WCBA honors its own at dinner


 By Jo Mathis

Legal News
Matthew Jane was elected president of the Washtenaw County Bar Association last week at the annual Washtenaw County Bar Association Annual Awards Dinner and Election at Weber’s Inn.
Outgoing WCBA President Delphia Simpson said it was an honor to work for the “outstanding organization” this past year, and gave special thanks to the Board, attorneys who volunteered their time to help, her family, and WCBA Executive Director Kyeena Slater and staffers Candy Newton and Kelley Lindquist.
She said the first time she worked with Matt Jane on a committee event, the keynote speaker for the Bench-Bar luncheon cancelled on the morning of the event.
“And I think we bonded right at that moment,” she said with a laugh. “So Matt, if you ever need anything during your term, you can always count on me.”
Accepting the gavel, Jane said he is honored and thrilled to be the new WCBA president.
“But I have a confession to make,” he said, holding the gavel up before giving it a slam moments later. “I may try it out at home. I have three boys—ages 10, 6, and almost 3. As my wife, Lauren, can attest, there are not too many quiet moments. So we’ll see how they respect the power of the gavel.”
The award winners included:
Professionalism and Civility in the Practice of Law Award
Washtenaw County Trial Court Judge Darlene O’Brien
When introducing Judge Darlene O’Brien, judicial attorney Teresa Killeen said to imagine a week with 47 court appearances, a continuation of an evidentiary hearing, a competency hearing, and about five ex parte requests, a PPO or five, and an emergency hearing.
“And also, you’re on-call to assist with the responsibilities of a colleague who’s out of the office for the week,” she said. “That’s Judge O’Brien’s schedule next week. And that’s a light schedule for her. She has as many as 92 hearings in a week.
“Do you think that you could be prepared for those hearings? And now imagine that about 60 percent of your workweek, you’re being videotaped. And that a video of you may end up on YouTube or ‘Good Morning America.’ Do you think that you could maintain your civility hearing after hearing, day after day, week after week for eight years?”
She said O’Brien never had to adjourn a hearing because she wasn’t ready.
“That’s extraordinary professionalism,” she said. “Judge O’Brien has never lost her composure on the bench or off the bench. She’s kind to the attorneys, she’s kind to the people who appear in front of her. Everyone gets treated with dignity. And that’s civility.”
O’Brien said law is a profession that requires that all involved in the process be treated with respect.
She reminded attorneys that “zealous” means full of zeal and energy.
“So you can be both a zealous advocate and civil at the same time,” she said. “When you do that, you really elevate the practice. The practice of law is a noble profession when we make it our practice to be civil. We might not be able to control the other attorneys or the litigants but we can control ourselves. And when we act with dignity and decency and courtesy and give respect to others, hopefully everybody else will end up doing the same.”
Liberty Bell Award
Project OutReach Team (PORT) of Community Support and Treatment Services
Patricia Reiser introduced PORT caseworker Toni Malone, winner of the Liberty Bell Award, by reminding the crowd that Malone’s job is far from easy.
“Think of the most difficult clients you have,” she said. “The ones who are desperate, mentally ill, addicts. The people you don’t want to be alone with, or sometimes even make eye contact with. These people are often the most downtrodden, beleaguered people in our community, those who live on society’s fringes, and they often do not have much of a support system.”
This is where the Project OutReach Team comes in, she said. PORT offers clients housing support, psychiatric services, crisis management, benefits assistance and legal advocacy.
The Liberty Bell Award calls for an individual or organization that promotes a better understanding of the Constitution and Bill of Rights, and Reiser noted that the populations served by PORT often come in contact with the criminal justice system, and often don’t understand their constitutional rights.
“Working toward the client’s best interest is where the PORT caseworkers are pivotal,” she said, describing the many ways that happens.
Reiser praised Malone’s work in the community, particularly with the sobriety and human trafficking courts, her LifeSkills Group, and legal advocacy.
“In many cases, clients will provide her with information that we, as attorneys, cannot get, because they trust her,” she said.
Malone thanked the attorneys and judges in the crowd for the honor, as well as doing their part to help provide “holistic justice to all members of society.”
“We can do everything on our end, but without a reciprocating legal system, it wouldn’t work,” she said.
Patriot Award
Thomas M. Cooley Law Professor Daniel Ray
Attorney Jennifer Lawrence said she first met Professor Daniel Ray when she enrolled in his paralegal classes at Eastern Michigan University, where he taught before joining the Cooley faculty.
“His wealth of knowledge about many areas of law and downright excitement and enthusiasm made his students want to be the best, work the hardest, and succeed,” she said. “During my time in his classes, I excelled. And I truly believe that had I not met Dan Ray, I wouldn’t be standing here today.”
Ray, who teaches Constitutional Law, said that if we could go back in time and talk to one of the influential people in the Constitutional convention, he would say that the founders wanted a promise of a better life, a better country, and possibilities that did not exist for them.
Then Ray told of how he witnessed a same-sex wedding the day after U.S. District Judge Bernard Friedman struck down Michigan’s ban on gay marriage.
“This is a living, breathing example of how it is that the Constitution we live under every day is not simply abstract principles, is not simply rules that are distant and detached and don’t have anything to do with us,” said Ray, who co-wrote an amicus brief in the marriage equality case DeBoer v. Snyder.  “These principles, these ideals, these aspirations that we live under: They touch our lives. They change our lives. As Judge F said: We should never forget that the Constitution isn’t just about popularity. It really is truly about people.”


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