Stonewall: Attorney provides strong voice for LGBT community

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By Sheila Pursglove
Legal News

Whether the law recognizes it or not, same-sex couples are forming families, raising children, buying houses and planning for retirement.

“Marriage is a force for stability in any community, and to deny it to gay and lesbian couples destabilizes families and hurts children,” says attorney Tim Cordes, a strong advocate for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community and president of the Stonewall Bar Association of Michigan, a statewide professional association
providing a visible LGBT presence within the Michigan legal system.

Cordes, an attorney with Nesi and Associates in Grosse Pointe, led the SBA in joining other LGBT organizations around the country in signing on to the amicus brief filed by the San Francisco-based Bay Area Lawyers for Individual Freedom in the U.S. Supreme Court case of Hollingsworth v. Perry.

The brief urges the U.S. Supreme Court to affirm the ruling of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals that California’s Proposition 8 is unconstitutional under the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

Proposition 8 — the contentious ballot initiative passed in November 2008 — added a new provision to the California Constitution, that “only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California.” The Ninth Circuit ruled this impermissibly took away the existing freedom to marry from a particular minority group — gays and lesbians — based on no legitimate governmental policy rationale.

“I believe the circuit court got it right — it’s wrong for California to take away the existing right to marry from its citizens solely because of their sexual orientation,” says Cordes, who specializes in family law. “By ballot initiative, California let the irrational prejudice of the majority against same-sex couples take away the rights that the state’s gay and lesbian citizens had enjoyed. This is exactly why the Bill of Rights was created — to protect disfavored minorities from the tyranny of the majority.”

Cordes has a lot of friends in the LGBT community, primarily from his years in the theater.

After earning a BFA in Theatre/Acting from Ithaca College in 1984, he moved to New York City and spent 5 years acting in touring shows and in 1988 appeared as an “extra” on the ABC soap opera “Ryan’s Hope.”

“I still am in touch with a lot of these friends on Facebook, and I see the problems they face now that we are all older and facing family issues,” he says. “One of my close friends from college married his husband in the window of time when California allowed marriage equality. I believe that supporting the rights of the LGBT community is simply the right thing to do, and helping people form families is a natural fit with my family law practice.

“It’s also one of the most fascinating and dynamic areas of law, and is perhaps one of the most significant civil rights issues of the last 20 years. I love the fact that the law is evolving, and I’m proud to be able to contribute to making the law better. It’s intellectually fascinating and personally rewarding to be part of this huge change.”

Michigan has its own constitutional amendment, passed in 2004, barring same-sex couples from marrying.

“Something has to change, and I think it has to change soon,” Cordes says.

“Michigan’s amendment not only denies same-sex couples the right to marry, but it also means gay and lesbian couples legally married elsewhere in the United States can’t have their marriage recognized here. We’re creating a situation where Americans can’t move freely from state to state without serious consequences. We’re driving people away from our state, right at the time when Michigan’s economy badly needs an influx of talented, energetic people to climb out of our fiscal crisis.”

Cordes donates time at pro-bono walk-in legal clinics and legal education programs.

“I enjoy the pro bono work because it allows me to be part of the great sweeping changes in the law,” he says. “I also feel that law is a profession as much as it is a business and I have a duty to serve clients who can’t always pay. I have to balance that with the fiscal realities of a small law practice, but it’s an important part of my definition of myself as a lawyer.”

Cordes didn’t set out to be a legal eagle. After his acting career, he spent the ‘90s working in application development and consulting, an interest was sparked in his teens when his father — who worked for Xerox — brought home a desktop computer running the Microsoft CPM operating system, the forerunner to DOS. 

“I read all the manuals and wrote a few rudimentary programs for amusement, including a guitar tuning application that put out the appropriate hertz frequency from the piezo speaker,” he says.

After grad school at Eastern Michigan University, Cordes decided software would be a good career choice.

Law popped its head up in grad school, when he enjoyed a course, “Law, Public Policy and the Arts” where students argued the First Amendment rights versus National Endowment for the Arts funding. In researching the subject Cordes read some law books — and was hooked. 

“The intellectual rigor and logic puzzles of law fascinated me,” he says. “I told myself that if I ever had a career break, I would go to law school. Later, after the Y2K software projects ended and the dotcom bubble burst, my consulting firm merged with its competitor and I wound up out of a job.”    

The unemployment cloud had a silver lining.

Excellent LSAT scores landed Cordes a full scholarship to Michigan State University College of Law where he participated in Moot Court and in the Geoffrey Fieger Trial Practice Program, and earned his J.D., magna cum laude, in 2005.

“I loved law school, and the intellectual challenges were invigorating,” he says.

He joined Nesi and Associates in 2004, where he concentrates his legal practice on family law and probate estates in the Wayne, Oakland and Macomb County Circuit Courts.

He has also represented clients in bankruptcy and copyright cases -an area he got into when a cousin had her book copied and sold without permission by her former business partner.

“Family law and probate appeals to me, because I’m able to help regular folks get through a very difficult time,” he says. “My clients haven’t committed any crimes, they aren’t dreadfully injured, and they haven’t breached a contract — they’re just normal folks going through a rough time, and I can help them.”

Continuing his passion for the theater, Cordes is a long-time member of The Players Club on East Jefferson — an all-men’s amateur theater club founded in 1911. 

“I’ve performed too many plays there to keep count,” he says. “About 7 years ago I started writing plays with Chris Nesi, who is also a member of the club, and it seems like we had struck a rich vein of creativity together.  I’d never written plays before, but since then, I think we’ve churned out 6 pretty good one-act plays and part of a really cute full-length play. Our one-acts were well received and 5 of them have been nominated to be performed in our end-of-season invitational performance with the best plays of the year.”

A competitive pistol shooter since the age of 18, the Midland native now shoots mostly for fun, and competes in Cowboy Action Shooting matches over at Western Wayne County Conservation Area in Plymouth.

He and his wife, Dana, residents of Bloomfield Hills, enjoy cruising on the Great Lakes on their 37-foot sailing sloop.

An experienced sailor, Cordes took part in the 2003 Mackinac race while clerking at the Wayne County Circuit Court, and spent that summer sailing in many of the races on Lake St. Clair.

“I realized that summer that racing is more work than I like to do on a boat, so we mostly spend our time coasting along to the islands in Lake Erie or along the shore of Grosse Pointe simply sightseeing and enjoying the wind and the water,” he says.

The two are often accompanied by their “cabin boy,” their 10-pound Maltese dog. 

“Spike has four great sea legs,” Cordes says. “He has his own life jacket and nimbly hops up on to the high side when the boat starts ‘heeling.’”

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