Photogenic: Reunion helps to keep legal memories alive

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By Tom Kirvan
Legal News

Summer is the season for reunions — of the family, school  and even the prosecutorial variety.

On July 10, a number of notable legal types gathered at the Tam-O-Shanter Country Club in West Bloomfield for a particularly special 51st reunion, one that included Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson, who was front and center for the occasion despite his ongoing battle with pancreatic cancer.

Patterson was there as one of many former assistant prosecutors who served under the late Oakland County Prosecutor Tom Plunkett, a legendary legal figure in the community who was a longtime partner in the Birmingham firm of Williams Williams Rattner & Plunkett before passing away in the fall of 2017.

The reunion traces its roots to a decision by Plunkett in 1968 to run for Oakland County Prosecutor after the incumbent, Jerry Bronson, decided to run for a seat on the Michigan Court of Appeals.

“When Plunkett decided to run, he and his supporters from the Prosecutor’s Office posed for a photo on the steps of the Board of Commissioners Auditorium,” said Bill Mullan, who serves as Media & Communications Officer for Patterson. “The group had a reunion 25 years later and posed for the same photo, all in the approximate same spot. They had a 35-year reunion and a 40-year reunion. At the 40-year reunion, they decided to make it an annual event. They’ve been getting together every year since then.”

Sadly, Plunkett has been missing from the last two reunions after succumbing to esophageal cancer at the age of 78. Yet, his legal presence remains strong among his former colleagues in the Prosecutor’s Office.

“Tom was a mentor and inspired me in many ways,” said Farmington Hills attorney Jeff Leib, who served as an assistant prosecuting attorney in the late 1960s. “We were close friends throughout our careers and also had the connection of both being past presidents of the Oakland County Bar Association.”

The original photo of Plunkett and his prosecutorial brethren served as the centerpiece shot of his 1968 election campaign, “as we all rallied around Tom in his run for office,” said Leib.

“We have become like a ‘Band of Brothers’ over the years,” Leib said of those who served alongside Plunkett. “In effect, we were the largest law firm in Oakland County at the time with 19 members.”

Plunkett in some quarters was considered the “Dean” of the State Bar of Michigan for his 18 years of service on the board there. In 2006, Plunkett was the recipient of the Roberts P. Hudson Award from the State Bar, the highest honor conferred by the organization.

Patterson, who disclosed at a press conference in late March that he is suffering from Stage 4 pancreatic cancer, was a successor to Plunkett as the county’s chief prosecutor, serving for 16 years in the role before becoming Oakland County Executive in 1992. At the July 10 reunion, Patterson was given a surprise boost by his friends.

“Brooks’ former colleagues surprised him by purchasing and wearing to the event the ‘Family Doesn't Fight Alone’ shirts whose proceeds benefit The Rainbow Collection, a charitable organization founded by Patterson that grants wishes to seriously ill children,” Mullan indicated. “That support meant a lot to Brooks since he had had his latest chemo treatment earlier that day.”

For Patterson, who founded the annual Brooksie Way races each fall in honor of his late son, the show of support may have conjured up a treasured memory of Plunkett from that magical year of 1968, a story that Plunkett enjoyed sharing with his legion of friends and admirers.

In his quest to win election that fall, candidate Plunkett was totally consumed by the campaign, appearing at events throughout Oakland County, shaking countless hands, and in the process losing sight of a certain something that was mesmerizing people all across Michigan, especially in Metro Detroit.

“I remember when I was running for Oakland County prosecutor in 1968 and I came home one October evening and asked my wife (Ann) what was the noise all about out on the streets,” Plunkett recalled in a 2009 interview with The Legal News. “She politely informed me that the Tigers had just won the World Series. That was an early indication that I needed to be in closer touch with what was happening in the world around me,” he said with a hearty laugh.
 

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