By Debra Talcott
Attorney Keela Gracey is among those whose daily lives demonstrate the true meaning of joie de vivre, otherwise known as the “joy of living.” A softball player who also enjoys bicycling, volleyball, and golf, Gracey completed the rigors of law school to be able to improve the lives of others so that they, too, may enjoy the simple pleasures.
“I became an attorney to give children a voice in the legal system, whether it be in divorce, juvenile, neglect, or criminal proceedings,” says Gracey, who is a general practice solo practitioner with an office in Rochester Hills.
“I focus my practice in the areas of family law and criminal law, and I would love to expand my practice and hire additional lawyers,” says Gracey, who founded Gracey Legal PLLC in 2009, and also is associated with the Law Office of David L. Harrison.
Born in Wisconsin and raised in Minnesota, Gracey left to attend Upper Iowa University, where she began a course of study that would give her what some might call an atypical background for her eventual practice of the law. She earned a bachelor of science degree with a major in psychology and a minor in English before going on to earn her master of science degree in guidance and counseling at the University of Wisconsin-Stout.
“My guidance and counseling coursework focused on mental health counseling and sexual abuse treatment,” explains Gracey, who is able to call upon all of her earlier academic preparation in her current role.
Her background is especially helpful when she must act as a court-appointed Guardian ad Litem to advocate for minor children in cases such as a contentious divorce, abuse, neglect, or abandonment.
As a Cooley-Auburn Hills student, Gracey worked at CARE House of Oakland County as a family advocate from 2006-07. CARE House works to prevent child abuse and neglect and to protect children through advocacy, education, intervention, research, and treatment. Established in 1977, the organization exemplifies the good that can be accomplished through the collaborative efforts of law enforcement agencies, Children’s Protection Services, the Oakland County Prosecutor’s Office, the Junior League of Birmingham, and other community resources.
“CARE House is a wonderful organization that serves our community,” says Gracey. “CARE House provides much-needed treatment for many families within Oakland County that are unable to afford counseling services. Working at CARE House solidified my desire to help children have a voice in the legal system.”
The highlight of Gracey’s time as a law student at Cooley, however, was that spent working in the office of Oakland County Circuit Court Judge Joan Young. Gracey served as clerk for Young from February 2007 until October 2009. She returned as interim staff attorney in early 2010, shortly after earning her law degree.
“Judge Young was more than my boss,” says Gracey. “She became a mentor and teacher to me and continues to influence the way I practice law. When preparing for a hearing, I think about what Judge Young would want as evidence or testimony to prove each allegation, and if I can meet that threshold, I know I am prepared. ”
It was Young who performed Gracey’s swearing-in ceremony after she passed the bar.
“Actually, many of my life-changing events have occurred in Judge Young’s courtroom. It was there that I re-met my husband, Donald, when he was the officer in charge on a juvenile delinquency matter. And it was in Judge Young’s courtroom that she performed our wedding ceremony three years later.”
The Graceys now reside in Sterling Heights and are doting “parents” to their cat, Joey.
Young reflects fondly on the time Gracey worked in her office and offers high praise of her interpersonal and legal skills.
“Keela’s prior experience as a therapist was invaluable in dealing with the many emotionally-charged cases handled in family court,” says Young. “Keela skillfully managed attorneys and self-represented parties with a calm demeanor and ready smile. She stands out as an especially competent young lawyer.”
Motion for Gracey’s entry into the bar was made by Cooley Assistant Dean Lisa Halushka who was Gracey’s first professor in law school. In her second and third years at Cooley, Gracey was Halushka’s teaching and research assistant.
In January, Gracey was invited to become a fellow of the Oakland County Bar Foundation. This professional honor is limited to no more than 5 percent of the total active membership of the State Bar of Michigan who practice in Oakland County.
As a member of the Oakland County Bar Association Veterans Committee, Gracey feels a connection to her only sibling, Sergeant Cale W. Johnson, who is currently deployed in Afghanistan with the U.S. Army.
“Being a part of the Veterans Committee has allowed me to support my brother and give back to his profession through events such as Operation Iraq Afghanistan PAC,” she says.
Last year’s collection effort resulted in the OCBA sending more than 90 care packages overseas. An upcoming motion call day for donating items or cash to support our troops is Wednesday, Feb. 29 at the County Courthouse.
“The members of the Veterans Committee have been incredibly supportive during my brother’s deployments, and they have offered their prayers and support during a difficult time,” says Gracey.
Gracey also is a member of the Family Court Committee, which participates in what has come to be known as a “high-spirited competition” with the Veterans Committee in the fund-raising and collection efforts for the military men and women on active-duty service.
To other young attorneys starting out in the area of family law, she recommends joining the OCBA Family Court Committee. Within the Family Court Committee, Gracey serves on the Continuing Legal Education Committee, planning and organizing the seminars it sponsors. An upcoming seminar on the finer points of child support, including the use of prognosticator and life-style auditing, will be held May 22.
“The knowledge that I have gained from the meetings and the connections that I have made as a member of the OCBA Family Court Committee have been a vital part of building and expanding my own practice,” she says.