People oriented: MSU Law adjunct professor enjoys role as township supervisor

By Jeanine Matlow
Legal News

It would be an interest in criminal cases and a thirst for learning history that lured Steven Kaplan, an adjunct professor at Michigan State University College of Law, to the field of law. After graduating with honors from Detroit College of Law (now MSU Law), he would go on to serve as Assistant Prosecuting Attorney for Macomb County for 24 years before serving as a homicide prosecutor for Wayne County.

During his time as a prosecutor, Kaplan tried more than 300 murder trials before juries. Among his most notable victories was a first-degree murder conviction in 2001 against Robert Pann, whose girlfriend, Bernice Gray, had gone missing a decade earlier. This would be the first no-body homicide conviction in the state of Michigan. To this day, her body has never been found. 

As a cold case prosecutor for 10 years, Kaplan had the opportunity to investigate (along with detectives), research and litigate previously unsolved homicide cases, most of which revolved around circumstantial evidence, rather than recently discovered DNA evidence.

Prior to becoming a prosecutor, Kaplan worked as a law clerk/staff attorney for judges in Oakland County Circuit Court, Michigan Court of Appeals and the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan.

Kaplan has also held elective office for more than 20 years, including eight years on the school board for Southfield Public Schools and 12 years as a trustee for West Bloomfield Township. Since November of 2016, he has served as the West Bloomfield Township supervisor.

“I really enjoy serving West Bloomfield Township,” he says. “I love the job.”

Though his current position as township supervisor does not leave him enough time to represent clients, Kaplan does apply his legal training to various township issues, such as contractual matters, labor relations, and general litigation.

“I enjoy functioning as an ambassador for the residents and attempting to enhance the community through making good, informed decisions,” he says.

In his spare time, Kaplan serves on the board of directors of the Greater West Bloomfield Coalition and B’nai B’rith Michigan Region.

His hobbies and interests include playing duplicate and tournament bridge, reading history books and biographies, playing chess and participating in non-fiction book clubs.

He lives in West Bloomfield with his wife Lisa, a social worker with Henry Ford Health System, and they have two grown daughters.

West Bloomfield is the second largest township in Oakland County, says Kaplan, adding that it’s uncommon for a township supervisor to be an attorney.

“It’s not a typical position, but I’m a people person so it’s a gratifying position,” he says.

Kaplan, who oversees 14 departments, believes in retaining good people and allowing them to flourish while recognizing them with incentives along the way like Employee of the Month.

“He’s an incredibly kind person,” says Township Clerk Debbie Binder, who describes Kaplan’s intelligence as encyclopedic. “He’s a team player who is committed to the township and committed to the employees.”

As Binder explains, his leadership role has a lot of legal aspects.

“His background allows him to look at contracts with a legal mind and gives him a unique perspective. He’s good at solving problems and thinking outside of the box when trying to create solutions,” she says.

Binder also credits Kaplan with being supportive of others and helping them grow.

“He’s a very good man,” she says. “He frequently answers the phone himself because he likes to know what people are calling about and he listens to everybody.”

The fact that Kaplan is a tremendous history buff comes in handy.

“He likes to create analogies and apply historical lessons to situations,” says Binder who believes his passion for history and his knowledge of the law allow him to run the township in a positive way.

Perhaps it’s his attitude that provides the icing on the cake.

“He just enjoys the job,” says Binder. “He comes in with a smile on his face and he leaves with a smile on his face.”


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