Two police officers turn sights to the legal arena

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By Paul Janczewski
Legal News

What are the chances two police officers from two separate Genesee County departments would both decide to leave the profession and seek new opportunities in a law career?

And what would the odds be that those two men would attend the same law school, learn of each other through a mutual friend, and become comrades in arms as they join forces in navigating the rigors while obtaining law degrees?

For Richard D. Hetherington and Brian Ogle, those chances were very good. And the odds that they will become excellent attorneys after successful careers in law enforcement are even better.

“Everything you do in life is a learning experience,” Hetherington said. “Everything adds to your character and makes you what you are. So you either take something from it, or it’s a waste of time.”

Ogle, like many others, said he got into police work “to help people.” He had the power and resources “to do good…catch bad guys and take them off the street.” But life is a progression, he said, “and as life progress, it changes your plans.”

Their paths to this point have some similarities, and some differences, but the dominoes fell for each in a unique pattern that brought them together.

Hetherington, 46, grew up in the Flint area, and after graduating from Swartz Creek High School he went to the University of Michigan-Flint. He wasn’t sure what he wanted to do.
“I contemplated majoring in English, but I couldn’t figure out what I’d do with an English degree,” he said.

Maybe teach English, he thought, but he didn’t really want to do that either. He also thought about taking pre-law classes.

“But they had a brand new program for criminal justice, and that sounded intriguing, so I looked into it.”

While in high school, he had worked a variety of jobs, at a fast food restaurant and in sporting goods, but at U-M-Flint, while attending classes, Hetherington worked for the college’s public safety office for several years. He also worked in public safety for General Motors Institute, and both of those positions involved policing the campus and surrounding neighborhoods.
“It was a stepping stone into law enforcement,” he said.

Hetherington graduated in 1988 with a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice. Becoming a cop while growing up was not something he aspired to, although he always had respect for the men in blue.

After a short stint working security at the Genesee Valley Mall, Hetherington attended the police academy, and was hired by the Flint Police Department in 1989. It fit him like a glove. He wanted to work for a mid-sized department, being from the area, and not a huge department like Chicago. He wanted to work for a department where he could get to know all the other officers.

He started as a patrolman, and did stints in the gang squad and undercover narcotics, and was eventually promoted to sergeant in 1998, supervising the undercover drug team, and later joined the detective bureau.

Hetherington said he was always active with union matters, and was not shy about expressing his opinion, so when an opportunity arose, he became president of the Flint Police Sergeants Association in 2000.

“Everything seemed to click, and I enjoyed it,” he said of police work and his union duties.

But the economic downturn hit Flint pretty hard, and layoffs were commonplace as the department became decimated, shorthanded, and very busy for the smaller number of officers.
“Most of the time we were jumping pretty good,” he said.

Along with the loss of jobs, and Flint being run by an emergency manager because of financial mismanagement, Hetherington reexamined his future. And as he became more exposed to the politics of union matters, he became somewhat jaded and began to think he did not want to do this forever. When he hired on, he really thought he’d work 25 or 30 years there, and retire. Now, it didn’t sound like a good plan.

“That was the point that was probably the beginning of the end for me,” he said.

Hetherington thought about going back to school to get a master’s degree in teaching, but his heart wasn’t in it. He had known a few attorneys over the years, and, looking for a new challenge in his life, looked into law school. He took the LSAT entrance exam, passed and started at the Cooley Law School in Lansing in 2007.

Ogle, 39, was born in Flint, but knew from an early age he wanted a career in law enforcement.

“It’s just something I always knew that’s what I was going to do,“ he said.

The gradual progression that drew him toward police work started with the community foot patrols Flint had in place, and some interaction with officers.

After graduating from Flint Southwestern High School in 1990, he went to Eastern Michigan University and graduated in 1994 with a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice. He applied to departments across the country, but decided to stay put with a girlfriend, who he eventually married, and look for a job locally.

Police departments were already feeling an economic pinch. Once, departments paid for people to go through the police academy, but Ogle could not find any of those. So he decided to pay his own way through the Oakland Police Academy “so I would be a little more marketable.”

Ogle said he really wanted to join the Federal Bureau of Investigation, but instead got a job with the Grand Blanc Township Police Department in 1995 as a patrolman, learning the ropes as he went along. In 1997, Ogle joined the Genesee Township Police Department part-time, which exposed him to different types of calls, people, and neighborhoods.

In 1997, he was hired full-time by the Mundy Township Police Department, and while there Ogle honed his skills even more with experience in road patrol, handling complaints, collecting evidence and crime scene processing, working for the motorcycle unit and community policing. He also spent time with the Flint Area Narcotics Group.

While Ogle still works for the department, he saw the winds of change hitting police work nationwide due to the economy, which translated into fewer or lost benefits, fewer cops and frozen wages.

“It’s not as secure of a job as it used to be, not as financially stable, or as thriving as it used to be,” Ogle said. “It seems to be going in reverse now.”

While the Mundy Township Police Department was not suffering as bad as some others, he saw a trend that did not bode well for these public servants. So Ogle decided to make a change.
While in college, Ogle also thought about a career in law, “but my gravitation toward police work overrode that.” Now, it again sparked an interest. He happened to be friends with Chris Christenson, who is now an attorney, since they were 12 years old. Ogle saw through the years how much his friend enjoyed law, and how it has positively affected his life in the things he’s been able to accomplish.

“It motivated me to move forward in my life, especially since police careers seem to be somewhat stagnant,” Ogle said.

Christenson became a big influence, “so I decided to take the risk and go to law school,” Ogle said. He only applied to one law school — Cooley — because it offers so much for people who are working, have children, is close, and offers a flexible schedule, geared to helping students not only learn law from the books, but by practical life examples, taught by practicing attorneys.

Through Christenson, Ogle and Hetherington learned of each other.

“We had met a few times in police work,” Hetherington said of Ogle.

Though not close friends, they had acquired knowledge of each other working narcotics. He learned of Ogle’s quest through Christenson, and the two cops-turned-law-students had lunch to talk about their new adventures.

While Ogle attended Cooley’s Auburn Hills campus, Hetherington was in the Lansing campus. But when he was unable to get some of the classes he needed, he switched to Auburn Hills, and the two have taken most of their classes together and become study partners, bouncing ideas and thoughts back and forth, preparing for exams together, and ultimately, taking the bar exam together. The arrangement has helped both.

“It’s beneficial, as friends and former cops,” Hetherington said. “We have a lot of the same ideals and mindsets. I knew he was experienced in a lot of the same things that I was, the same life experiences, and here we are going through the same classes.”

“We got to know each other better, and helped each other out,” Ogle said. “And it’s very beneficial, because I’ve got someone who’s been in the same profession, had the same experiences, with similar backgrounds, the same type of thinking, and similar stages in life, and it’s made it a lot easier.”

Both are divorced; Ogle has two children, Hetherington has four, although he is now engaged to be married. Both graduated from Cooley this year, and are awaiting the results of the bar exam before venturing out into the legal community.

While Ogle has kept his police job for now, Hetherington has been working as a paralegal for his friend’s law firm, Christenson & Fiederlein, handling research, case preparation, and other legal duties.

Hetherington hopes to get into estate planning, wills and trusts, but said he’s open to different areas of law, such as defense work in criminal and narcotics cases.

“I’m keeping an open mind, and we’ll see what comes along,” he said.

Ogle said he’s pretty open to what branch of law he might pursue, but is also leaning toward estate planning, wills and trusts, and family and criminal law.

Those in law enforcement refer to defense attorneys as joining “the dark side.” Both Hetherington and Ogle said they had to switch gears, from thinking like cops to thinking like attorneys, and it took some adjustment. But both believe in doing the job the right way in affording people due process of law. They both did that as cops, and they’ll both do it as lawyers.

“That’s the way our system is designed, and we have a wonderful criminal justice system,” Ogle said. “And we have to have faith in it.”