Eleveld and Roegge are recipients of Justice Foundation Lifetime Achievement Awards

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PHOTOS COURTESY OF GRAND RAPIDS BAR ASSOCIATION

by Cynthia Price
Legal News

Bob Eleveld and Bud Roegge are vibrant, active members of a legal community that has both changed and remained the same over the many years they have practiced.

It is fitting that both accomplished lawyers and citizens were honored with Lifetime Achievement Awards at the Oct. 19 Foundation Fellow and Life Members reception of the Justice Foundation of West Michigan (JFWM).

“To be honest, I didn’t know there was such an award given out,” said Eleveld. “But I was certainly surprised and delighted to be receiving it.”

Indeed, only three have been given out previously. Two went to retired judges, Robert Benson and Benjamin Logan, and one went to Jon Muth, formerly of Miller Johnson.

The JFWM is the charitable arm of the Grand Rapids Bar Association and a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization.  It funds “programs that promote or provide legal services to the disadvantaged, improve the administration of justice, and educate the public about core democratic values” — which includes support for the Legal Assistance Center, supporting GRBA programs such as Constitution Day, and helping the Federal Bar Association provide scholarships to the Hillman Advocacy Program.

Both Eleveld and Roegge are well-known and well-respected, both have given back to the larger community in a big way, and both are litigators.

“I’m not an Intellectual Property lawyer, I’m a litigator,” Eleveld explains, making the distinction because the firm he works with, McGarry Bair, is a boutique IP firm. “I’ve seen a wide range of cases over the years.”

After growing up in this area, receiving his undergraduate degree from Dartmouth College and graduating from University of Michigan School of Law, Eleveld spent 35 years with Varnum.

“I then decided to try what amounts to an experiment and hung my shingle out,” Eleveld says. “Luckily I had an assistant and secretary, Kay, who kept me going.” When a group of IP attorneys left Varnum to form McGarry Bair, he joined them.

Along the way, Eleveld pursued two runs for political office. He says, “I’m a political junkie. I was the Republican Party county chair, district chair, back when Ford was President. That was a nice time to be involved.

“I’m less than enamored with the whole political scene right now, so I’m not in the middle of it anymore,” he adds.

Eleveld is a member of the Michigan Association for Justice, the International Association of Defense Counsel, and the Dartmouth Lawyers Association.

At the community level, Eleveld has lent his support, and his passion, to many endeavors. A long-time board member of St. Johns Home, which helps challenged children, he is still serving on the board of the Michigan League of Conservation Voters, as reported in the Grand Rapids Legal News a few years back.

Eleveld’s latest passion is Cherry Health, which provides health care to people who have problems getting health services due to income or lack of insurance. “I have nothing but good to say about what they do and how they do it,”he comments.

The Eleveld clan, numbering eight children in a blended family, includes award-winning journalist and author Kerry Eleveld, whose book on the fight for LGBT rights is called Don’t Tell Me to Wait. Bob Eleveld is a proud father of all eight, who are, he says, “scattered around the country.”

Looking back over a long and successful career, Eleveld observes that, though the Grand Rapids legal community has grown much bigger, there still seems to be agreement that lawyers should be civil above all. He recently surprised a lawyer from the Detroit area by asking him to go out for a beer after they had opposed each other in court.

“I believe the best lawyers are the best listeners,” he said, noting that he had thought about teaching a class at WMU-Cooley on listening skills.

One aspect of change in the profession which he and Bud Roegge have both observed is the decline in actual trials. Eleveld says, “I’m a big believer in jury trials. My experience has been that juries do a good job. I understand that settlements are necessary, and sometimes it’s better for clients, but I do like the concept of six or twelve people deliberating.”

Says Roegge, “There are very few cases that actually go to trial now. When I started, there was less discovery, fewer interrogatories, fewer depositions, but people often had jury trials. It’s become so expensive that clients really don’t want them, and often don’t want the publicity.”

Roegge is also a well-respected and successful litigator with a long list of community contributions.

Raised in Bloomington, Ill., he received his J.D. from Northwestern University College of Law, after attending  Grinnell College. He credits his chemistry degree from Grinnell with helping him successfully defend many chemical companies from suits over the accidental release of PBB.

Roegge joined Mitts, Smith & Haughey right out of law school in 1962, when, the website says, the firm was “reborn.” He served as president of the firm until 2002.

“Grand Rapids has changed immensely since I arrived. In the last 10-15 years, it’s just blossomed,” Roegge says.

The many awards he has received include the GRBA Donald R. Worsfold Distinguished Service Award; the State Bar of Michigan Champion of Justice Award; the Michigan Defense Trial Counsel’s Excellence in Defense Award; and NALS of West Michigan’s Legal Professional of the Year.

His own community service has included the JFWM, Legal Aid of Western Michigan, and providing legal help through Dégagé Ministries — where, he says, he learned a lot of law, but also was able to “twist other attorney’s arms” to help out — but he has also been a leader in encouraging other Smith Haughey attorneys to volunteer for the community and to do pro bono work.

“They’ve responded pretty well. I think the collegiality in our firm has always  been excellent,” he says.

Roegge also serves on a gun safety board started by former Mayor Heartwell, and volunteers for his church, Westminster Presbyterian. In the past he was on the State Bar Character and Fitness Committee.

 

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