My Turn: Professor knows boundaries of law

 Tom Kirvan

Legal News, Editor-in-Chief
In effect, Gerald Fisher is a “hired gun” for municipalities and others in need of his expertise in property law matters.
Over the years, he has traveled far and wide across the state advising scores of clients on a variety of sticky legal matters, even wading into the turbulent waters created by the 2008 passage of the Michigan Medical Marijuana Act.
But it is his breadth of knowledge in the field of property and land use regulation law, subjects he teaches at Cooley Law School, for which Fisher has gained a statewide reputation for legal excellence.
Before joining the Cooley faculty full time in 2004, Fisher was an attorney with Secrest Wardle, where he teamed with Bill Hampton, a former judge and state legislator, to help build the firm’s Municipal Practice Group. He managed the Municipal Practice Group for 10 years, serving as general counsel for a number of cities, villages, and townships, and as a special counsel for various governmental entities throughout the state.
Hampton, a former Oakland County Circuit Court judge who also served as House Majority Leader during a three-term stay in the State Legislature, is fond of relating a story about Fisher that speaks volumes about his former colleague’s command of the law.
“One day, about 15 years ago, Jerry and I were arguing a case before the Michigan Supreme Court on behalf of one of our municipal clients,” said Hampton, who in 2014 was honored with  a Distinguished Career Achievement Award from the Oakland County Bar Association. “Near the end of oral arguments, Jerry was standing at the podium when all seven of the justices started asking him questions about various land use and zoning issues. Their questions had nothing to do with the case we were arguing. It became clear that they valued his opinion so much on land use and zoning matters that they were picking his brain as it related to other cases that they were probably considering. It was pretty amazing.”
Fisher, a 1967 Michigan State grad who earned his juris doctor from the former Detroit College of Law and Master of Laws from Wayne State, has taught property, secured transactions, zoning and land use, and constitutional law courses at Cooley. He also is a trustee emeritus of the Oakland County Bar Foundation, a nonprofit organization that he headed in 2008-09.
Last spring, Fisher was retained by Chelsea to help in its battle against a proposed sand and gravel mine in neighboring Lyndon Township. Fisher was asked to help Chelsea devise a legal strategy to help preserve the Chelsea downtown area, which is rich in culture and economic development. A key recommendation made by Fisher was enactment of a new ordinance enabled by a recent amendment to Michigan law.
Opponents of the proposed mine, according to news reports, were particularly concerned about the prospect of some 80 oversized gravel hauling trucks rumbling through Chelsea’s quaint downtown each day headed for I-94. Concern also was expressed that the mining operation would negatively impact the ecological value of adjoining park land and could have adverse environmental impacts on surface and ground water for nearby residents in the rural area west of Ann Arbor.
As Fisher set out on his appointed legal task, he discovered that he had a host of allies that lived in the immediate area of the proposed mining site and haul route, some of them sporting the letters “Ph.D.” after their names. They were conversant at public meetings about geology, ecology, hydrology, and the like. 
“It was a once in a lifetime experience for a lawyer to have all these Rolls-Royce witnesses,” said Fisher. “The only thing needed was to provide a road map to guide their expertise.”
He also was suddenly aligned with a man who in many ways has put Chelsea on the map – Hollywood star Jeff Daniels. 
A native of the small town in Washtenaw County, Daniels was among those who spoke out against the proposal at a public meeting last March, voicing opposition to a special land use permit for McCoig Materials Inc.
While the TV and movie star has plenty of pull, Fisher has displayed more than his share of legal finesse in the ensuing months, working behind the scenes to encourage and facilitate a land swap that would preserve the proposed mining site for park use while routing the mining operation to a site in Livingston County. If the swap comes to fruition, Fisher will have accomplished a goal, which he has made a habit of since his days as an aspiring net-minder in the Detroit Red Wings system.
A 1963 graduate of Mumford High School in Detroit, Fisher played for a time in Wayburn, Saskatchewan for a Detroit farm team before enrolling at Michigan State. At MSU, Fisher was the starting goaltender throughout his sophomore year, helping the Spartans set the stage for a banner season in 1966 when the Big Ten squad captured its first-ever national championship. As a junior that season, Fisher shared goalie duties with a sophomore standout, Gaye Cooley, the eventual MVP of the NCAA tourney.
During his first season between the posts at MSU, Fisher was the lone goalie on the squad as the Spartans paid a visit to Minnesota-Duluth, a WCHA rival that played in a rink known for its Arctic-like conditions.
“It was probably 20-below in the arena and the ice was so hard that everyone on our team kept falling down throughout the game,” recalled Fisher.
During one sequence in particular, a pair of Spartan defensemen bit the ice, leaving Fisher alone to face a 3-on-0 break. Fisher somehow thwarted the grand goal-scoring opportunity but paid a heavy price for his handiwork.
“One of the Duluth players plowed into me, ramming my head into the crossbar and knocking me unconscious,” Fisher related, still wincing at the thought. “I was out like a light and they had to revive me with smelling salts. When I finally came to, I remember looking up, with my head in a pool of blood, and the coach (Amo Bessone) repeatedly calling my name. ‘Fisher, Fisher,’ he said. ‘Can you finish the game?’ It wasn’t ‘Fisher, Fisher, are you all right?’ It was ‘Fisher, can you finish the game?’”
Twelve stitches later and with half of the game to go, he did, helping propel the Spartans to an important road victory and offering a lesson in staying power that he would never forget.
 

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