All in the Family: Scholarship award keeps legal family's history of giving alive

By Paul Janczewski
Legal News

The historical importance of the Beagle family in Genesee County has not been lost on Elizabeth A. Campbell. And she will become the latest person to benefit from the family's impact and many contributions in the community when she receives a $5,000 John S. Beagle scholarship made possible by the family through the Genesee County Bar Foundation.

"I grew up in Flint and was always aware of the family," she said.

Campbell, 27, will graduate next May from the University of Michigan Law School, and, like her benefactor, wants to give back to her community much like the Beagles have throughout the years.

"To get a scholarship in that name is very meaningful to me," she said.

The soon-to-be-attorney wants to apply for a public interest fellowship and work with low-income residents in Michigan, an endeavor that is certain to make the Beagle family and Bar Foundation proud.

Campbell will receive her award Thursday, Oct. 7, at the Flint Golf Club on a night that will also serve as a tribute to the Beagle family for their 125-plus years of legal service and giving to the community. While Charles D. Beagle and John S. Beagle are deceased, their passion for law and strong ethical character live on in Duncan M. Beagle, a Genesee County Circuit Judge in the Family Division.

"I'm humbled, proud, and a little embarrassed by the attention," Duncan Beagle said.

He noted that there are many other prominent three-generation legal families in Flint--the Neithercuts, Ransoms, Gadolas, Clines and Stipes, to name a few--that singling out his family seems a bit much.

"And as a public official, you get enough attention already," he said. "But I'm looking at the big picture here, and if the Bar Foundation, which does so many good things for the community, wants to use my family as an example to help their future causes, then that's okay."

The Beagle family has a long history of giving with not only the community, but also with the Genesee County Bar Association and the Genesee County Bar Foundation. The GCBA was formed in 1897 to serve the professional need of its members, improve the justice system and educate the public about the law and the role of lawyers.

With more than 500 members, the GCBA conducts classes and seminars for its members and engages in a number of community service projects, such as an annual holiday dinner for the needy and free legal advice on a number of topics.

The Foundation arm of the GCBA was incorporated in 1988 to support worthy projects which improve the administration of justice, promote the study of law and the continuing education of lawyers, educate the public about its legal rights and obligations, and maintain the honor and integrity of the profession.

Walter Griffin, president of the GCBF, spearheaded the tribute for the Beagle family to coincide with the presentation of the John S. Beagle scholarship to Campbell.

"We wanted to let the community know that there are individuals out there who are doing good things," he said. He acknowledges that there are other prominent legal families in Genesee County who have contributed to the profession and the community, but the Beagle family established the scholarship through generous donations.

"Flint is a community that has had economic problems in the past, and it's nice to see individuals who have been here and stayed here and are trying to contribute and make it a better place," Griffin said.

Because of the name, the moniker "legal Beagle" has been attached to all three generations of Beagles.

Charles D. Beagle, Duncan's grandfather, was born in 1881 and graduated from the University of Minnesota Law School in 1904, but practiced law in Washington state for 18 years and was elected Skagit County prosecutor. But in the mid 1920s, he moved back to Genesee County and served as an assistant Genesee County prosecutor before being elected as Genesee County prosecutor in 1928. Duncan Beagle said his grandfather charged more than a dozen people, some high-ranking bank officials, with embezzlement just a month after the stock market crashed in 1929.

While Duncan Beagle was only about 10 years old when his grandfather died in 1958, he learned a lot about the case while doing research at the library and from his father. The prosecution was very controversial at the time, he said.

Charles Beagle also was very active in the GCBA, and served as its president from 1937-38. In all, he practiced law for 54 years.

John S. Beagle was born June 2, 1912, in Anacortes, Wash., but graduated from Flint Central High School in 1929 and then went to Washington and Lee University, where he earned a bachelor's degree in 1933 and a law degree from that institution three years later.

He became an assistant Genesee County Prosecutor and an assistant U.S. Attorney General in Lansing before enlisting in the U.S. Army Air Corps in 1942 during World War II. John Beagle later transferred to the Navy Air Corp, and served in American and Asiatic-Pacific Theaters for three years before being discharged as a lieutenant.

After returning to Genesee County, Beagle resumed his general law practice in a firm with his father and another attorney. At the beginning of his career, which, like his father, spanned more than 50 years, Beagle specialized in criminal law and domestic relations. But toward the latter half of his career, Beagle practiced domestic relations exclusively.

He retired in 1986 with more than 50 years of law practice and moved to Punta Gorda, Fla., becoming active in watching over taxpayers' money.

Duncan Beagle was born in 1947 and attended Flint schools before receiving his undergraduate degree in 1970 from Albion College. At first, he said he did not want to be an attorney because he saw his father working on Sundays and way too hard during the week.

"I didn't want any part of that lifestyle," he said.

But at some point, Duncan said he realized being an attorney might not be a bad idea.

"Someone told me 'You like to run your mouth and argue, maybe you should go into law.'"

So he did. And he said his father instilled a strong work ethic in him that he still follows. Duncan Beagle received his law degree in 1975 from the University of Detroit Mercy, and followed that with stints as the youngest GCBA President from 1983-84, 67th District Court Administrator, an assistant Genesee County Prosecuting attorney and a Friend of the Court referee. He also had a legal practice, specializing in criminal defense and domestic relation, like his father.

In 1990, Duncan suffered an infection of his spinal cord, which has left him in a wheelchair. But during the initial stages of his illness, his father came back from Florida to help with his son's law practice. Duncan was appointed to the Genesee County Circuit Court in 1991, and was married a few months later. He and his wife, Dana, live in Fenton and have a son, Devan.

His father died in May 2000 at age 87, but Duncan and others remember him as ethical, honest, hard-working and hard-partying, and a man whose word was his bond. Duncan said his father owned several bars, and got many of his clients from that relationship.

"He had a colorful way of enjoying life,' Duncan said.

Many of the attorneys from that era emerged from the Depression and interrupted their careers for World War II but returned with a strong work ethic and passion to help the common man, "the solid, hard-working middle class."

Attorney Reese Stipes is someone who was familiar with all three generations of Beagles. Although he never practiced law that same time Charles Beagle did, he knew of him, and Charles mother taught a young Reese Stipes some classes in high school.

"John Beagle was known as one of the best attorneys in town, and he, Charles and Duncan were very well-respected and liked by their peers," Stipes said. "John was extremely colorful, he loved to laugh and he loved politics."

He said Duncan "is an outstanding judge, and spends hours trying to get his cases resolved." He said all the Beagles had a great sense of humor, a trait that Duncan uses to perfection on the bench. And he credits the competitor Duncan was as an outstanding athlete to how he handles his physical adversity now.

"Nothing gets him down," Stipes said. "He just keeps going."

Griffin said that Duncan and John were founding members of the GCBF, and their contributions are used to help defray law school costs for others interested in a profession they love. Duncan has also served on committees to aid athletics in the community and both follow the credo John set forth years ago.

"It is my belief that an individual who is interested in his or her community, and in other people, will generally make the best lawyer," John Beagle once said.

He, his father, and his son are living proof of that.