Advocate and Wayne County assistant prosecutor receives a Call to Justice Award from Elder Law of Michigan

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by Linda Laderman
Legal News

Professionally and personally, Assistant Wayne County Prosecutor, Rob Spada has sought protection for society’s most vulnerable populations, including older adults who fall victim to abuse, often at the hands of family members or caretakers.

On August 23, Spada, who also serves as deputy chief of the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Special Victims’ Unit, was recognized for his advocacy of older vulnerable adults by Elder Law of Michigan at the eight annual Joe D. Sutton Call to Justice Awards.

“It’s nice to be acknowledged by your peers for something you are passionate about,” Spada said.

The Call to Justice Awards honors those who share the mission of Elder Law of Michigan, Inc. (ELM) “to advocate for, educate, and assist those in need, with a continued focus on older adults and persons with disabilities.”

 Spada’s work with older adults is rooted, in part, to his mother’s diagnosis of early onset Alzheimer’s disease when she was 52 years old.

“My mother's diagnosis of early onset Alzheimer's disease made it very relevant when I had to address instances when she was taken advantage of because she had memory issues,” Spada said.

Spada recalled an incident when his mother realized she was ill-treated by a coffee shop employee, but, because of her condition, could not speak up for herself.

“Every day she would go to this coffee shop and read off her ‘cheat sheet’ that she wanted a small French vanilla cappuccino.  One of the workers recognized her vulnerability and purposely gave her bad change. My mom knew enough to realize she was being taken advantage of, but because of her mild dementia and aphasia, she wasn't able to articulate it to the worker.  She immediately called me and
I had to step in and advocate for her.”

In addition to his work on behalf of at-risk older adults, Spada oversees the prosecution of child abuse, domestic violence, and sexual assault cases.

As a matter of fact, it was Spada who initially found more than 11,000 untested sexual assault kits in boxes at a police storage facility in 2009.

With the memory still fresh in his mind, Spada recalled what led to uncovering the untested sexual assault kits.

“While reviewing possible potential cases for prosecution in the conviction integrity unit, the Detroit Police Department asked me to see if I could find more evidence.” Spada said. “I went to tour the storage facility where evidence might be found when I saw the unopened bankers’ boxes. When I opened them I found the sexual assault kits that appeared to be untested.”

It was a discovery that reverberated on a local and national level, evolving into a concerted call to action to remedy the situation.

“It is heart wrenching when you stop and think about what a victim of sexual abuse goes through and that her rapist might still be on the street,” Spada said. “There is nothing more rewarding than to see these women have their day in court.”

Spada began his legal career at the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office, where he interned while he was attending the University of Detroit Mercy School of Law.

“Professionally, I plan to stay at the Prosecutor’s Office,” Spada said. “It’s very important to educate people about elder abuse and to recognize that it can be emotional, as well as physical.”

According to Ron Tatro, vice president of Elder Law of Michigan, Spada was chosen as one of the recipients of the Call to Justice Awards because he has displayed a consistent pattern of dedication to the well-being of Michigan’s aging population.

“I remember him telling me about a woman he would stop and visit when he went to visit his mother,” Tatro said. “He did it because she had no one else. That always resonated with me. He showed his character by doing it.”

In 2016, ELM hosted three receptions to honor individuals and organizations that have made significant contributions to the fields of law and aging. The regional receptions were held in Southeast, West, and Mid-Michigan.

In addition to Spada, Call to Justice Awards were presented to 44th District Court Judge Derek Meinecke; Rhonda Powell of Macomb County Community Services; Alison Hirschel, director of the Michigan Elder Justice Initiative; Karen Kafantaris of AARP; Eaton County Treasurer Bob Robinson; Tri-County Triad, a law enforcement partnership; Bonnie Hogoboom, Resource and Integration navigator at Region 3B Area Agency on Aging; Nancy Kropiewnicki, contract coordinator at Area Agency on Aging of Western Michigan; and Catherine Metzler, a member at Miller Johnson in Kalamazoo.
 

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