Monday Profile: Stephen K. Postema

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Stephen K. Postema was appointed Ann Arbor City Attorney in 2003.  

A graduate of Ann Arbor schools and Harvard University, Postema attended the University of Wisconsin Law School, where he also worked for the president of the university during law school. He began his legal career as a judicial clerk to then Chief U.S. District Court Judge John Feikens.   

Prior to his appointment as city attorney, Postema was a partner at Bodman LLP where he specialized in commercial and employment litigation. While there, he received the Distinguished Brief Award in 1998 for his work in the Michigan Supreme Court. 

Postema has served as president of the Michigan Association of Municipal Attorneys and chairman of the Michigan Municipal League’s Legal Defense Fund and is currently chair of the Legislative Committee for the MML. 

He is a frequent speaker on municipal law topics and has taught state and local government law. He has also served as an arbitrator, mediator, and facilitator in numerous employment, commercial, and negligence cases.  

His many awards include “Leader in the Law” in 2013 by Michigan Lawyers Weekly, and MML’s Outstanding Service Award in 2012..

He and his wife, Christina Cunningham, live in Ann Arbor and have four children. 

 

 

By Jo Mathis

Legal News

 

What is your happiest childhood memory? Growing up in Ann Arbor during the 1960s and 1970s was a great experience. I spent many happy days at the Ann Arbor Public Library. A particularly memorable time was in the summer of 1969 when our family took a three-month trip in an old station wagon with an attached pop-up camper. We went from Ann Arbor to Cuernevaca Mexico (where we stayed for a month) and then through all the western states to Berkeley, Calif., where my father had a sabbatical for a year. 

 

What would you say to your 16-year-old self?  “In seven years, you will marry the girl you just met in the Pioneer High School library. There is really no need to wait a year to strike up a conversation with her.” 

 

Currently reading :  “Simple Justice—The History of Brown v. Board of Education” by Richard Kluger and  “The Bully Pulpit: Theodore Roosevelt, William Taft, and the Golden Age of Journalism”  by Doris Kearns Goodwin. 

 

What is your most treasured material possession? Family photos. But I am also very fond of a large winged back reading chair that my wife inherited from her father, Prof. Roger Cunningham of the U- M Law School. He was a prolific scholar and a lover of  history and he read and wrote in that chair. I feel much better educated after simply sitting in the chair.

 

Favorite local hangouts:  The Y, The Arb, The Ark, the Farmers Market.

 

Favorite websites:  mlive.com ;  tripadvisor.com; nyt.com.

 

What is your favorite app?  OpenTable.

 

What advice do you have for someone considering law school?  Law is very interesting and rewarding. Keep in mind the great and grand themes of the law as you drill into the details. Be prepared to work very hard in law school, but learn to work efficiently. Don’t spend any time with people who complain about the work—negativity will drag you down.

 

What would surprise people about your job?  There is never a dull moment. 

 

What’s your most typical mood?  Optimistic. I’m not really fazed by much. 

 

If you could trade places with someone for a day, who would that be?  Cazzie Russell in the 1965 NCAA finals against UCLA. I met him when I was five and I followed his career.

 

What is the most awe-inspiring place you’ve ever been?  Zion National Park.

 

What did you do last weekend?  Road trip. I took my parents to visit my youngest daughter who is a freshman in college.  

 

What one thing do you wish people knew about your work?  The legal work of the city is done by a very dedicated and experienced team of lawyers and staff. There are seven assistant city attorneys who have an average of 25 years of legal experience and 13 years of legal work with the city. 

 

What’s your proudest moment as a lawyer? I am proudest about the many young attorneys I have mentored and trained who are doing well in their careers. One of them in particular had been a client who had been brutally assaulted at a business. I argued her premises liability case at the Court of Appeals and it was my first appellate argument. The judges made it clear at oral argument that they were going to rule in her favor and they did. The case changed her situation in life and she was able to finish college and then she really excelled at law school. 

 

What do you to relax?  Walk, swim, and read. 

 

How would you describe your home? I still live in the first home we purchased in 1988 on the near west-side of Ann Arbor. We added to it as we added children. 

 

If you were starting all over again and couldn’t go into law, what career path would you choose?  I am very interested in education, so I would have gone into teaching, perhaps at the college level. 

 

What’s your biggest regret? No major regrets, but I do regret not learning other languages. 

 

 

What’s one thing you would like to learn to do? I enjoy cooking and baking with my youngest daughter, but I am most often just her assistant in the kitchen. I would like to learn to cook much better, especially now that she is away at college. 

 

What is something most people don’t know about you?  I really like university and college towns. While I have lived most of my life in Ann Arbor, all of the other places I have lived have been close to major universities: Amsterdam, Netherlands; Berkeley, CA.; Cambridge MA.; New Haven, CT; and  Madison WI. Most of these cities have active histories of social protest. While I was able to observe many of the Ann Arbor social protests in the 1960s on campus, I was also caught in the midst of one of the largest riots in Berkeley in 1970 while in 5th grade. I was attempting to go to a downtown stamp store to make a purchase, although I may have been told by my parents to avoid the social protests and may have been instructed to turn back by the police in riot gear. I paid no attention because I was on a mission to purchase a coveted stamp that I had worked and saved money for most of the year. Despite the fact that the stamp store was boarded up and I was then robbed during the mayhem, it was a very interesting day.

 

If you could have dinner with three people, living or dead, who would they be?  Abraham Lincoln,  Martin Luther King, Jr.,  Eleanor Roosevelt.

 

What’s the best advice you ever received? My mentor, Judge Feikens, gave blunt advice on many things, quoting everyone from Aristotle to John Wooden, including: “The only way to avoid criticism is to say nothing, do nothing, and be nothing. There is a lot to do in life, so get things done. Never be late for court. “

 

What do you drive? A 2004 Dodge Town and Country mini-van.  

 

Favorite place to spend money: Bookstores.

 

What is your motto? Success is never final, failure is never fatal. Get going. 

 

Where would you like to be when you’re 90? Near my children and a library. I would be quite happy to be in my reading chair teaching some future great grandchild to read.

 

 

 

 

 

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