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State Bar to Honor 2008 Award Winners at Annual Meeting

9/9/08

The State Bar of Michigan will honor 12 members of the legal community at its 2008 Annual Meeting, which takes place Sept. 17-19 at the Hyatt Regency in Dearborn. Winners of five major State Bar awards will be recognized at a banquet on Sept. 17. The SBM Representative Assembly will honor its award recipients during its meeting the following day.

Roberts P. Hudson Award

Cahill McCree Lewis

The winners of the Roberts P. Hudson Award—the State Bar of Michigan's highest honor—will receive their honors posthumously. Kimberly M. Cahill—the State Bar of Michigan immediate past president, former SBM Representative Assembly chair, and long-time member of the Bar's Board of Commissioners—passed away in January. She was an extraordinarily gifted and inspiring leader, who devoted much of her time to advancing the interests of justice and the legal profession. Cahill served many organizations and was on the board of the Michigan State Bar Foundation. She also served as president of the Women's Lawyers Association of Michigan in 1996 and was Macomb County Bar Association president in 2001-02.

Kathleen McCree Lewis, who died in October, was one of the country's pre-eminent appellate practitioners. She was a member of the American Academy of Appellate Lawyers, an elite, invitation-only national organization, and served as the group's president in 2005-06. She was instrumental in the creation of the State Bar of Michigan Appellate Practice Section and chaired the Sixth U.S. Court of Appeals Rules Advisory Committee for three years with the goal of updating the court's antiquated local rules.

Frank J. Kelley Distinguished Public Service Award

Timmons Casey

Bruce A. Timmons, legal counsel to the Republican members of the Michigan House of Representatives Judiciary Committee, has been in Lansing for more than 40 years. In addition to scrutinizing every piece of legislation assigned to the committee, he typically gives similar treatment to measures that reach the House floor through other committees. Timmons is not only the foremost expert on Michigan law; he's also its historian. Ask him about a law or a proposed law from the past, and he'll tell you the reasons it passed, failed, or was amended.

Thomas L. Casey retired from his post as Michigan's solicitor general this past July, almost 16 years to the day when he took the job. Responsible for all civil and criminal appellate litigation involving the state of Michigan in both state and federal courts, Casey was in charge of a staff of 280 attorneys that filed more than a thousand appellate briefs annually and he edited each one of them. During his tenure, Casey argued nine cases in front of the U.S. Supreme Court and 23 cases before the Michigan Supreme Court.

Champion of Justice Award

Hoort Lavoie

During his tenure on the bench, 8th Circuit Court Judge David A. Hoort has forged a well-deserved reputation as an innovator. As a district judge, his creations include court sessions on Saturday mornings, regularly scheduled night sessions for the circuit's small claims court, and trials in high schools with students serving as jurors in real criminal cases. Most recently, Hoort implemented the 8th Circuit's Mental Health Court, the first of its kind in the state. Similar to drug and alcohol courts, its goal is to assess the mental health status of felony offenders and help for those who need it.

As a volunteer mentor through the Pontiac Alumni Foundation at Lincoln Middle School three years ago, attorney Michael Lavoie met weekly with 26 at-risk students, none of whom were expected to reach high school. Lavoie led the students—quickly dubbed the Gettysburg Group—in African studies, museums trips, and got them involved in community service. The Alumni Foundation adopted the Gettysburg Group blueprint for the entire district and now serves more than 400 kids with 85 mentors.

DuFour Morrow Vestrand

Armed with a relatively new state law, Mary DuFour Morrow has pioneered the prosecution of landlords who knowingly rent lead-laden properties to families with children. The only prosecutor in the state attacking lead poisoning cases in this manner, her efforts have led to the remediation of 125 contaminated properties across Wayne County. Because of her groundbreaking work in this area, she has become the state's pre-eminent authority on legal issues surrounding lead abatement. In addition to her work in Wayne County, Morrow is involved in childhood lead poisoning abatement programs in Detroit, Lansing, and Berrien County.

Joan Vestrand, an assistant dean at Thomas M. Cooley Law School's Auburn Hills campus is well known for her focus on professional responsibility. She has lectured extensively on the subject and believes that professional responsibility also includes a duty to give back to the community. On a speaking engagement at Pontiac's Northern High School, Vestrand was dismayed to find filthy classrooms, outdated equipment, and students who couldn't afford to meet the dress code. Vestrand and some of her Cooley students took action by cleaning classrooms, staging clothing drives, conducting field trips, and providing mentoring and tutoring. A seminar on character, conduct, and personal success she first presented to incoming ninth-graders evolved into "Success on Saturdays," a program open to Northern students and their parents.

Weber Bernstein

Lorraine H. Weber has served a variety of roles during a legal career that has spanned more than 30 years—working in Wayne County's probate and juvenile courts, leading two Michigan Supreme Court task forces, chairing the State Bar's Representative Assembly, advising the SBM Open Justice Commission, and heading the Detroit Metropolitan Bar Association. The one constant has been her devotion to women and minorities seeking racial, ethnic, and gender fairness in the courts and the legal profession.

John W. Cummiskey Pro Bono Award

Blind since birth, Richard Bernstein has taken on pro bono work in cases ranging from wheelchair access to Detroit buses, disabled access at Michigan Stadium, and the safety of disabled pedestrians at Oakland County roundabout traffic intersections. He won the 2003-04 Regeana Myrick Award, given by the SBM Young Lawyers Section to recognize his commitment to public service. In 2002, the Macomb Intermediate School District presented him with a special honor for his work on behalf of disabled students and their families and last year, he was the Detroit Jewish Community Relations Council's choice for its Activist of the Year honor.

Michael J. Franck Award

Brennan Spagnuolo-Dal

Thomas E. Brennan didn't win elections for the state House of Representatives in 1952 or a bid to replace the deceased John Dingell Sr. in Congress in 1955—a blessing for Michigan's legal community. In 1961, Brennan won a seat on the Common Pleas Bench, and two years later, he was appointed to the Wayne County Circuit Court bench. In 1966, Brennan entered the race for Michigan Supreme Court associate justice and won and three years later, at age 40, Brennan became the youngest chief justice in state history. In 1972, he incorporated Thomas M. Cooley Law School, leaving the bench in 1973 to devote his energies to the fledgling institution. Today, Cooley is the nation's largest law school as measured by full-time and part-time students.

Unsung Hero Award

Legal Aid of South Central Michigan attorney Susan Spagnuolo-Dal has dedicated her career to serving people who lack the means to protect their legal rights and has earned a reputation as a straight-talking lawyer who treats her clients with dignity and respect, helping them understand the legal process and representing them with a positive attitude. Her knowledge of the legal system and integrity are unparalleled, and she routinely goes beyond the role of the traditional attorney. She has accompanied opposing counsel on home visits, given up family time—Spagnuolo-Dal is the mother of 10 children—to meet with clients, and she is an advocate of the need for lawyers to ensure representation for all.

Liberty Bell Award

Students in Saginaw's public schools system are familiar with films such as "State v. Golden Locks a/k/a Goldie Locks" and "State v. Jack Poorson a/k/a Jack and the Beanstock." They're student-led plays produced by Jesse Gonzales, the district's media operations specialist, as part of its annual Law Day festivities. In addition to assisting with the writing, rehearsing, filming, and post-production of the plays, he also puts together "Law Day and You," an annual program that gives students the chance to question lawmakers and other public officials about the law. Gonzalez also produced a video on behalf of Saginaw County's school truancy initiative and is currently working on an orientation video for youths entering the county detention facility.

A little more than a decade ago, Rachel Crandall was struggling with the feelings that so often accompany transgender people. After making the decision to "live honestly," Rachel lost her marriage and job. In the midst of a crisis, Crandall decided that anyone facing a similar plight shouldn't have to make the journey alone, thus planting the seeds for TransGender Michigan. Now, the group's offerings include a telephone help line, an online chat room, a directory of transgender-friendly businesses, housing information, and an extensive section with answers to common questions. The agency has worked with the state ACLU chapter to co-sponsor legal clinics providing assistance and guidance to the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community and co-sponsored Transgender Lobby Day at the state capitol.

Founders Award

Patrick J. Bruetsch
Bruetsch

The Michigan State Bar Foundation presents its Founders Award to lawyers who exemplify professional excellence and outstanding community contributions.

Mr. Bruetsch's practice at Bruetsch and Associates in Birmingham includes personal injury, mass torts and business litigation. He was named in "Michigan Super Lawyers" in 2006, a distinction achieved through ratings by peers. Mr. Bruetsch has given countless hours to professional and community volunteer efforts, including providing legal information to the public on the "Ask the Lawyer" radio show, assisting law students as a moot court judge, giving presentations to the Young Lawyers and working with nonprofit groups such as the Cystic Fibrosis Coalition, Life Directions, Power Squadron and Habitat for Humanity. He received his B.A. and M.A., both Magna Cum Laude, at the University of Detroit and received his law degree at the Detroit College of Law where he was a contributor and editor on Law Review. When Mr. Bruetsch was instrumental in directing $1.45 million in cy pres funds from a federal class action law suit to three charities in 2007, he said it was particularly fulfilling as a lawyer that some of that amount helped build a permanent Access to Justice Fund Endowment at the Foundation.

Kimberly M. Cahill, who passed away in January 2008, was a Life Fellow of the Foundation and a member of the Foundation's Board of Trustees. She had also been president of the State Bar of Michigan, chair of the State Bar Representative Assembly, member of the State Bar Board of Commissioners, president of the Macomb County Bar Association, founding member and president of the Macomb County Bar Foundation, and president of the Women Lawyers Association of Michigan. She received both her BA and JD degrees from the University of Michigan, after which she practiced law in Center Line at Schoenherr, Cahill and Warnez, PC for more than 20 years. One of her many lasting contributions was to give leadership to the Access to Justice Campaign as its statewide chair and to bring together the Campaign's partners (the State Bar, the Foundation, and Michigan's legal aid providers) to work together to guide fundraising for civil legal aid for the poor.

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