Back and forth: Attorney goes the distance in long-running county case


By Sheila Pursglove

Legal News

In what may be one of the longest continuously running cases in the history of the Wayne County Prosecutor's Office, Matthew Leitman, a principal and litigator at Miller Canfield in Detroit, has been representing a physician convicted of hiring someone to kill his business partner.

"And I've been fortunate to have won it twice -- but unfortunate in that the two victories were later reversed," Leitman says.

He first won the case in 2007 when a federal court issued a writ of habeas corpus on the ground that admission of the co-defendant's alleged confession violated his client's Sixth Amendment rights. The Sixth Circuit vacated the writ of habeas corpus after the Supreme Court substantially changed its Sixth Amendment jurisprudence.

Back in the state court, Leitman persuaded a judge to vacate the conviction on the ground that admission of the alleged confession violated the Due Process Clause of the U.S. Constitution. The Michigan Court of Appeals reversed the ruling.

"We're now back in federal court," says Leitman, who has been involved in the direct appeal since 2002. "My client was originally charged in 1995, and the case has been in active litigation since that time. The case has been an emotional roller-coaster for my client and his family."

Leitman, named among Best Lawyers in America, Michigan Super Lawyers, and DBusiness Magazine's Top Lawyers, has a diverse practice, splitting his time between criminal defense, commercial litigation, and appellate litigation.

"I've intentionally tried to maintain both a civil and criminal practice to be exposed to a wide variety of legal issues," he says. "In the same day, I may be analyzing issues ranging from the Sixth Amendment rights of a criminal defendant to a claim of minority shareholder oppression to whether a petitioner in a habeas corpus action has properly preserved an issue for federal review. Handling such a diverse set of issues keeps things fresh and challenging."

One of those issues involved whether a statement by a suspect in custody may be admitted where, unbeknownst to the suspect, his lawyer appears at the police station and asks to speak with his client.

"This was a challenging case because the United States Supreme Court had ruled that such a statement is admissible as a matter of federal law," Leitman says. "After a hard-fought appeal, the Michigan Supreme Court ruled that such a statement must be excluded as a matter of Michigan law."

The author of several influential law review articles on matters of federal law and Michigan law, Leitman joined Miller Canfield in 2004.

"I feel privileged to work with such a talented group of attorneys -- the fine work of my colleagues inspires me to do my best work," he says. "My colleagues serve as sounding boards for my ideas and provide helpful criticisms, and their input vastly improves my work product."

For the past few years, Leitman has been a Pro Bono Honoree in the U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Michigan. A regular participant in the Federal Bar Association's Law Day program, he counsels pro se litigants about the rules, requirements, and logistics of litigating in federal court. He also has represented indigent litigants in federal litigation, participated in three jury trials on behalf of prisoners claiming civil rights violations, and recently completed a pro bono Sixth Circuit appeal on behalf of a prisoner who could not afford retained counsel.

Leitman followed in his father's attorney footsteps, his interest in law intensifying when he took a course on constitutional rights at Andover High School in Bloomfield Hills.

"Studying landmark decisions like Brown v. Board of Education and Gideon v. Wainright ignited within me a real passion for defending individual rights," he says. "Doing criminal defense work was a natural fit for me."

He earned a bachelor's degree in political science from the University of Michigan and his law degree, magna cum laude, from Harvard.

"My three years there were some of the very best times in my life, and I've worked hard to support, and remain connected to, the school," he says of his time at Harvard.

Leitman serves as President of the Michigan Harvard Law School Association, a group of Harvard Law alumni in Michigan, that gathers annually to catch up with one another and to hear from alumni speakers such as Sen. Carl Levin and Chief Justice Robert Young of the Michigan Supreme Court. This year the group will hear from Harvard alumni on the Michigan bench, including U.S. District Judges Mark Goldsmith and John Corbett O'Meara and state court judges Eric Cholak and Ulysses Boykin. Leitman says that his ultimate professional dream is to join his fellow alumni on the Michigan federal bench.

Leitman also serves on the Harvard Law School Council, the national coordinating body for Harvard Law alumni around the country.

"I enjoy serving on the Council because it brings me back to the Harvard Law campus every year," he says.

A Michigan native, Leitman has spent the bulk of his life -- apart from college and law school -- in a five-mile radius. He and his wife Kelly live in Troy, where the family includes Joshua, a sophomore at Birmingham Seaholm High School; eighth-grader Natalie; English Mastiffs Gus and Lola; and a cat, Sophie. When not working, Leitman spends most of his time driving his kids to and from school activities, sporting events, and social outings.

"I say -- only half- jokingly -- that I'm a full-time taxi driver for my kids and a part-time lawyer," Leitman says with grin.

Published: Wed, May 9, 2012