Reflection: New firm offers area attorney a chance to step back in time

By Tom Kirvan

Legal News

At Oak Park High School in the late 1960s, David Fink was building an impressive resume, one destined to attract Ivy League attention.

He was student council president, captain of the debate team, and president of the future lawyers club. For good measure, he even decided to hedge his future professional bets by serving as vice president of the medical careers club.

His brief flirtation with the idea of becoming a doctor may have been out of respect for his father, a radiologist who attended medical school at Wayne University.

"Until I was 15, I pretty much figured that I had to be a doctor," Fink admitted. "But I couldn't get around the fact that I became queasy at the sight of blood."

So instead, Fink decided it was best to follow a legal path at Harvard College, graduating magna cum laude from the prestigious university that has spawned political, economic, and diplomatic pioneers by the hundreds since its founding in 1636. He went on to Harvard Law School, earning his juris doctor cum laude in 1977 with a mind toward a career in public service.

In many respects, it has been a plan fulfilled over the course of a 34-year career in the law for the Bloomfield Hills attorney. Earlier this year, he took a step that undoubtedly rekindled memories from a previous point in his career, opening a law practice for a second time.

In early January, Fink + Associates Law opened at 100 West Long Lake Road in Bloomfield Hills.

"I'm excited about our new firm," Fink said. "It's a chance to leverage what I've learned in more than 30 years in private practice and public service. We are building a strong, nimble litigation team, with all the advantages of the best available technology. Our firm will provide our clients personal service, passionate representation, and uncompromising integrity."

The firm, according to Fink, will focus on complex commercial and class action litigation. Its areas of practice include business disputes, antitrust work, consumer fraud, environmental law, intergovernmental disputes, securities fraud, shareholder derivative litigation, and construction contract matters.

Fink had a similar focus in 1978 when he left a job as assistant corporation counsel for the City of Detroit to open a Farmington Hills firm that would become Fink, Zausmer & Kaufman. The firm, over the course of two decades, grew to include 20 attorneys and served as a launch pad for Fink's run for U.S. Congress in 2002.

While his Democratic bid to unseat Republican incumbent Joe Knollenberg proved unsuccessful, Fink subsequently accepted an appointment to Gov. Jennifer Granholm's cabinet as the State Employer. The job as the governor's chief labor negotiator involved a three-year commitment in which Fink "helped save Michigan taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars through negotiated reductions in employee wage and benefit costs," he indicated.

"It was a fascinating experience to be involved in such a complex bargaining process that ultimately benefited state taxpayers," Fink said. "It was difficult but important work that helped satisfy my desire to be involved in the public service again."

Fink returned to private practice in November 2005 as a senior partner with The Miller Law Firm, a post he held until last December when he left to start his own firm. In 2006, while with The Miller Law Firm, Fink was asked by Gov. Granholm to mediate a complex dispute between the Detroit Medical Center and the Wayne State University Medical School. His work impressed Mike Duggan, CEO of Detroit Medical Center.

"David's intelligence, persistence, and determination allowed the parties to reach a resolution many thought was impossible," Duggan said. "He is as creative as he is tenacious, both in the courtroom and at the bargaining table."

Recently appointed to the Michigan State Officers Compensation Commission, the 58-year-old Fink admits to "being driven by a political idealism" that was rooted in his involvement with the 1968 presidential campaign of Senator Eugene McCarthy. As a high school student at the time, Fink traveled to Milwaukee during the spring of '68 to "pitch in where needed" with the McCarthy campaign, accompanying the would-be Democratic nominee on a downtown walking tour of Wisconsin's largest city.

"We were fighting a battle to change history, particularly as it related to our nation's increasing involvement in Vietnam," Fink said of his political involvement. "I vividly remember coming face-to-face with Senator McCarthy one day and I was absolutely star-struck. He invited me to join him on his walk as he revealed his urban agenda. I had my camera and took photos of him as he made the rounds, later giving them to him for use during his campaign."

Four years later, the two would come face-to-face again, this time at the Harvard Institute of Politics, the living memorial to President John F. Kennedy. Senator McCarthy was there for a speaking engagement. Fink was a sophomore at Harvard, rubbing elbows with fellow students like David Stockman and Barney Frank.

"To my great surprise, Senator McCarthy remembered me and asked, 'Did we ever send you a thank you for those photos?'" Fink related, acknowledging that the answer was "no."

"The fact that he asked said a lot about him -- and, of course, on the flip side about the campaign," Fink said somewhat pointedly.

In the summer of 1968, Fink figured to be bound for the Democratic National Convention in Chicago, a flash point for political protest. His parents had other ideas for him. Instead, they sent him to Europe for a comparative governments program. The educational trek would take him to Dachau, the first Nazi concentration camp, where hundreds of thousands perished during World War II.

"It was a profound experience, to be at a place where so many lives were lost; where hatred stood tall; where political and religious intolerance ruled," Fink said. "It forced me to come to grips with how life could have been different for the Jews of the '30s and '40s if they had been protected by a Bill of Rights and a legal system where the Rule of Law prevails."

During the same trip, Fink was in Munich when Soviet tanks rolled into Czechoslovakia, crushing an uprising and reinforcing iron-fisted rule in the Eastern Bloc country.

"I was disaffected by the political establishment at the time, but I was determined to work to replace those in power and not to change the system itself," Fink said. "Visiting Dachau was the driving force behind my passion for the Bill of Rights and my deep commitment to the political process. It was a life-altering experience."

As was his work in Florida during the immediate aftermath of the 2000 presidential election, a contest between George W. Bush and Al Gore that hinged on a recount of ballots in several key counties. Fink was one of three lawyers assigned to verify the validity of ballots cast in Broward County, spending three weeks there in a painstaking effort to bring the election to a proper end.

"In one way, it was an exciting and positive experience, witnessing the peaceful counting of ballots, as ordinary citizens worked together to follow the rule of law in selecting the leader of the free world," Fink said of his time assisting with the recount. "On the other hand, it was the most disturbing experience of my legal and political life to see the horrific act of the U.S. Supreme Court, stealing an American election. The course of history was changed by five right wing members of the Supreme Court."

His outspoken political views speak volumes about his legal focus in handling class action cases.

"Class action cases mesh well with my desire to advance the interests of a large group of people in a single matter," Fink said. "I enjoy fighting for the interests of people who otherwise would go unrepresented, their voices unheard against the power and resources of a large entity."

Fink said he derives special satisfaction in "being in a courtroom setting" where he can use his cross examination skills.

"There is an old saying that cross examination is the 'engine of truth,' and I really didn't fully appreciate the significance of that until I experienced it myself in court," Fink related. "Only then do you really understand the power of our judicial system."

A board member with the Bloomfield Hills Schools Foundation, Fink has a sister, Faye, a retired preschool teacher who now lives in Farmington Hills. Their parents, Bertha (Babe) and Samuel, both grew up in Detroit and are alums of Central High School.

Valedictorian of his high school class, Fink has two children from his first marriage, Nathan and Lauren. Nathan, 25, graduated from the University of Michigan and is a third year law student at Wayne State. Lauren, 22, graduated from Wellesley College and is a Peace Corps volunteer stationed in Tanzania.

Five years ago, Fink and his wife Amy were married in a ceremony officiated by Gov. Granholm. His wife, who serves as office manager for the law firm, brought two sets of twins to the marriage, 16-year-old Justin and Alex along with 14-year-old Noah and Kyla. The four are students at Andover High School.

"Having four teen-agers in the household is fun and interesting, almost as much as starting a law firm all over again," Fink said with a trace of a smile.

Published: Tue, Apr 26, 2011