Model approach: After leaving private practice, public servant eyes 'continuous improvement'

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By Linda Laderman
Legal News

No two days are ever the same for Donn Fresard, chief of staff for the Wayne County Prosecutor Office led by Kym Worthy.

Besides acting as key administrator for a number of safety initiatives, the self-described “chief of stuff” oversees the administration of a large and visible prosecutor’s office, with more than 200 attorneys, five unions, and an annual budget that exceeds $40 million.

It is a job that requires compassion and insight.

“I don’t watch television because what I see here every day pales in comparison,” Fresard said. “It is always shocking when someone dies over something trivial, and the most difficult part is seeing how children are affected by violence.”

Fresard, an attorney for more than three decades, said he left private practice because he was excited to have the opportunity to work with Worthy.

“I’ve known her since she was on the bench,” Fresard said. “She is motivated by one thing and one thing only – to seek justice in all aspects of a criminal prosecution.”

Formerly a partner at Fresard DeMarco, Fresard said the rewards he receives as a public servant outnumber the benefits of private practice.

“There is a large amount of psychic income and satisfaction derived from the hard work we do at the prosecutor’s office,” Fresard said, naming a few of the initiatives that he has been involved with since he joined the staff.

Fresard stressed the work of the Detroit Crime Commission, the Mortgage and Deed Fraud Unit, and “of course, the sexual assault kits.”

In 2009, Worthy and her staff drew national attention for their campaign to test untested sexual assault kits after they discovered more than 11,000 of them stored in boxes on shelves in a property storage facility.

“The funding to test the 11,341 kits that our office found in a Detroit Police Department warehouse was not available from a cash-strapped county and a bankrupt city with a closed police lab,” Fresard said.

Because the county was bound by ethical restrictions that prevented the Prosecutor’s Office from seeking donations to pay private crime labs, officials had to find new avenues for funding.

Said Fresard: “The Detroit Crime Commission stepped in and agreed to customize the donation page of their website so sexual assault kit donations would be segregated. Andrew Arena worked with us and the Michigan State Police to interview private labs and to negotiate a per kit testing rate of about half of the cost.”

In addition to its assistance with the sexual assault kits, the Detroit Crime Commission has “routinely provided emergency resources to help save the lives of witnesses to violent crimes who need immediate relocation to avoid retaliation from associates of the defendant,” Fresard said.

Another program Fresard helped to shepherd through the county is one that returns houses to their rightful owners after they have been “stolen” through a title manipulation scheme.

The project, in tandem with the development of the Deed Fraud Unit, began a decade ago when homeowners started to complain to the Wayne County Register of Deeds that their homes had been stolen through quitclaim deeds they hadn’t issued, Fresard said.

“The Register of Deeds had been receiving complaints that constituents’ homes were being stolen to use for fraudulent mortgages,” Fresard said. “I testified in Lansing to enter an order to revert the title to the proper owners.”

With the help of investigators from the Wayne County Sheriff’s Department, the program has been so successful that it has been adopted in cities like Chicago and New York.

“The Register of Deeds and I routinely give presentations on the program, the next one is in September, for the Lakeshore Bar Association,” Fresard said. “The most recent conviction resulted in a conviction of several decades for a real
estate thief who had stolen hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of Wayne County real estate.”

In addition to his commitments to the county, Fresard squeezes in the time to take an active role in Detroit’s legal community.

“I’ve always been described as energetic. Now my kids describe me as spry,” the 59-year-old Fresard said.

Just a few months ago, Fresard took over the top spot at the Detroit Metropolitan Bar Association (DMBA) from Dickinson Wright attorney Frank Ortiz.

Fresard said that Ortiz was such an effective leader that he plans to use the past president’s expertise whenever he can.

“He did a great job leading the search for our new executive director,” Fresard said. “That’s why we created the position of immediate past president, so he wouldn’t get away so quickly.”

Future plans for the DMBA include an expansive website that helps younger lawyers make peer-to-peer contacts and business referrals.

“The DMBA needs to reflect the needs of its members in the 21st century with a website that enables social media exchanges for our members,” Fresard said. “We’ve also brought back The Detroit Lawyer magazine, after it was
discontinued for some years due to expenses. That’s working out very well, with our advertising income covering costs.”

After more than a decade of public service, Fresard said he “still thinks like someone in private industry,” by applying a “continuous improvement model,” that helps streamline county systems.

There is one place where Fresard doesn’t have to think like the chief of staff or someone in private industry. That place is the home he shares with his wife, Wayne County Circuit Court Judge Patricia Fresard

“She overrules me at home,” Fresard said.

It was Judge Fresard’s approach to her job while she was a Macomb County assistant prosecutor that set the bar for her husband’s work as chief of staff.

She was the kind of prosecutor who “would practice her openings and closing in the kitchen while one of us made dinner,” Fresard said. “She loved going to work every day.”

Fresard has adopted his wife’s penchant for public service.

“Becoming an assistant prosecutor for Wayne County is probably the most rewarding legal work I have ever done in my 32 years as a lawyer. Every day is fascinating.”