Kempker-Cloyd lends her expertise to boutique business law firm

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Attorney Aggie Kempker-Cloyd is shown in the Chase Bylenga and Hulst offices on Division near Fulton.

LEGAL NEWS PHOTO BY CYNTHIA PRICE

by Cynthia Price
Legal News

Though Agnes Kempker-Cloyd was willing to accept the retirement offer of the U.S. Attorney’s office, she is not even close to being ready to actually retire.

That is to the advantage of the six-year-old law firm Chase Bylenga Hulst, since Kempker-Cloyd brought years of varied experience with her when she became Of Counsel at the firm.

As an Assistant U.S. Attorney in the Western District of Michigan office, Kempker-Cloyd gained experience in both civil and criminal areas, and was a litigator and advisor.

“Talking with clients and giving them advice on how to achieve their goals is part of the job of attorney. It used to be attorneys were called ‘counselors’ much more often than now, and I support that,” she says.

“I guess attorneys in this area refer to that as ‘problem-solving’ for their clients. You have to ask people a lot of questions to get at what they really want to achieve, and then help them get there.”

Kempker-Cloyd, who was the Affirmative Civil Rights Officer under U.S. Attorney Patrick Miles, tells the tale of a government colleague coming to her with the complaint that she could not resolve an employment discrimination case. After discussion, it was apparent that no one desired  that the employee in question, who had already made ten discrimination claims against the agency, return to his job (the outcome if they had won the case), so Kempker-Cloyd suggested that a settlement would be worth it.

“There’s always a way to solve the problem,” she says.

She adds that in another case that appeared similarly unresolvable, she took a magnifying glass to the form the employee supplied.

“I always have a spare one of these in my tool chest,” Kempker-Cloyd says, holding up a bright yellow glass. “So I looked at the document closely, and I examined one of the items marked with an “X” rather than a check mark, which was critical to the case. And I said, ‘This has been altered.’ We asked for the original document on file, and sure enough, the one he provided to her had been altered.”

Chase Bylenga Hulst started out as a boutique bankruptcy firm, but now has expanded to include business formations, civil and commercial litigation, corporate transactions, creditor’s rights, estate planning, probate, and tax law. “We frequently take cases that other attorneys won’t touch and provide results that less experienced attorneys can’t obtain,” the website says. the firm was a finalist in the Grand Rapids Business Journal “Top Women-Owned Business” competition.

“I knew Carol Chase when she was a bankruptcy lawyer — I did bankruptcies for the U.S. Attorney’s office. And Carol worked for the trustees, and we often said that at some time we would work together.”

Now with seven attorneys, the firm continues to grow. The father of founder Steve Bylenga, Dan, formerly with Rhoades McKee, has also joined the firm in an Of Counsel capacity.

“I’m an employee so I can come and go as I please which is wonderful,” Kempker-Cloyd says. “Totally different from what the government was when I left. It got to the point where just to get in the door you have a swipe card and two punch pads, and screenings, and another punch pad to get into your computer.”

That aside, Kempker-Cloyd loved her job with the U.S. Department of Justice. She worked under a number of U.S. District Attorneys and acting attorneys, starting out with James Brady, when there were many fewer assistant attorneys.

“I remember Brady telling me, ‘Agnes, you’ve got to go home,’ and I told him, you know, I just can’t get my head above water. And he said, ‘Get used to it, you’ll never get your head above water,’” she says.

Kempker-Cloyd has nothing but praise for all the federal judges over the years, singling out Judge Robert Jonker (“He’s wicked smart,” she says), Judge Ben Gibson, and the late Judge Richard Enslen in particular.

She also applauds the emphasis Pat Miles placed on community outreach, which was part of her position right before her retirement. “There was some pushback, but I agree that you can’t start reaching out when a crisis happens, you have to have those bridges already built,” Kempker-Cloyd comments.

“That outreach actually started under John Smetanka, who was a Republican. He thought it was really important, but it was discontinued over the years and then Pat brought it back.”

In fact, she says one of the most memorable things she did over her career resulted in part from that outreach frame of mind.

“We were doing some affirmative civil rights work in the Upper Peninsula and found out that there weren’t water and sewer services going to the Native American communities. This was clearly discrimination, and we succeeded in getting it changed. That’s probably the thing I’m most proud of,” she comments.

The Grand Rapids native went to University of Detroit (now University of Detroit Mercy) for both her Bachelor of Arts and her Juris Doctor. She clerked for the U.S. Attorney’s office for the Eastern District, and then  began right after her admission at the Western District office.

She and husband Brian Cloyd live in Grand Rapids and raised their two sons here. One son is now an actor and the other is a writer aspiring to work in film, reflecting Kempker-Cloyd’s strong interest in the arts.

That interest governs some of the community activities in which she engages. She is on the board of Broadway Grand and has recently worked on organizing events for the Grand Rapids Art Museum and the West Michigan Center for Arts and Technology. She also serves on the board of Serra Club, which promotes the priesthood (named after Father Junipero Serra), and Widowed Person Services, as well as organizing events for many other schools, charities and arts organizations, including Home Repair Services.

At Chase Bylenga Hulst, Kempker-Cloyd will continue her practice of listening to clients closely and will represent them all the way to court if necessary. She has defended a whistleblower case and wants to continue in that area, and will be doing personal injury defense amid a wide variety of cases where her governmental expertise can assist.

Though she is excited about the future, she takes her past into consideration sufficiently to learn its lessons. Possibly one of the greatest lessons is the use of discretion and knowing how best to apply the law. She tells of an immigrant who had re-entered the country after deportation. She discovered that he was in the U.S. to increase his income, so that he could send money back to his sister battling cancer. Kempker-Cloyd suggested to the judge that rather than send him to jail, they just deport him again, a recommendation the judge followed.

She also notes that it is often the small things that matter on a personal level, and not necessarily the cases which made a big splash.

“I had a case where a doctor committed Medicare fraud and we had to recommend community service. I suggested that he help disabled kids at a school, and he was absolutely furious with me. I got nervous inside because what if that recommendation failed and he hurts a kid? But when he came back to court after a year, he told them he’d been so mad at me, but I saw something he didn’t. ‘I needed those kids to hug me more than they needed my help,’ he said. That was a success for me,” Kempker-Cloyd says.

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