New Solicitor General has Western Michigan roots

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by Cynthia Price
Legal News

West Michigan’s loss is a gain for the entire state, as John J. Bursch leaves Warner Norcross and Judd to become the Michigan Solicitor General.

Bursch has had an impressive career since his 1997 magna cum laude graduation from University of Minnesota Law School. He concurrently chaired not one but two practice groups at Warner Norcross: the Public Affairs Litigation Group and the Appellate Practice Group.

Bursch feels that specific experience stood him in good stead for the Solicitor General position in several ways. “Both appellate group and political experience are necessary, because everything you do involves the state and its policies.” As chair he was also in a supervisory position over other attorneys, which is one of the tasks required of the Solicitor General.

In summary, the Solicitor General is the state’s appellate attorney. Bursch will also be charged with:

—making recommendations to the Attorney General for amicus briefs and sign-on  letters circulated by the National Association of Attorney General (NAAG), as well as “coordinating our efforts with other states’ AGs and solicitors general;”

—working on original briefs and oral advocacy for significant cases in the Office of the Attorney General; and

—preparing reports on  appellate dispositions.

Bursch has already spent a lot of time before Supreme Courts, both Michigan and U.S. Over the last eight years he has been involved in 16 U.S. Supreme Court cases, including successful certiorari petitions in the 2006 and 2007 Terms. During the same period he appeared in more than 100 Michigan Court of Appeals and Supreme Court cases, including winning two peremptory reversals in the Michigan Supreme Court.

 He is the only attorney ever to receive “Distinguished Brief Awards” from the Michigan Supreme Court in two consecutive years, for the 2008 and 2009 terms.

His long history with appellate courts also includes presenting oral argument in the fourth, fifth, sixth and D.C. Circuit Courts of Appeals. He has submitted amicus curiae briefs on behalf of the Michigan Health & Hospital Association, the Michigan Chamber of Commerce, the Defense Research Institute, the Michigan Defense Trial Counsel Inc., the Product Liability Advisory Council, the Michigan Bankers Association, the City of Grand Rapids, three separate sections of the Michigan State Bar, and three states, among others. The country of Canada was his client at the time he left Warner Norcross and Judd.

Moreover, he played a key role in  many public-sector court cases, including representing the Michigan House of Representatives delegation in the U.S. Supreme Court Asian Carp litigation, and a case involving the question of how departments make administrative rules in keeping with the separation of powers.

Bursch was a regular blogger and made frequent contributions to  Warner Norcross’s  One Court of Justice blog (www.ocjblog.com). The blog analyzes Michigan’s appellate courts.

There is an interview and approval process for the Solicitor General position, and Bursch had to apply for the opening first. He said that Attorney General Bill Schuette encouraged him to do so.

The Solicitor General from 2008 to 2011, Eric Restuccia, has been named Deputy Solicitor General.

Bursch knew Schuette initially as a Court of Appeals Judge, but “got to know him better” when Schuette was Senior Counsel at Warner Norcross. Though they never discussed a position at that time, Schuette clearly supports Bursch and is still singing his praises — glowingly.

Schuette comments on the michigan.gov web site, “Michigan’s challenges demand the best and brightest minds. By teaming up John Bursch and Eric Restuccia on our appellate team, Michigan has the best one-two punch of any Attorney General’s office in America.  It is like having Maris and Mantle in the same lineup.”

Bursch clerked for Hon. James B. Loken of the U.S. Court of Appeals, Eighth Circuit after graduation, but he has been with Warner Norcross ever since — for twelve and a half years.

He is the immediate past chair of the American Bar Association (ABA) Council of Appellate Lawyers, and served as an officer for the Michigan State Bar’s Appellate Practice Section. He also received the honor of an appointment to the ABA committee that reviewed the writings of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan's writings in 2010 before her Senate confirmation.

A native of Grand Ledge, Bursch says he wound up attending University of Minnesota Law School primarily because his wife wanted to obtain her Masters in Social Work from the “really strong program” at U of Minnesota. (It is a Top 20 school for both law and social work.) The two met at Western Michigan University and married right out of college.
The other reason is that Bursch has extended family in Minnesota. “It gave me an opportunity to spend some special time with them, especially my grandparents.”

Bursch is honored by receiving the appointment, and hopes to contribute to moving Michigan forward as part of the new administration. “It is just a real honor for me to be able to serve not only AG Schuette but the state of Michigan. I understand that the next few years are really critical, there will be lots of legal controversy as Governor Snyder tries to make change. People tend to get litigious when things are about to change.”

Is Bursch considering a run for political office himself? Though he says anything is possible, he currently has five children aged 4 to 13. “I really don’t have any political aspirations. Anything’s possible, but right now I have no immediate plans to run for anything.”

That is no indication, however, that he does not feel accountable to the residents of the Great Lake State.

“I’ll do anything in my power to support the state of Michigan and its people,” Bursch vows, “in making sure the future is the brightest it can possibly be, as the people of Michigan well deserve.”

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