Prosecutor makes smooth transition to teaching

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By Paul Janczewski
Legal News

Serving as an assistant prosecuting attorney, or a teacher, are professions that have more similarities than people would imagine.

Timothy J. Cassady firmly believes those two callings have many things in common. And he should know, because he’s done both.

Cassady, 48, of Flushing, spent almost 21 years in the Genesee County Prosecutor’s Office before retiring last August. While there, he also began teaching law classes as an adjunct professor at Ferris State in 2004. He’s now a full time associate professor and adviser at the college, and said the transition from prosecutor to teacher was actually not that big of a switch.

“As a prosecutor, or as a lawyer, you’re doing a lot of teaching everyday,” Cassady said. “With a jury, you’re teaching the law. Or you’re doing training sessions with law enforcement. Or when warrant requests are made, you’re trying to teach what fits, or doesn’t fit. So in the field of law, you’re always teaching.”

And lawyers know that they are always teaching themselves, whether it be new tricks of the trade or learning the intricate nuances of the law. The teaching, and the learning, really never stops.
Cassady is hard-pressed to name a few reasons why he loves teaching now.

“There is so much to love, I don’t know if I could name all the reasons,” he said.

His journey toward this dual-profession began in East Lansing, where he was born. Cassady attended a Catholic grade school and one year of Catholic high school before the family moved to Pontiac. He attended Our Lady of the Lakes High School in Waterford, and graduated in 1981.

It was in high school that Cassady decided he wanted to become a lawyer. He was not great at math or science courses, and he quickly ruled out becoming a professional basketball player or playing in a rock and roll band.

“I thought about all kinds of things growing up,” he said. “But when you’re growing up, you’re all over the map.”

But he did enjoy writing and speech classes.

And in the 1980s, law-related shows were popular on television, and seemed like an exciting profession to him. He did not know anyone who was a lawyer, but his parents stressed having an education in something that mattered and to avoid “fluff courses,” so Cassady decided he would go into law. Plus, he saw an opportunity in law to help the common man.

He decided to go to Marquette University in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, because it was a Catholic school — “That was important to my parents, and myself,” he said — and because a friend from grade school had gone there. He had visited a few colleges, but liked Marquette because it was an urban campus, in the city of Milwaukee, right off Lake Michigan, and carried a strong reputation in liberal arts.

His third year there, Cassady had an opportunity to study abroad. Three friends from Marquette also expressed an interest, but backed out, so Cassady went alone, from January through May 1984, to Ealing College in London, England.

“I had a blast,” he said of the time there.

He had classes three days a week, then was off for four. He met people he still keeps in contact with, traveling all over Europe, sleeping in dorms and cramming in learning with valuable life experiences.

“It was just an awesome experience, one of the best life experiences I’ve had, other than being married and having children,” he said.

He returned to Marquette, and graduated in 1985 with a bachelor of arts degree, majoring in political science with a minor in history.

Cassady returned to Michigan to attend the University of Detroit Mercy School of Law, which met a few of his criteria – it was back closer to home, it was in an urban setting, and it was a Catholic school. He said his education centered around religion, and back then, he said it wasn’t as important to him then as it is now.

“It’s something my parents instilled in me,” he said. “It was always important to them. I don’t think at the time I realized why, but accepted it. They never pressured me, but always asked me to consider Catholic schools. Now, looking back on it, it makes better sense to me,” Cassady said.

“The Catholic faith is important to me, and it has done a pretty good job with education,” he said. “And in the long run, it paid off. It was a little more structured, too. So that was good for me because I needed more.” Cassady said he was not a wild child, “but I tried to enjoy the education experience to its fullest extent.”

Cassady said he had no idea what field of law he wanted to practice, but after his first year, he got a job at the Waterford District Court as a law clerk/court officer. He got an opportunity to sit in court all day, listening to a variety of cases, watching defense attorneys and Oakland County assistant prosecutors work on drug cases, murders and robberies.

“It was a godsend for me because it was a great experience,” Cassady said. “I found it fascinating.” The job paid pretty well too, so he decided to keep it and go to law school at night. “Which in hindsight was really kind of stupid,” he said. Working a 40-hour job and going to school four nights a week was a struggle.

“I was barely able to handle a schedule like that. But it gave me some nice real world applicability to see what happens at the district court level everyday,” he said. It took him four years instead of three to graduate, in 1988, but it also solidified what he wanted to do – become an assistant prosecutor.

He stayed at the district court for another year, but knew he needed some law experience, so Cassady worked for a law firm in the River Rouge area for about six months, but he was not happy there.

He then heard from an attorney in Waterford, Walter Bedell, who invited Cassady to share office space, and he entered private practice, taking “any case I could get my hands on.”

By now, Cassady had been married to Teresa, an old high school sweetheart; they parted ways when they each went off to college.

They ran into each other after Cassady graduated from college, dated as he went to law school and married soon after he graduated. At the time Cassady hooked up with Bedell, the couple had one son. Now, Cassady and his wife of 23 years live in Flushing and have seven children – Patrick, Erin, Cara, Mary, Brigid, Maggie, and Mike.

Cassady said working on his own out of Bedell’s office “was a breath of fresh air.”

“I got my feet wet with litigation work, and I was starting to get into the legal lawyer mode,” he said.

But Cassady still harbored a desire to be working in a prosecutor’s office. He was called in for a second interview with the Genesee County Prosecutor’s Office, learned he had gotten the job and began closing up his private practice. But then Cassady found out the job had been offered to him before the county Board of Commissioners could approve the hiring.

Although his wife was working in hotel management, Cassady had just closed his practice. But he said Bedell “came through for me again.” He gave Cassady the Waterford Township account, in which he acted as the municipality’s attorney, and Cassady had an income for the several months before he was actually hired by Genesee County.

Cassady began working there on December 26, 1990, which proved to be a lucky move. Had he waited until after the holidays, his probationary period would have stretched into the period after a new Prosecutor was hired, and Cassady would have been let go as an at-will employee.

“It was a fortuitous move,” Cassady said of starting there in late December instead of early January.

Cassady started prosecuting cases in District Court, and advanced through various positions in the Drug Division, juvenile, administration, appeals, overseeing grants and special projects, while serving for three different prosecutors and gaining respect from each as he held supervisory spots.

“I enjoyed doing drug work and working with law enforcement the best,” he said. “Search and seizure was my forte. But I enjoyed it all. No day is ever the same. There’s somebody coming in with a new crime, there’s somebody with a new investigation, somebody with something exciting you haven’t dealt with yet,” Cassady said.

Over the years, Cassady said he hated the description of his job by some as a “persecutor.” He said they are not out seeking a conviction, or plea bargain, but “for a just and true result.”

He said sometimes the right course is not to prosecute, or consider lesser pleas, or prosecute to the fullest extent, depending on the facts of each and every case.

“That’s our job, and it’s not easy, because no one looks at each case the same way,” he said. “The prosecutor is on a small island, and there’s only a few people who understand that, and that’s other prosecutors.”

In 2004, Cassady saw the need to supplement his income due to his large family by joining Ferris State as an adjunct professor.

“That just opened up a whole new avenue,” he said. “I was sharing experiences and teaching people who are interested in the field of law. It was fun to teach, so it was an instant hit with me. You got to talk about something that you loved, and people were receptive to it.”

But last spring, a full time position opened there, “and the timing was right” to leave the Prosecutor’s office because of possible pay and benefits cuts.

“I saw an opportunity to save what I had at the Prosecutor’s Office and go into something I enjoy, and it seemed like an easy transition,” Cassady said.

In addition to teaching several criminal law classes, Cassady also advises students. He works out of a satellite program at Mott Community College in Flint, and Ferris offices in Lansing and Delta Community colleges.

Cassady, who has received honors for his work as an assistant prosecutor, said he “loves” his new job, but does miss the people he spent time with in his old job, people he considers as family. He said Ferris has a good program, and is doing good things in the criminal justice field. And working with students, and being tied to academia, “keeps you young.”

And he’s still providing a service to people “that makes them better,” he said. “There’s a sense of pride in that.”

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