Trading places-- Defense attorney makes move to federal prosecutor's office

By Paul Janczewski

Legal News

Anthony P. Vance tossed around a few career options. For a brief period, he clung to the cop credo--To Protect and To Serve--and thought he might become a police officer.

He also came from a family of teachers, and entertained pursuing that profession after college while doing some substitute teaching in Flint.

But Vance said he found the field of law the most interesting, and decided that was the path he wanted to take. After graduating from law school, he practiced criminal defense work for nine years. But Vance always wanted to be a prosecutor.

His chance to switch sides came this summer when Vance was hired as an assistant U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan in Flint. Vance said he believes being on the prosecution side of the law will help him "make a greater impact on the community."

"Here, I can represent the people, and fight crime, and hold those responsible that commit crimes," he said.

Vance, 38, was born in Flint and was exposed to education.

"I come from a family of school teachers," he said.

His father, Mike, recently retired after 40 years as a teacher, with the majority of that time in Flint schools. His mother, Nancy, has been a teacher's aide. Vance was a product of the community education schools system, when schools were open year round, spending many hours at the schools during the summer.

"I just lived at the school's open gym," he said.

After graduating from Flint Central High School in 1991, Vance went to Michigan State University, majoring in criminal justice and political science, graduating in 1995. He originally wanted to become a police officer, but while taking a few law classes in pursuit of his degree, Vance began to think about studying law.

"That interested me more so than the law enforcement aspects of it," he said. "I just found law very interesting."

But Vance wanted to be sure, so he took a year off after graduating from MSU and got into substitute teaching at Flint schools, filling in anywhere he was needed, whether it was math or English or science. He also was coaching junior varsity football at Flint Central.

"I thought for a while that I wanted to be a school teacher, like others in my family, but I got drawn back into the law," he said.

He applied for law school and was accepted to the University of San Diego, but only attended there for one year. Vance said the West coast school "was a little too far away," and he was also hampered because he didn't have a car.

Vance then attended DePaul University College of Law in Chicago. While there, Vance worked at the Cabrini Green Legal Aid Clinic, a housing project at the time, and he served the poor and underprivileged population. While not a full-fledged attorney, Vance was able to take advantage of an Illinois Supreme Court rule that allowed undergraduates with enough credits to perform legal work.

There, he got his feet wet with criminal defense matters, child support and custody issues, and landlord-tenant cases.

"It gave me a lot of experience," Vance said.

After graduating from law school in 2000, Vance returned to Flint and learned that Genesee County Circuit Court Judge Robert M. Ransom was looking for a law clerk. He applied for it and got the job. For the next 15 months, Vance worked for one of Genesee County's keenest judges. Ransom was the chief judge, and Vance prepared memorandums, helped draft opinions and other duties that exposed him to the legal profession.

"I learned to be very thorough, and to summarize things very succinctly," he said. Vance also had time to watch some of Flint's best attorneys ply their trade in court.

But he also used that time to find a wife.

"That's a funny story of how we met," he said of Karen.

She was working at a car dealership and was a witness at a trial in Ransom's court.

"She caught my eye," he said.

A few months later, he saw Karen out with a friend that he also knew, and introduced her to him.

"We sort of hit it off right there," Vance said.

The couple married in 2003 and has three children--Madison, 14, Caroline, 7, and Natalie, 5. Karen works as a consumer loan underwriter for a local bank.

In 2001, Vance left Ransom and began his own practice as a criminal defense attorney. He shared office space with a few other attorneys, and picked up valuable experience and advice from a handful of local attorneys who knew their way around a courtroom and how to get things done.

For the next nine years, Vance worked in criminal defense, handling a number of high-profile cases of people charged with murder, criminal sexual conduct, kidnapping, drug charges and assault. Many of his cases have resulted in acquittals, advantageous plea deals, or dismissals.

"I enjoyed criminal defense work, and found it easy to work for the underdog,"

And even though he dealt with a lot of unsavory individuals, and some of the cases were difficult, Vance clung to the rights afforded everyone in our country.

"My job was to make sure the police and prosecutors were essentially playing by the rules and following the law and the constitution, and then let the chips fall where they may," Vance said.

His courtroom style was to be an attorney his clients, the jury and other attorneys could relate to. He's not a flamboyant, loud or pushy attorney, and always presented himself as a professional.

"I just tried to tell a story, and gain credibility," he said.

But Vance never forgot that desire to be involved in the other side of criminal work as a prosecutor. The main reason he sought a job in prosecution was the amount of time it takes to run a private practice was taking away time better spent practicing law.

Vance set his sights on becoming a prosecutor in federal court. "I had always been enamored by federal law," he said. While in criminal defense, the majority of his practice was in state court.

"Federal law was something that was always new and unique, uncharted territory, and it was a challenge to bring yourself up to speed with the differences in the law," he said.

Barbara Tanase, who heads the federal prosecutor's office in Flint and is Vance's new boss, said he brings those years of defense work and overall legal ability to the office.

"He's a great attorney, and he certainly brings that objectivity and experience in criminal work. We're glad to have him on board."

Vance said he'll now be able to focus on law full time without worrying about running an office.

"There is excitement in learning something new, and federal law is the highest law of the land," Vance said.

Although he's been there only a month or so, he said the people he works with are great attorneys and very experienced "and I look forward to learning from them."

Besides the law and his family, Vance also is an accomplished artist. He's been involved in pen and ink drawing since he was a child, has shown his artwork in the past at bar association shows and has a few hanging in his new office. Vance has sold a few and gave some away while concentrating on portraits of people. But he says it's "more of a hobby and for relaxation."

He also continues to play soccer and rugby.

"I enjoy the physical part of the sports," he said.

But the sportsmanship and camaraderie of sports has a direct correlation to practice of law.

"Just being involved in sports my whole life has given me that competitive nature, and it's translated into the court as well," Vance said.

After he battles on the rugby field, the two teams meet for food and drink and talk about the game.

"And after a courtroom battle, you can walk out, shake hands with your opponent and be friends," he said.

Vance said his goal is to remain professional and never lose sight of what being an attorney represents. His time as a defense attorney will be helpful in evaluating cases as a prosecutor, and anticipate issues that may arise or defenses that can be raised.

But for the next few decades or so, Vance said he is looking forward to prosecuting federal crimes.

"I still live in this community, I'm invested in it, and I'm raising my children here, and I'd like them to be raised in a city that's free of some of the crime and violence that's out there," he said. "I'd like to be known as a prosecutor who is fair. Whether you agree or disagree with me, if the attorney on the other side can say, 'Vance is fair and we'll get a fair shake with him,' that's what I'd like people to think."

Published: Tue, Sep 7, 2010

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