Monday Profile: Jennifer Pilette

Jennifer Pilette retired in June of 2015 after 16 years as a juvenile referee in the 3rd Judicial Circuit (Wayne), Family Division, Juvenile Section. Prior to this position, she was employed for 14 years with the State Appellate Defender Office (SADO) representing indigent criminal defendants within Michigan prisons.  A 1973 Phi Beta Kappa/with highest honors graduate of Wayne State University, she graduated from Wayne State University Law School in 1979. She previously practiced with Wayne County Neighborhood Legal Services and the Juvenile Defender Office (JDO) in Detroit.

Pilette has been a frequent speaker and trainer in Michigan and nationally. She was on the advisory committee to establish the Michigan L-GAL Protocol and has previously been involved with portions of the Michigan Judicial Institute’s Criminal and Juvenile Delinquency Bench Books.  She is the two term past chairperson of the Children’s Law Section of the State Bar of Michigan and is presently on the Council of that body. Since 2011, she has been a member of the Court Improvement Committee (CIP) of the Michigan Supreme Court. She now acts as a legal trainer for the Michigan Supreme Court Administrator’s Office (SCAO); training lawyers and workers throughout the State on issues involving child abuse and neglect.

For the past 12 years she has been an Adjunct Professor of Law at the University of Detroit/Mercy School of Law, Wayne State University Law School and, previously Cooley Law School, Ann Arbor. In 2012, she received the Adjunct Professor of the Year award at University of Detroit Mercy School of Law along with her husband, attorney William Ladd.

She is the mother of four adult, adopted children and has 12 grandchildren. A native Detroiter, she now resides in Ann Arbor.

By Sheila Pursglove
Legal News

Why did you become a lawyer? As a junior at Cass Tech in Detroit, I was required to attend a court hearing for an alternative history class. I wandered into Kenny Cockrel and Justin Ravitz trying the STRESS case (regarding the infamous Detroit Police unit) in the Wayne County Circuit Court. Three days later, my mother made me return to high school. I knew I wanted to do that!

What’s your favorite law-related book? Charles Dickens’ “Bleak House.” although my favorite book remains “Little Women” by Louisa May Alcott.

What do you consider to be your greatest achievement? Spending years on the Wayne County Juvenile Court Referee bench helping the indigent families of Wayne County.

Who are your law role models – real and/or fictional? I think most people my age admired the character of Atticus Finch in “To Kill A Mockingbird.”

If you could trade places with someone for a day, who would that be?
Any HGTV designer.

What advice do you have for someone considering law school?
Law school is a means to an end.

What’s your proudest moment as a lawyer?
When work I did on a Michigan appeal prevented my client from receiving the death penalty in a southern state.

What is something most people don’t know about you? That I have a tattoo of a fleur de lis (my family was one of the founding families of Detroit) with a Zuni sun (for New Mexico) and that I sang and played the violin semi-professionally in college.

If you could have dinner with three people, living or dead, who would they be? John and Abigail Adams and Cleopatra.

What do you do to relax? Home design.

What’s the best advice you ever received? My father, newspaperman Don Pilette, told me to have a career that I loved rather than one for money as I would spend more time there than anywhere else. He further, when I was 12, drove me outside of my northwest Detroit home area and told me that poverty and inequity had caused the Detroit riots and not to ever believe that it was anything else. I can’t underestimate the effect these lessons from my now nearly 90-year-old dad had upon me.

What other career path might you have chosen? College history or classics professor.

What would you say to your 16-year-old self? I had a wonderful adolescence and high school experience so my advice based upon teen-age angst is limited. But I would say, “Don’t worry so much about your curly hair!”

Favorite hangouts: The view from the roof of the Parq Central Hotel (once an old railroad hospital) when we are at our “happy place,” our other home in Albuquerque, N.M.

Favorite websites: Spoonflower.

Favorite music: 1940s and ’50s jazz/big band.

What is your happiest childhood memory? Vacations with my parents and sister, Sue (although we saw many Civil War battlefields and my greatest fear is being posed, yet again, in front of a cannon).

What is your most treasured material possession?
My turquoise cowboy boots.

What do you wish someone would invent? Affordable trips to outer space.

What has been your favorite year so far and why? 2004 when I married Bill Ladd.

What’s the most awe-inspiring place you’ve ever been? Delphi, Greece. I never thought I’d see where the Oracle actually sat.

If you could have one super power, what would it be? To make people be succinct.

What’s one thing you would like to learn to do? To draw or paint.

Favorite place to spend money?  Europe.

What is your motto? From “Alice in Wonderland” – “Say what you mean and mean what you say.”

Which living person do you most admire? Malala Yousafzai, the young, Muslim Pakistani girl who promoted female education at the risk of her life at age 11.

What is the most unusual thing you have done? Talking my way into Buckingham Palace to sign the Queen’s Guestbook at 17.

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