Family--and the Constitution--first

By Jo Mathis

Legal News

A co-worker strolled away with Erin Mersino's baby while she was working at the Thomas More Law Center the other day.

But the 31-year-old attorney was neither surprised nor worried.

In fact, co-workers jump in to walk the baby in his stroller during meetings and interviews at this Ann Arbor public interest law firm. Mersino, a trial counsel who specializes in constitutional law and appellate litigation, is also the mother of two boys, including three-month-old Colin, who comes to work with his mother every day.

"Being a working mom, it is an incredible blessing that I don't have to miss my son's laughs, smiles, coos, and advancements. If he were at daycare, I would miss those moments which are quite fleeting," she said.

For the past two years, Mersino has been trial counsel at the Thomas More Law Center in Ann Arbor. She is lead counsel on TMLC’s HHS case brought on behalf of Tom Monaghan and his property management corporation, Dominos Farms Corporation. Prior to that, she worked four years as an Oakland County assistant prosecuting attorney specializing in trial practice.
 

In Oakland County, she had a home court advantage because she knew and was known by the legal community as she led nearly 40 trials.

But she wanted to stretch her practice and grow as an attorney. And now, she's on a national stage.

"This is just as exciting," she said, comparing the two jobs. "This week, I had to write and file four briefs by Wednesday. On Thursday, I had oral argument out in Port Huron at a federal district court on the Domino's case. No week is without tons of work to do--court hearings, briefs that are due, motions to file, motions to respond to."

"It's always exciting whenever the news comes out and our cases change," she continued. "For instance, today Health and Human Services just issued a new rule which affects our cases. We constantly have to update what we know, and as the law changes, we have to write briefs and motions."

Former Oakland County Prosecutor Richard Thompson is president and chief counsel of the Thomas More Law Center. As the former Oakland County prosecutor from 1989 through 1996, Thompson knows first-had how much trial experience the job requires, and knew Mersino's experience in Oakland County would be an asset at the Center.

"She had tremendous references from judges and even defense attorneys who said she was always prepared, and was just a great trial lawyer," Thompson said. "And in the interview, she was very committed to our mission, which as a public interest law firm, is very important."

Mersino, a Northville native who now lives in Plymouth, was inspired to go into law by the example set by her uncle, Grand Traverse County District Court Judge Tom Phillips.

"He treated everyone with respect," she said, recalling her visits to his courtroom.

After graduating from the University of Michigan, Mersino earned her Juris Doctorate from the Ave Maria School of Law in Ann Arbor in 2007. (The school relocated to Naples, Florida in 2008, and Cooley Law School moved into the vacated Plymouth Road building the following year.)

Thompson said Mersino has proven herself to be a very tough, unflappable, smart lawyer who works long hours.

And what of her soft-spoken, exceptionally kind demeanor?

"She can talk softly, but she carries a big stick," said Thompson. "She knows what she's doing. She's a very tough advocate; a zealous advocate, not only in her writing, but also when she's in court."

"Erin's very polite, but when she gets to the courtroom, a different person comes out."

Thompson is 100 percent supportive of the fact that Mersino brings her baby to work with her every day. He says it reflect's the Center's family values.

"I tell people even when the baby cries - which he seldom does - it's a nice feeling," he said. "Almost like you're working at home."

Mersino works 60 to 70 hours a week. That includes some time in the evening sitting beside her husband, Paul Mersino, an attorney at Butzel Long in downtown Detroit, who is likely to be working on his own cases.

Mersino has been busy the last few months challenging the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act on First Amendment grounds, insisting it violates religious freedom.

In fact, she's made two successful challenges to the HHS mandate, securing preliminary injunctions against the government, preventing it from forcing Monaghan and local businessman Daniel Weingartz to provide employee health insurance covering contraception and sterilization.

For the Weingartz's case, Mersino, who was eight months pregnant at the time, battled in a nearly three hour long oral argument.

The result? Mersino was the second in the nation to secure an injunction against the federal government.

Mersino explained that Health and Human Services has full discretion in giving companies a waiver out of the mandate, and has done so, for instance, for McDonald's.

"So if a large corporation can get a waiver for reasons unknown, then why can't someone with religious objections?" she asked. "There are so many exemptions throughout the law that it just doesn't make sense that there couldn't also be a small exemption for religious, for-profit companies."

Acknowledging that the conservative Center has its critics, Mersino said the Center's positions are not to hate any group, but to support a strong national defense, and the U.S. Constitution.

The Center is supported by private donations, which allows the Center's attorneys to provide legal representation without charge.

"Richard Thompson is unquestionably as tough as nails and a fierce litigator, but he is also a tremendous boss who cares about not only his employees but also their families" she said. "Where else would a law firm welcome a newborn into the office?"

Published: Thu, Feb 14, 2013

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