Upward trajectory: Past DBA president helped give membership a major boost


A photo composite of Detroit Bar members also helps spur membership growth.

By Linda Laderman

Legal News

Donn Fresard, recently appointed Wayne County chief assistant prosecuting attorney, and the former president of the Detroit Bar Association (DBA) was presented with the group’s President’s Award at its recent annual meeting.

“I’ve appreciated the opportunity to promote the rebranding of the organization and to have had the freedom to exchange ideas with the DBA’s staff. They’ve done a great job vetting, executing, and delivering on them,” said Fresard, who presided over the DBA in 2016.

The DBA’s current president, Brian Summerfield, credits Fresard with taking the initiative to revitalize the bar and its membership.

“Donn has been an energetic, enthusiastic, and creative force for the DBA. His determination was instrumental in the leadership restructuring of the Detroit Bar Association, Detroit Bar Association Foundation, and Barristers, which has resulted in a much more unified and collaborative approach to our mission,” Summerfield said. “Donn’s efforts led to a significant increase in membership over the past few years. He has personally encouraged numerous attorneys to join and participate in the DBA. His ideas and action have given them even more reasons to do so,” Summerfield said.

One of Fresard’s earliest priorities was to increase the membership of the organization, an undertaking that resulted in bringing in almost 600 new members.

“When I first took over the DBA we were just over 400 members,” Fresard said. “In 24 months we were able to double the membership to nearly a thousand.”

Fresard cites the changing needs of the city’s legal community as one of the underlying reasons the DBA needed to refocus its mission to one that would re-energize its membership.

“The DBA originally drew its members, in part, because they had a big library downtown.  When electronic research replaced books, the library was closed. Without that benefit, many of our members perceived a lack of value in a DBA membership, so it somewhat floundered,” Fresard said, crediting the DBA’s Executive Director Darlene Trudell, for facilitating changes in the association. “Luckily, we were able to hire Darlene Trudell as the DBA’s executive director. She came in with an extensive background in management and a lot of enthusiasm that enabled her to implement our ideas and many of her own.

“One of our mutual ideas was a new strategy to resurrect the then discontinued magazine, Detroit Lawyer, by bringing law firms on board to sponsor the quarterly publication,” Fresard said.

“We explored the possibility of law firms sponsoring an issue to pay for printing and postage. Initially, the local law firms weren’t too keen on the idea but when a new kid in town, Varnum, from Grand Rapids, was on the cover of first issue, everyone else sat up and took notice. Since then we’ve consistently been able to publish a top quality four color magazine four times a year,” Fresard said. “Now, our members are writing substantive articles for the magazine. It gives them the opportunity to gain prominence, plus it’s good publicity for the DBA.”

Another initiative that has historical significance for the DBA is a collaboration with Wayne County Circuit Court Chief Judge Robert J. Colombo Jr., who discovered old DBA membership composites in the archives of the Third Circuit Court.

“Judge Colombo arranged to have the 1935 and 1947 Detroit Bar composites restored, framed, matted, and mounted in the courthouse. Then, Darlene found a vendor who would take member photos and assemble a modern day composite at no charge.  This program was probably responsible for the recruitment of 200 members. The dedication of this composite will be taking place this fall,” Fresard noted.

According to Fresard, the revitalization of special interest sections, some that don’t deal with traditional academic or legal issues, has also helped to drive membership.

One in particular is an extension of Fresard’s enthusiasm for hunting and fishing.

“My personal favorite is the hunting and game section that I currently chair. It ties in exactly with my hobbies,” Fresard said. “Where we are situated, right here on the Detroit River, is one the most prolific freshwater fisheries in the country if not the world. It’s exceptional.”

Despite the constant demands of the Prosecutor’s Office, Fresard said he makes time to enjoy his hobby, one that often reveals similarities between nature and human behavior.

“The older I get the more that I’ve learned that human behavior follows the behavior of nature. When you see the way things happen in the wild you also see parallels with
human interaction,” Fresard said. “It’s interesting because a lot of these animals have social lives. They will come out for no good reason, other than to be with other animals.”

Besides the comparisons that Fresard makes between people and nature, there is a more personal reason that motivates him to find time for non-work related activities.

“My father-in-law is a brilliant man, a very accomplished neurologist. When he retired, 20 years ago, he said he should have enjoyed more hobbies and interests when he was younger. That resonated with me,” Fresard said.

Coincidentally, both Fresard, and his wife Patricia, the presiding judge of the Wayne County Circuit Court’s Civil Division, graduated from the Detroit College of Law, but they didn’t meet there.

“Donn and I met first met on Spring Break in Ft. Lauderdale through a mutual friend. He asked me out that night but it was sometime later, after I concluded through the endorsement of our friend and others, that he was not the stalker that he first appeared to be, that we started dating,” Judge Fresard said, remarking that they just celebrated their 37th wedding anniversary.

Striking a more serious note, Judge Fresard said, “Throughout our marriage Donn has been the wind beneath my wings.  From my judicial career to artistic endeavors he has dedicated himself to the manifestation of my dreams. I doubt I would have had the guts to run for a judicial seat without his insistence and adept success at running the campaign.” 

Even though their focus is on different areas of law, their shared profession provides them with a common bond that makes for some interesting after work conversation.

“We discuss new developments and changing policies in the law all of the time. I’ll come home complaining about some appellate decision that didn’t favor us and she’ll listen to me, then I’ll listen to her,” Fresard said. “It’s always fascinating.”