer, who moved with her family to Ohio at age 3. “I have a photograph in my scrapbook where my dad’s holding me up in the air, from the Chicago Tribune.” Phil Donahue invited all the moms, with kids in tow, to discuss their remarkable stories on his show.
Her childhood as an Asian-American growing up in the Midwest was relatively normal, says Schermer. “There were times where I do remember being made fun of because you looked different than others, but you deal with it, and my parents were good at helping me with that. … At about 7 or 8, you kind of realize you look a little different than your brothers and sisters. At that point in time, my parents answered whatever questions that I had. They let me know that I was adopted, and I kind of never looked back.”
In high school, Schermer took a law class and participated in a mock trial. After that, she knew where she was headed. “I really liked the thinking on your feet, what it took to cross-examine witnesses, do opening statements,” she says. “I pretty much had made up my mind that I wanted to be a lawyer.”
Schermer now devotes much of her practice to defending architects and engineers, often in post-construction litigation. In one tragic case, a state university freshman was fatally injured by a descending dorm elevator when he tried, at the last minute, to jump through the allegedly malfunctioning doors, still open. The boy’s family sued the school, which sued the architect, Schermer’s client. A settlement was pending at press time.
Though she says she “grew up in defense” under the tutelage of partners David Patterson and Chuck Curley, Schermer occasionally represents plaintiffs. Those cases are among her favorites. “I think part of that has to do with the fact that that’s where you have more of the human contact, helping out the little guy,” she says.
One young couple she represented had purchased a home constructed by a Pittsburgh-based builder. Among other problems, one side of the house wasn’t attached to the foundation, and mold had spread.
“You really had a David-and-Goliath situation,” says Schermer. “Fortunately, a local jury here saw the tactics and the game-playing that was being done by the homebuilder.” The couple were awarded $4 million, according to court documents. The builder appealed, and Schermer helped craft a favorable resolution.
Schermer is a past board member of the Asian American Commerce Group and this year’s president of the Chief Justice Thomas J. Moyer Inn of Court. Also, she has helped out with the mock trial team at Thomas Worthington High School, where her own passion for law was sparked.
At 38, Schermer is at home in the courtroom. Her style? “I start out as a nice person; I always believe in trying the nice approach first,” she says. “If it doesn’t work, then you need to take the gloves off. Because I look young, people put me typically in my late-20s, early 30s, and because I’m 5 feet tall, they tend to underestimate me.”
She gives her parents—a busy homemaker and a retired medical-research salesman—much credit for her success. She says, “I certainly know my upbringing with my parents, the ethics of working hard, doing the right thing, making sure you can look at yourself in the mirror, has definitely played a role in how I like to practice the law.”