Noted trial attorney remembered for his smarts, ability to 'connect'


Attorney Rodger Young tackled his share of “landmark cases” in his career, even successfully representing the Italian government in a dispute with an American food manufacturer that had neglected to include the islands of Sicily and Sardinia in a label map of the European country.

Photo by Robert Chase

By Tom Kirvan
Legal News

In 2022, attorney Rodger Young would have marked his 50th year in the legal profession, a milestone encapsulating a career that those who knew him could aptly describe as “legendary.”

It’s not a term easily earned or regularly bandied about in legal circles, but it fit Young to the proverbial “T,” according to the many friends and colleagues who are mourning his passing at the age of 75.

A native of Montana, Young died September 30 following a brief illness. His life – rich as it was with honors and awards, courtroom victories, and distinguished service to his country – was celebrated on October 3 at a funeral service in the landmark Christ Church Cranbrook, a fitting place for a man of his stature to be remembered.

Young was a baseball player in college, and by all accounts a talented pitcher at that for the Grizzlies of the University of Montana.

But throughout his legal career, Young preferred to subscribe to a belief rooted in a different sport, one first espoused by Vince Lombardi, the legendary football coach who claimed two Super Bowl titles en route to the NFL Hall of Fame.

“Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing,” Lombardi reportedly barked to his team on the eve of the NFL season, quickly dispelling any notion that he would tolerate “moral victories” and the corresponding culture of losing.

Young, who for more than three decades headed a civil litigation boutique firm that bears his name with offices in Farmington Hills and New York City, was of a similar mindset, expressing himself in equally cogent terms.

“It’s all about winning – and winning fairly, and nothing else,” Young said in a Legal News interview 8 years ago as he prepared for a high-stakes trial in federal court. “We’re not hired or retained by our clients to finish second. The expectation is that we are going to win.”

Accordingly, there was plenty of that since Young founded his firm in 1990 after spending 18 years as a partner with the Detroit law firm of Moll, Desenberg and Bayer. He won scores of jury trials in federal and state courts, prevailing in complex cases involving such clients as Barclays, Siemens, Pullman Industries, Arthrex, Teleflex, Wachovia, and Motor City Casinos among many others. He has taken on the likes of General Motors, Ford Motor Co., Navistar, Chase Bank, Verizon, Nationwide Securities, and Northern Telecom, a collection of business heavyweights that tend to make legal opponents quake.

“Generally speaking, the bigger the opponent, the greater the challenge,” said Young, who earned his law degree from the University of Minnesota in 1972. “But I’ve always enjoyed a challenge especially when important legal principles are at stake. This firm has been built with people who are dedicated to winning, to seeing that our clients receive the finest legal representation possible in their respective cases and causes of action.”

One of the pillars of his law firm has been Jaye Quadrozzi, his legal colleague for the past 15 years.

“But fellow lawyer does not accurately capture my relationship with Rodger or the role that he played in my life,” Quadrozzi said in eulogizing Young on Sunday at Christ Church Cranbrook. “Yes, he was a colleague, but this giant of a man was so much more to me – he was a dear friend, a mentor, a counselor . . .”

His calling card, perhaps it should have been inscribed on his business card, was that he was a “great lawyer,” said Quadrozzi, perhaps the “best lawyer ever,” she added.

“First and foremost – Rodger connected with people,” she said. “He was charming and personable, and when he spoke you felt he was interested in you.”

Sometimes to a fault, said Quadrozzi in recounting an anecdotal story that says plenty about Young.

“Rodger and I were trying a case up in Port Huron that lasted a long time,” Quadrozzi said. “Also, if you know me, you know that I love Diet Coke. Every day after trial, Rodger would take me to the McDonald’s drive-through to get a Diet Coke on the way back to the hotel to get working on the next day’s witnesses. This in itself is just a wonder. Rodger wasn’t really a drive-through guy. And at the time he was driving an enormous Escalade and truly he wasn’t always the best driver, and the Escalade and the drive-through – well you can imagine. But he knew I really wanted it. Anyway, I was always in a hurry. It’s trial – we have a lot to do and every single time he would stop at the drive-through window and have a full-on heart-to-heart with the person at the window.

“‘When is it going to be spring?’ ‘It’s so cold for April. ‘Do you think the Tigers are going to do it this year.’”

“I am bouncing in my seat, the people behind us are clearly not happy, and there is Rodger – having a chat with his favorite McDonald’s drive-through worker,” Quadrozzi said with a smile.

Yet, his ability to connect with people of all levels was just one of his many endearing qualities, said Quadrozzi, who serves as chair of the Huron-Clinton Metropolitan Authority, which oversees the Metropark system.

“Rodger was also incredibly smart,” Quadrozzi said. “Not just book smart – absolutely he was that. But he was just so practical – common sense smart. So, it wasn’t just that he liked and connected with people. He made sure he connected with the right people.”

As the head of his firm, Young set the example for all of his partners and associates to follow, Quadrozzi indicated.

“Rodger was one of the hardest workers I know,” she said. “He prepared and prepared. He anticipated everything. He was ready for every possible outcome. His annotations of depositions to prepare for cross examinations were like books. His legal pads were covered case notes in the event he got an evidentiary challenge. . .

“His work ethic – his energy – unbelievable,” she emphasized. “If associates ever complained that they didn’t have time, he would comment ‘that’s what weekends are for.’ And you would not be alone. Rodger was there. His 8 a.m. Saturday morning meetings were legendary. Everyone saw that. And it worked.”

To such a degree that Young won long-lasting admiration from a blue-ribbon list of clients, including John Schmieding, vice president and general counsel of Arthrex, a global medical device company.

In an e-mail to his company’s legal team, Schmieding recalled a 2016 courtroom victory that Young orchestrated for Arthrex.

“I will never forget the moment after the victory in Marshal, Texas, with Rodger dancing around to ‘This Magic Moment,’ he screamed out: ‘Two straight all-nighters at 70, I still got it!’” Schmieding wrote. “He sure did, and so did we. We were privileged to know a true Legal Legend, and a man who truly cared for us and our mission.”

Young’s global view of legal life may have been influenced by a 2007 appointment as a U.S. delegate to the United Nations General Assembly. A veteran of the U.S. Air Force, Young was one of five delegates appointed at the time by then President George W. Bush, and was assigned the task of helping redesign the internal justice system for the U.N. One of the goals of the redesign, according to Young, was to place greater emphasis on informal resolution of disputes before they escalate to the stage of expensive and time-consuming litigation.

During his work at the U.N., Young also was involved in perhaps the “most unusual case of my life,” arguing successfully before the U.N. Security Council that there is no right of due process for avowed terrorists such as Osama bin Laden and that they may be targeted for killing.

“The case arose from a challenge by Sweden of the so-called ‘death warrant’ and was heard by a panel representing the five permanent members of the Security Council – the U.S., Russia, the United Kingdom, France, and China,” Young explained. “It was our argument that such evil-doers should not be afforded rights of due process and can be killed on sight, an argument that prevailed.”

His persuasive skills have been put to good use at various points during his career in public service, a field where he has served on the Michigan Environmental Review Board, the Michigan Transportation Commission, and as Chairman of the Federal Judge and U.S. Attorney Qualification Commission during the Bush Administration.

His appointment to the Michigan Transportation Commission in 1978 by then Governor William Milliken was a bit of a watershed moment for Young, who became the youngest commissioner in history at age 32. While serving on the MTC over a 12-year period, Young played a pivotal role in helping jump start the long-planned I-275 project through Wayne and Oakland counties, mending various political fences for the “good of the state and the region,” he said.

In addition, Young was heavily involved in charitable work throughout his career, serving on the board of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra and the Detroit Medical Center, and was named a Global Ambassador to the Susan G. Komen for the Cure breast cancer foundation.

He is survived by his wife, Jinny; a daughter, Lauren; his former wife, Linda; his brother, Barton, and sister-in-law, Jennifer; his sister, Debra; and his nieces, Heather, Kristen, Taylor, Kelsey, and Sofia.

Memorial contributions may be made to Christ Church Cranbrook.

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