Attorney heavily involved in Flint water crisis litigation

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By Sheila Pursglove
Legal News

Mike Pattwell was attracted to law by the positive impact attorneys can have as counselors and advocates.

“Growing up, I had the opportunity to hang around the law office of a family friend,” he says. “Although I was mostly taking up space and maybe running the occasional document, I sensed the gravity of the attorney-client relationship. The idea one could make a career out of assisting others with their most dire circumstances was inspiring.” 

Pattwell continues to find inspiration as a member of the Litigation, Political Law, and Environment, Energy, & Natural Resources (EENR) Groups in Clark Hill’s Lansing office.

He currently is lead counsel for Dan Wyant, former director of the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, and former MDEQ Communications Director Brad Wurfel in lawsuits stemming from the Flint water crisis.

“It’s an extremely important set of cases for a wide variety of reasons—but, purely from a litigator’s perspective, these proceedings present a civil procedure professor’s dream,” Pattwell says.
“So many different cases, plaintiffs, and defendants pending before so many different state and federal courts. To say this litigation is procedurally complicated would be an understatement.”

He also is co-counsel with the Pacific Legal Foundation on litigation regarding County Road 595, which he notes would be built over a series of wetlands to create a more direct and safer route for mining trucks going from the Eagle Mine near Big Bay to the Humboldt Processing Mill in western Marquette County. The Marquette County Road Commission partnered with the Pacific Legal Foundation and Stand U.P. to challenge the EPA’s decision to block construction of the road. The case, pending at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, has the potential to go all the way up to the U.S. Supreme Court.

“This case will resolve whether aggrieved parties have the right to judicial review when the EPA arbitrarily vetoes a proposed state wetland permit,” he explains. “It was inconceivable to me that a federal agency could overrule a sound state decision for political reasons and then never have its conduct reviewed in court.”

“Luckily, the attorneys at the Pacific Legal Foundation, who are leaders in this niche field, have stepped in as appellate co-counsel for my client. They argued and won the last two cases of this ilk before the United States Supreme Court. So I sort of feel like I’ve got the cavalry behind me now.”

Pattwell also is lead counsel to the Association of Businesses Advocating Tariff Equity (ABATE), an organization protecting the interests of industrial customers in energy and related matters and active in a variety of forums, including the Michigan Public Service Commission, Michigan Legislature, Michigan Courts, and Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

“It’s incredibly interesting work,” he says. “We appear frequently before the Michigan Public Service Commission and advocate for reasonable and prudent electric and gas transportation rates.”

This year ABATE has been especially busy focusing on the implementation of Public Acts 341 and 342 that have significantly altered Michigan’s Energy Policy.

“Of particular concern is a set of cases that will impose ‘capacity obligations’ on alternative electric suppliers and then ‘capacity charges’ on the customers of alternative electric suppliers who are unable to meet their capacity obligations four years out,” Pattwell explains. “If decided incorrectly, these cases could spell the end of the limited 10 percent competitive energy market in Michigan, something the State Legislature was unwilling to do directly.”  

His political law practice focuses on the formation and administration of election day and voting integrity operations, as well as voting rights, redistricting, and campaign finance.

“In my mind the right to choose one’s elected representatives is such a core component of what it means to be American. I mean, just think of how many Americans made the ultimate sacrifice to guarantee our right to vote,” he says.

“But it’s crazy to me how little attention the general public today pays to the nuts and bolts of our democratic process. The elections themselves get lots of press no doubt, but the actual process of casting, collecting, and counting votes garners little scrutiny and is undeniably a work in progress. It’s heavily reliant upon often-lacking local resources and, over the years, I’ve seen firsthand how disorganized voting precincts coupled with misguided election officials can cast doubt on the legitimacy of the process.

“There are, of course, several shining examples of well-run election precincts,” he adds. “But, moving forward, I think we all can do more to ensure that accurate, non-discriminatory, and transparent voting processes are implemented statewide.”

One of his most rewarding career experiences was behind-the-scenes work with Clark Hill’s public pension team, on behalf of the Detroit Retirement Systems during the City of Detroit’s Chapter 9 bankruptcy proceedings.

“Imagine dedicating your entire career to public service, basing your retirement on the assumption you would receive a fair pension, and then late in life being told your sole source of income could be discharged in a municipal bankruptcy,” he says. “People were scared. And, it really hit home for me, especially considering my grandfather, who spent most of his career as a Detroit Police Officer, was a pensioner.”

One of his best memories from the case was the deposition of Quicken Loans founder and chairman Dan Gilbert.

“His generosity, along with many others, helped make the Grand Bargain a reality,” Pattwell says. “His deposition fell on the week of our annual firm retreat, so I filled in for one of the senior partners. It was sort of a surreal experience. I think LeBron James had just resigned with the Cavaliers so there was lots of levity injected into the deposition. But Gilbert was very sincere and, as a lawyer himself, had complete control.

“The high point for me was when Gilbert explained to bond counsel – in a very matter-of-fact fashion – why pensioners working primarily blue collar jobs should be given a higher creditor priority than the sophisticated Wall Street investors who, unlike the pensioners, knew the risks of investing in a city like Detroit. I just remember thinking, ‘Wow, here’s a guy who hasn’t lost touch.’”  

Pattwell started his career path with an undergraduate degree in Social Relations & Policy from Michigan State University’s James Madison College, with a specialization in environmental policy. A few years later he externed for an environmental policy NGO in London, England, where the issue of the day was the Kyoto Protocol; the NGO was intimately involved in the political process that lead to its ratification.

“The complexity of the entire treaty process from both a technical and political standpoint was incredibly fascinating,” he says. “After the NGO sent me back to New York to attend the United Nations’ Commission on Sustainable Development, I was hooked—and when I got to Washington and Lee University School of Law a year later, I loaded up on environmental, energy, and land use classes.”

He describes a law student internship with U.S. District Judge Gerald Rosen as “hypnagogic.”

“I still remember the interview—we talked mostly about baseball, the importance of confidentiality, and the work ethic of good lawyers,” he recalls. “I was shocked when he offered me the internship.”

Pattwell’s internship experiences included sitting in on a high profile murder trial and traveling to the Sixth Circuit where Judge Rosen sat by designation.

“The most enjoyable aspect was the friendships formed with the other interns and with the judge’s permanent clerks,” he says. “The clerks, in particular, were really gracious to the interns.
They invested a lot of time making introductions, explaining the judicial process, and helping us with interesting research assignments.”

The Royal Oak native now makes his home in DeWitt, north of Lansing, with his wife, Dickinson Wright attorney Samantha Pattwell, and baby son Jack.

“My commute to work rocks—almost no traffic,” he says. “And, coming home on Friday afternoons—we live on a small lake north of town—has that driving up north feel to it.”

In his leisure time, Pattwell enjoys running, golfing, hunting and fishing; and he and his wife serve as occasional “foster parents” through New Hope Pet Rescue, an organization that saves stranded dogs and facilitates their permanent adoption.   

“It’s also rumored I’m known to host the occasional poker game,” he says with a smile.

 

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