Retired law professor looks back over long academic career

By Sheila Pursglove
Legal News

Chelsea resident Gary Maveal didn’t originally plan on a long and illustrious career in the halls of academe – but that’s what Lady Justice evidently had in mind.

Maveal, who retired this summer as a tenured professor at the University of Detroit Mercy School of Law, will first and foremost miss his students.

“They kept me sharp,” he says. “So many memories of them – it’s a challenge to remember their names and faces, but it’s fun trying.

“I’m going to miss being on top of the subjects of Civil Procedure and Remedies,” he adds. “I moved away from the Evidence course a few years ago and miss that. I was very, very fortunate to have the opportunity to study and teach these three subjects among my courses here.” 

Maveal, recently honored with the prestigious James T. Barnes, Sr. Memorial Faculty Scholar Award in recognition of outstanding scholarship,
teaching excellence, and public service, first trod the hallowed halls as a student, graduating summa cum laude in 1981.

“I think studying law is likely harder than it was 40 years ago,” he says. “Back then the law library literally held the law for you to find—you could physically trace your progress finding an answer. I know I always feel a lot more in control of my research when I’m inside it. 

“Nowadays, students have to master navigating databases that are much more varied and complex than the books. On the other hand, the technology allows broader access to old and rare authorities.”

Technology has changed legal education in so many other ways, he notes.

“It’s so much easier to get to know each student than it was before the Internet,” he says. “I’d use email on a weekly basis to prod students on our subject or try to clarify things. Both LEXIS and Westlaw have online course management tools that are indispensable for supplementing class meetings. I’ve used Westlaw’s discussion forums to encourage reflection and assimilation of material in all of my courses.”   

Back in his own student days, and his first year after graduation, Maveal clerked for Wayne County Circuit Judge Susan Borman, before joining U.S. District Court Judge James Churchill.

His clerkship for Judge Borman was in the “Old”, now-Wayne County Building at 600 Randolph. 

“What a great old courtroom,” he says. “When she offered me the job, I didn’t know how to type—I went out and bought an IBM Selectric typewriter the next day.”

In his clerkship, Maveal worked up reports and recommendations on civil motions, experience that taught him the Michigan Court Rules and the Revised Judicature Act before writing the bar exam.

“Judge Borman and her courtroom clerks, Gene Boring and Sharon Norman, were all very patient with me,” he says.   

Clerking for two years for U.S. District Judge James Churchill and his chambers staff was also a delight, Maveal says.

“As a former practitioner and Circuit Judge for Lapeer and Tuscola counties, it seemed Judge Churchill already knew pretty much most of what I thought I was reporting to him most days. I’m pretty sure I got the better of the bargain out of the clerkship,” he says. “My fellow clerks there were
Brian Figot and (the late) Joanne Fitzgerald Ross. It was a tremendous immersion in both federal and state law."

In 1984, U.S. Attorney Len Gilman hired Maveal for the U.S. Attorney’s Office where he worked in the appeals unit before moving to its civil division—a position Maveal notes was a tremendous opportunity and introduced him to many able attorneys that served as role models.

Four years later, as he considered changing directions, Maveal went back to his alma mater to talk to professors about law firms he might approach – instead, the law school snapped him up into faculty, providing the office previously used by former Michigan governor G. Mennen "Soapy" Williams.

“I was lucky that then-U.S. Attorney Roy C. (Joe) Hayes spoke on my behalf to allay Dean Bernard Dobranski’s concerns that I might be an adherent of Critical Legal Studies,” Maveal says.

Honored in 2016 with the University’s Agere ex Missione (“to do the mission”) Award, Maveal has worn many hats over the years in addition to his courses, including Assistant Dean for Student Affairs; Director of the Urban Law Clinic; Director of Faculty Research & Development; and Associate Dean for Academic Affairs.  He served as faculty advisor to the student chapters of the American Constitution Society and the National Lawyers Guild, and as Moot Court Advisor and coach. He even served as "honorary coach" of the law school's ice hockey team that competes in the annual Skate for Justice Tournament, with proceeds going to the State Bar of Michigan's Access to Justice program.

Maveal has also administered the American Inn of Court program since 1990, where lawyers and judges take third-year law students through litigation scenarios exploring civility, client relationships, and ethical issues.  At a May 22 year-end reception hosted by the Detroit Mercy Law chapter, Michigan Supreme Court Justice Brian K. Zahra, a former Master of the Bench and a fellow alumnus of Detroit Mercy Law, presented Maveal with a resolution from the Michigan Supreme Court honoring his service.   

“The Law School’s Inn of Court has been sustained chiefly as a result of the commitment of judges and attorneys who volunteer their time and model honorable behavior for our students,” he says. “U.S. District Judge Julian A. Cook Jr.  founded the Inn with Dean Dobranski and Judge Patrick Duggan was the Inn President for many years. It's been an honor to work with the lawyers and judges who are the heart of the Inn of Court."   

Maveal also was a member of the school’s Faculty Recruitment Committee for most of the past decade.

“We’ve assembled a very capable group that is committed to supporting our students,” he says.

He spent a decade on the board of directors of the Michigan Lawyers’ Chapter of the American Constitution Society, before stepping down last year.
“ACS has been a big part of my effort to promote political awareness and activity in our students,” he says. “I’ve tried mightily not to proselytize in the classroom and I think my students would agree that I succeeded in that—until this past year,” he says with a smile.   

He authored in 2006 a history of the Detroit Legal Aid Bureau, published in The Windsor Yearbook of Access to Justice. 

“The article grew out of my experience as Director of our Urban Law Clinic,” he says. “I had gotten to know many of the Detroit attorneys who were working in legal aid offices and private practitioners doing pro bono work for the needy. The article traces the early years of organized legal aid here in the City, which began under the auspices of the Detroit Bar Association.”

Before and after his time in the clinic, Maveal handled civil matters on a pro bono basis, mostly consumer protection and landlord-tenant matters.

In  1997, he joined Hugh (“Buck”) Davis and Cynthia Heenan in representing Riverfront East Alliance, Detroit residents who challenged Mayor Dennis Archer’s proposal for riverfront casinos.

“It was a rewarding experience to be engaged with the neighborhood on an issue so central to their quality of life,” Maveal says.

An occasional contributor to The Detroit Legal News, Maveal’s scholarship has had a focus on Michigan.

“My law review articles haven’t changed much about the world, but I took great satisfaction with my examination of the Michigan Supreme Court’s peremptory order rule,” he says. [“Michigan Peremptory Orders: A Supreme Oddity” was published in the Wayne Law Review in 2012]. That research was challenging and took me several years. I'm not sure acknowledged the great help I got from our law librarians.”

He also spent a decade on the editorial board of the Michigan Bar Journal.

“It was a pleasure working with Fred Baker, who anchored that group for so many years, as well as Nancy Brown, Naseem Stecker, and Linda Novak of the State Bar staff,” he says. “I edited a number of theme issues and enjoyed working with authors on shaping and polishing their articles.”

Since 1990, Maveal has served on and chaired hearing panels for the Attorney Discipline Board, teaming in the past decade with Chelsea attorney Peter Flintoft and Ann Arbor attorney Eileen Slank.

“I’ve found that rewarding—those cases have brought many insights and kept me in touch with the challenges of practice,” he says.

A Monroe native who grew up in Allen Park, Maveal has made his home in Chelsea for many years with his wife Jackie, his high school sweetheart. In retirement, he plans to write, to volunteer, and possibly engage in some practice. 

“I fell into law teaching and have fallen safely out of it,” he says. “I’m grateful to the University and the Law School for all the experiences.  I’m confident Jackie will guide me through this next phase of life.”

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