Law Day 2019 draws a large crowd to celebrate free speech and a free press


by Cynthia Price
Legal News

The conviviality and strong values of the Grand Rapids Bar make events the GRBA hosts a substantial draw, and Law Day 2019 was no exception.

Over one hundred lawyers, law professors, award-winners and their families, students and many more mixed and mingled during a buffet luncheon and the annual awards presentation, which is co-hosted by WMU-Cooley Law School.

Current GRBA President Randall Velzen of Mika Meyers emceed the event, with Law Day Committee Chair Anita Hitchcock, the Grand Rapids city attorney, welcoming the crowd.

Most of the awards come from the bar association itself, while one, the Marion Hilligan Public Service Award, is from WMU-Cooley. It was given as the final award of the event by Grand Rapids Campus Associate Dean Tracey Brame – who also happens to be the incoming GRBA president – to the Veterans Bar Association.  Attorney Edward Perdue (Dickinson Wright) and Thomas Dorwin, the clerk of the U.S. Court for the Western District of Michigan, accepted the award.

Each year, the bar takes advantage of the Law Day luncheon to recognize attorneys with 50 years in practice. This year the distinguished group include James Brady, Dirk Hoffius, John Smietanka, Terry Mroz, Edward Paul, and Gary Schenk. All but Mroz and Paul were present to receive their pins from GRBA Executive Director Kim Coleman.

The additional awards presented are:

—The Liberty Bell award, for outstanding contributions to justice by a non-lawyer citizen or non-profit. This year’s recipient was the YWCA of West Central Michigan, in particular for its advocacy resource services, which include legal assistance and referrals, to those suffering domestic and sexual assault. CEO Charisse Mitchell accepted the award.

—The President’s Award which recognizes extraordinary assistance to the Grand Rapids Bar Association itself, went to three people this year: attorneys Scott Melton and Richard Zambon and Judge Christopher Yates, primarily for their assistance in the challenging project of establishing an attorney space at the Kent County downtown courthouse.

–The Donald R. Worsfold Distinguished Service Award. This year, luncheon attendees had a special treat: Don Worsfold’s brother Chuck spoke about the tradition of recognition. Few people know that it was actually started as just the Distinguished Service Award during Don Worsfold’s tenure as GRBA President, which he fulfilled admirably despite having received a terminal cancer diagnosis. Interestingly, the first award given after it was renamed in Worsfold’s honor was to Judge Stewart Hoffius, whose son Dirk had just been recognized for 50 years in practice.

Kristin Vanden Berg was the incredibly deserving recipient of the 2019 award.

Following the awards ceremony, Judge James Robert Redford spoke on this year’s theme, “Free Speech, Free Press, Free Society.” Redford is now at the Michigan Court of Appeals, having also served as a judge of the 17th Circuit Court and as the director of the Michigan Veterans’ Affairs Agency.

Judge Redford started out by talking about his research into the first U.S. newspaper published, in 1690, which was shut down four days later “because the government didn’t like it.” Virginia’s governor, William Berkeley, said, “I thank God, there are no free schools nor printing; for learning has brought disobedience, and heresy... and printing has divulged them.”

He noted that the framers of the Bill of Rights made free speech and a free press the first amendment because they saw the dangers in such repression of the public discourse. “To be free fundamentally we need to be able to say what is in our minds individually and collectively... This makes our government and those who serve in our government better,” Judge Redford stated.