Leaders in the Law 2011 Announced

After a statewide call for nominees brought numerous worthy candidates, Michigan Lawyers Weekly has selected its 25 “Leaders in the Law” for 2011.

The honorees will be recognized in a special section to be published Feb. 28, and at the third annual Leaders in the Law luncheon, taking place March 15 at the Detroit Marriott in Troy. At the awards ceremony, Lawyers Weekly will reveal the 2011 Lawyer of the Year.

In selecting the 25 Leaders, a Lawyers Weekly editorial panel considered such details as:

• Possessing the ability to achieve success in his or her respective practice, while also displaying the strength of character that transcends results.

• Exemplifying the noble tradition of the legal profession, coupled with commitment to practicing law in Michigan.

• Being passionate and aggressive on behalf of both clients and the legal community.

• A record of winning cases, solving problems or coming to judicial conclusions that reflect the utmost integrity.

The 2011 roster reflects a diverse array of practice areas, from homeland security, consumer bankruptcy and asbestos litigation, to fire and explosion matters, Whistleblower Protection Act, and broker-dealer securities.

This year’s honorees are:

• Lawrence G. Almeda, Brinks Hofer Gilson & Lione, Ann Arbor

• George W. Ash, Foley & Lardner LLP, Detroit

• Gary August, Zausmer, Kaufman, August, Caldwell & Tayler, P.C., Farmington Hills

• Timothy A. Baughman, Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office, Detroit

• Mark R. Bendure, Bendure & Thomas, Detroit

• Michael Cavanaugh, Fraser Trebilcock Davis & Dunlap, P.C., Lansing

• Hon. Maura D. Corrigan, Michigan Department of Human Services, Lansing

• Stephen R. Drew, Drew, Cooper & Anding, P.C., Grand Rapids

• Michael Fabian, Fabian, Sklar & King PC, Farmington Hills

• Clayton F. Farrell, Collins, Einhorn, Farrell & Ulanoff, P.C., Southfield

• James P. Feeney, Dykema Gossett PLLC, Bloomfield Hills

• David H. Fink, Fink & Associates Law, Bloomfield Hills

• Kenneth Gross, Thav, Gross, Steinway & Bennett, P.C., Bingham Farms

• Hon. Milton L. Mack Jr., Wayne County Probate Court, Detroit

• Lawrence C. Mann, Bowman and Brooke LLP, Troy

• Paul A. McCarthy, Rhoades McKee PC, Grand Rapids

• Lawrence D. McLaughlin, Honigman Miller Schwartz and Cohn LLP, Detroit

• Jon R. Muth, Miller, Johnson, Snell & Cummiskey, P.L.C., Grand Rapids

• Megan P. Norris, Miller, Canfield, Paddock and Stone, P.L.C., Detroit

• Tom R. Pabst, Tom R. Pabst P.C., Flint

• Gregory J. Parry, Eagle Risk Management Law Firm PLC, Beverly Hills

• T. Joseph Seward, Cummings, McClorey, Davis & Acho, P.L.C., Livonia

• Patrick G. Seyferth, Bush Seyferth & Paige PLLC, Troy

• Norman D. Tucker, Sommers Schwartz, P.C., Southfield

• Douglas E. Wagner, Warner Norcross & Judd LLP, Grand Rapids

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Weaver proposes fix for MSC partisanship

Responding to a recent Lansing State Journal editorial, see MSC: ‘throroughly politicized’, former MSC Justice Elizabeth Weaver took to the LSJ’s editorial page this morning, touting a six-point plan concerning MSC elections and appointments:

1. No political party nominations. Supreme Court candidates would earn a spot on the ballot by petition – the same as other Michigan judges.

2. Election (not appointments) by district. The state should be divided into seven Supreme Court election districts, one justice coming from each, to allow the geographic diversity now clearly absent.

3. Public funding. Using tax check-off money designated for gubernatorial campaigns for Supreme Court campaigns.

4. Transparency and accountability in campaign finance reporting requirements. No secret or unnamed contributors and 48-hour reporting.

5. Term limits to achieve rotation. Only one term of a maximum of 14 years, and a justice never would be eligible for reelection or appointment.

6. For appointments, establish a Qualifications Commission composed of all stakeholders in the justice system.

Weaver’s opinion piece then fleshes out some of the details.

Weaver also says more sun needs to shine on the high court:

[W]e could enact all the reforms I’ve suggested but they will have little effect unless and until we can open our Supreme Court inner workings to public scrutiny.

Unnecessary secrecy, another issue for another day.

‘Hot Coffee’ brings tort reform quandaries to big screen

Most of us remember Morgan Spurlock taking on McDonald’s in the 2004 documentary/human nutrition endurance test Super Size Me.

Well, get ready for another shot of Mickey D’s making it to the silver screen.

But this time around, the Golden Arches is examined as the catalyst for civil justice gown wrong. And if Hot Coffee is as successful as Super Size Me was among the masses when released into theaters, there’s gonna be trouble.

The film makes its premiere at next week’s Sundance Film Festival. Here’s the skinny from its Sundance site, where there’s also a trailer:

For many Americans, the famous McDonald’s coffee case has become emblematic of the frivolous lawsuits that clog our courts and stall our justice system. Or is that exactly what McDonald’s wants us to think?

Enter intrepid filmmaker Susan Saladoff. Using the now-infamous legal battle over a spilled cup of coffee as a springboard into investigating our civil-justice system, Saladoff exposes the way corporations have spent millions distorting this case to promote tort reform. Big business has brewed an insidious concoction of manipulation and lies to protect its interests, and media lapdogs have stirred the cup.

Following four people whose lives have been devastated by their inability to access the courts, this searing documentary unearths the sad truth that most of our beliefs about the civil-justice system have been shaped or bought by corporate America.

Informative, entertaining, and a stirring call to action, Hot Coffee will make your blood boil.

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Circular circulation

From The Detroit Free Press comes this interesting tale of a government job-swap:

Longtime Wayne County Probate Judge David Szymanski put in for retirement in early November, planning to leave his $140,000-a-year judgeship on Dec. 21.

On Dec. 20, Gov. Jennifer Granholm appointed deputy Wayne County Treasurer Terrance Keith to fill Szymanski’s spot on the probate bench, leaving Keith’s $145,000-a-year deputy clerk position open.

Who did Wayne County Treasurer Raymond Wojtowicz appoint?

He didn’t have to look far. He hired Szymanski.

The former judge said his judicial pension should pay him between $55,000 and $60,000 a year on top of his new salary and help him put his children through college.

“There was no quid pro quo,” Szymanski said.

Keith, who had worked for the county for about nine years, didn’t return phone calls this week seeking comment on the job switch.

MSC: ‘thoroughly politicized’

Strong editorial words from The Lansing State Journal this morning about our Supreme Court:

The past decade has seen an embarrassment of acrimony on the court. Some of the key players in that unpleasantness are gone and citizens must hope they packed the venom and took it when they left.

That said, the problems on the high court go deeper than personal conflicts.

From the outside looking in, the Michigan Supreme Court has built a record that looks blatantly partisan and, frankly, up for sale to the special interests that can muster the most money to purchase election advertising. Citizens should be asking themselves how the people elected to these supposedly “nonpartisan” positions can appear to be so thoroughly politicized. …

Michigan could sorely use a change to eliminate partisan involvement in nominating justice candidates. It also needs campaign finance reforms that take special interest money out of judicial races.

These are not easy problems, but until they are fixed, justice in Michigan only pretends to be blind.

The LSJ editorial also wonders whether the game of judicial ping-pong — precedent being reversed when the political majority shifts on the Court — will continue now that the Republicans are back in the driver’s seat.

The LSJ‘s editorial board is doing some plain talking about something that’s plainly a problem.

Casual Friday presents: Law School Debt Problem

On Sunday, the New York Times published a scathing indictment how the law school business model is killing the industry by stuffing more lawyers into an already scarce job market. The piece focused on a handful of recent law grads that have either been unable to find work or have been forced to take jobs that don’t pay enough to meet their debt responsibilities.

Unfortunately, they chose to lead and focus on this guy:

IF there is ever a class in how to remain calm while trapped beneath $250,000 in loans, Michael Wallerstein ought to teach it.

Here he is, sitting one afternoon at a restaurant on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, a tall, sandy-haired, 27-year-old radiating a kind of surfer-dude serenity. His secret, if that’s the right word, is to pretty much ignore all the calls and letters that he receives every day from the dozen or so creditors now hounding him for cash.

“And I don’t open the e-mail alerts with my credit score,” he adds. “I can’t look at my credit score any more.”

Mr. Wallerstein, who can’t afford to pay down interest and thus watches the outstanding loan balance grow, is in roughly the same financial hell as people who bought more home than they could afford during the real estate boom. But creditors can’t foreclose on him because he didn’t spend the money on a house.

He spent it on a law degree. And from every angle, this now looks like a catastrophic investment.

Tough break, right? Many recent graduates that can relate. In fact, many not-so-recent grads can relate. The story does a great job in exposing how law schools fudge their employment numbers for the purpose of artificially inflating their ranking in U.S. News and World Reports, and how they can make millions more in revenue by adding a handful of extra students each year, and without having to increase costs by hiring additional professors. And there are many recent grads that have been featured in similar but not quite as expansive articles with similar stories.

So what’s wrong with Wallerstein’s story? Well, for one, he seemed to treated his loans like an ATM, taking almost twice what the average student at TJSOL takes in loans.

WHEN he started in 2006, Michael Wallerstein knew little about the Thomas Jefferson School of Law, other than that it was in San Diego, which seemed like a fine place to spend three years.

“I looked at schools in Pennsylvania and Long Island,” he says, “but I thought, why not go somewhere I’ll enjoy?”

He could have found a Tier 4 law school just about anywhere. Why not go live in one of the most expensive cities in the country? It’s not like you’re paying for it … yet. And it’s not like TJSOL cares:

Mr. Wallerstein didn’t know it at the time, but Thomas Jefferson leads the nation’s law schools in at least one category: 95 percent of students graduate with debt, the highest rate in the U.S. News rankings.

They get paid either way. But it’s not like Wallerstein spent all of his quarter-million on law school. The guy used some of the money to go to Europe, among other things. In other words, he’s probably the worst example of a guy who amassed a sea of law school debt possible.

It’s too bad, because the rest of the article is spot on.  While not all of the responsibility should fall on the law school because students made bad decisions, they certainly have some of it. TJSOL, for example, claims to have a 95% job placement rate. Unfortunately, law schools aren’t exactly diligent in reporting the kind of work some of the grads are finding:

Today, countless J.D.’s are paying their bills with jobs that have nothing do with the law, and they are losing ground on their debt every day. Stories are legion of young lawyers enlisting in the Army or folding pants at Lululemon. Or baby-sitting, like Carly Rosenberg, of the Brooklyn Law School class of 2009.

“I guess I kind of assumed that someone would hook me up with something,” she says. She has sent out 15 to 20 résumés a week since March, when she passed the bar. So far, nothing.

Jason Bohn, who received his J.D. from the University of Florida, is earning $33 an hour as a legal temp while strapped to more than $200,000 in loans, nearly all of which he accumulated as an undergraduate and while working on a master’s degree at Columbia University.

“I grew up a ward of the state of New York, so I don’t have any parents to call for help,” Mr. Bohn says. “For my sanity, I have to think there is an end in sight.”

At some point, hopefully, the ABA will change its regulation of law schools to require more honest statistics. But considering that organizations like the ABA and the State Bar of Michigan make more money when it has more members, I’m not sure that day will ever come.

C or C+: The guy who organizes the U.S. News and World Reports’ law school rankings has told law school deans that the magazine is considering extending numerical rankings to the third tier schools. You know, because it’s really a big deal whether you are 52nd or 74th.

The National Law Journal talked to a handful of tier three deans and, of course, the results were mixed. Among those quoted in the story is Wayne State University Law School dean Robert Ackerman:

Wayne State University Law School Dean Robert Ackerman welcomed the prospect for change. “I think we would prefer to be listed by rank rather than alphabetical order,” he said. He noted that the latter tends to place his institution toward the bottom of the list.

“Psychologically, I think it makes a difference that we are listed at the end of the third tier,” Ackerman said. “I think people would make less of a distinction between schools ranked 1 through 150 than they now do between the second and third quartile.”

Maybe Dean Ackerman should focus more energy on helping recent grads get jobs, rather than how “psychologically” affected his school is by starting with the letter “W.” Besides, I’d hate to see Wayne shifting their statistics around to try to improve from 64th to 61st.

[HT: Above The Law].

Maybe I Go Up, Maybe I Go Down: Remember George Costanza’s low speed chase in the motorized carts? This is pretty similar. Then it gets weirder and more hilarious.

Too bad we can’t tell what kind of beer he was sitting on. My guess? Busch.

Ex-AG Cox at Dykema

The old Lansing regime apparently doesn’t have to look too far for their next gigs. In fact, they may just be working alongside you.

First, ex-Senate Majority Leader Mike Bishop announced last week he’s joined Clark Hill PLC. Now, former Michigan Attorney General Mike Cox is taking up professional residence at Dykema Gossett PLLC.

Dykema Chairman and CEO Rex Schlaybaugh told Crain’s Detroit Business that Cox moves in Jan. 17 as a senior attorney in its litigation department in Detroit. Health care fraud, white-collar criminal law and federal and state regulatory compliance will be among his specialties.

This makes one wonder whether former Gov. Jennifer M. Granholm will announce sometime next that she’ll be the next one from the Capitol Hill Class of 2002-10 going back into private practice. They come in threes, y’know.

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