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City council member Patrick McGee looks over a document on his computer during the Athens City Council meeting on Sept. 11, 2017. (FILE)

“Set ‘em Free McGee” to retire in 2019

Patrick McGee, a managing attorney at the Center for Student Legal Services (CSLS) and City Council representative, said he plans on picking up his fiddle and learning some new tunes when he retires. 

McGee, 66, has always enjoyed playing music, including the bagpipes and harp. One of his fondest memories is playing a lament on his bagpipes at the first 9/11 memorial on College Green. He said he also used to play for funerals, “get-drunk parties,” Halloween and other events. He doesn’t play bagpipes much anymore but still continues with the harp, mostly playing meditative music now. 

“I just play when I feel like playing since I don’t have to be an entertainer,” McGee said. “I love to do street music so that’s something … every once in awhile I will go someplace and busk. My favorite place is Burlington, Vermont. It’s great to busk there.”

McGee also made and bought about 600 CDs of his harp music called Harp of Shakra, but he has never gotten around to selling them. McGee said it was a good idea at the time, but everyone uses the internet now. 

“If you got a CD player it’s kind of a cool,” McGee said. “The first song is about, like, 29 minutes or something. It’s good for yoga, or falling asleep to. The rest of it is not nearly as good.”


Pat McGee strums his harp outside his home in Athens on Sept. 3, 2017. (FILE)

McGee plans on retiring at the earliest of March and the latest of October. He said he would like to stay until June to see if the contract for CSLS gets renewed by the university. The contract expires in July. If he stays until October, it would be for personal reasons. 

If the contract for CSLS is renewed, it would increase the service fee from $12 to $15 per semester. Student Senate endorsed a bill at a meeting in November in support of the renewal of the contract. If the contract is not renewed by the university, CSLS will be gone.

“We would have a little leeway there to last for a few months and pay our rent, but we would like to get paid, too,” McGee said, “So, if the contract didn’t get renewed, it would basically be the end of CSLS on campus.”

Amal Afyouni, International Affairs commissioner for Student Senate, has been a board member for CSLS since August 2016. She said in an email that Student Senate and CSLS have a strong relationship, and Senate has always supported McGee and his efforts to provide legal services and rights to education.

“The center is such an important resource for students, it provides legal services to students at such a low cost, which otherwise could cost students a fortune,” Afyouni said in an email. “The center helps students know their rights and not fall trapped to things like poor leases, sneaky landlords or even help with job contracts etc.”

CSLS started in 1997 after members of Student Senate found legislation passed in Ohio to authorize a program for student legal services. Bowling Green State University was the first program to have a legal services program after the legislation passed, and Senate members were able to work with the BGSU to start groundwork for a program for Ohio University students. The members then had to go through university administration and the Board of Trustees to adopt a resolution that would authorize the program, which will be celebrating 21 years in February. 

The legal services offered through CSLS are through Athens courts. Students have CSLS available for criminal and civil cases if they do not waive the fee. 

Criminal cases include misdemeanors, traffic offenses and sometimes felony cases. Felony cases are usually handled by the private bar unless the office gets the student into a diversion program, McGee said. On the civil side, CSLS handles landlord cases and consumer issues. 

CSLS does not do divorces, probate or juvenile court. However, McGee said it can be difficult to stay out of juvenile cases if a student is under 18. Over the years, McGee has handled both serious and unusual cases, including the arrest of 70 students who protested in Baker Center last February. 

“Only thing I can say is I hope our contract gets renewed because it’s a great program, and we really do a lot for students,” McGee said. “Our motto for the longest time, and I think it’s a true motto: ‘Your best friend on campus.’”


Pat McGee and his client Karim Elmasry, an Ohio University student from Egypt, discuss Elmasry’s case outside the courtroom after finishing legal proceedings at the Athens Municipal Court on Sept. 6, 2017. (FILE)

McGee graduated from OU in 1974. After, he moved to Ashland, where he did some factory work, saved up and got married. They moved to San Francisco for awhile “during the hippie days” before moving to Lexington, Kentucky, where he attended law school at the University of Kentucky. After graduating in 1978, they moved to the hills of eastern Kentucky for awhile and then moved back to Athens. 

Before joining CSLS, he worked as a public defender at a legal services office in Athens starting in 1980. He started working for the office before Ronald Reagan was elected as president and did all civil work, McGee said. At the time, the office specialized in class actions.

“If you had a situation where your client had an issue that could affect other people, you would file it as a class action and try to get a remedy that would affect everyone,” McGee said. 

After Reagan came into office, one of the first things he did was to ensure the legal services corporation could not do class actions anymore. The legal services office then started to do a lot of divorces and welfare cases, but it didn’t have the impact anymore, McGee said. 

For a period of time while he was a public defender, he earned the nickname “Set ‘em Free McGee” for a record number of acquittals in jury trials in common pleas court. He said he didn’t keep track, but he was on a streak of 33 to 40 acquittals in a row.

“The judge was kind enough to give me that name kind of jokingly because the prosecutor was so frustrated at the time,” McGee said. 

McGee began working for CSLS as an attorney in January 2000 and became managing attorney in 2003. McGee is also in his second term as an Athens City Council representative. 

One of the issues he worked on was dealing with the vendor parking space on West Union Street. He tried two different ways to save the vendors money if they didn’t use the spot that failed. The council changed vendor payment to a monthly fee so if vendors don’t pay for the month, the spot could possibly open up as a parking space. 

He said he’s learned a lot about the ways things function in the city, but he won’t run again after this term ends at the end of 2019. He is the only independent representative on City Council while the other members are Democrats.

“I ran as an independent so I didn’t have a primary,” McGee said. “I had a general election and forced them to have a general election that way, so I was fortunate to win two times on that way”

McGee said he usually asks about city spending and tries to look at ways to save the city money. He said he would also see people who have minimum wage jobs, like waiters or students, on City Council to add a different perspective. 


Clarification: The headline of this story has been updated to clarify when McGee will retire.

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