Hilligan Award goes to keynoter


- Legal News photo by Cynthia Price


By Cynthia Price
Legal News

Before giving the Marion Hilligan Public Service Award to the Hon. Patrick Bowler, Thomas M. Cooley law School Associate Dean Nelson Miller reminded the Law Day audience that Bowler’s son Jared, a Cooley student, had  suffered through a major earthquake when he was studying abroad in New Zealand earlier this year.

Though he witnessed painful destruction in Christchurch where he was studying, Jared Bowler emerged unscathed.

Miller joked that Cooley was the only law school in the country which sent its students abroad to study environmental law and actually provided an environmental disaster.

This is the third time the Hilligan Award, named after the deceased first associate dean of the Grand Rapids campus, has been given. It recognizes public service contributions and those who promote public health and welfare through law. The intent is to spread the word about the contributions attorneys make to the community, and to encourage “greater individual responsibility for service” in the legal profession.

Bowler’s primary contributions have been in conjunction with the drug treatment courts detailed in the article above.

An honors graduate of the Detroit College of Law whose undergraduate degree was from Michigan State University, Bowler spent the early years of his career as Director and Attorney of the Kent County Office of the Defender. That ended in 1984 when he was elected as a 61st District Judge, where he served for 24 years, ten of them as Chief Judge.

He has also taught law at both MSU College of Law and Cooley Law School, and is a faculty member of the Michigan Judicial Institute. He was President of the Grand Rapids Bar Association from 2002-2003, and co-chaired the Legal Assistance Center Committee. In 1994, he served  as President of the Michigan District Judges Association.

Judge Bowler began the Drug Treatment Court in 1998, later expanding the program to include a Sobriety Court and a Hispanic Sobriety Court. He served as a board member for Project Rehab, the residential and outpatient program in Grand Rapids.

Since 2004. Judge Bowler has assisted in the development of drug treatment and other specialty courts across the United States through the National Drug Court Institute. He has represented the State of Michigan on Congress of State Drug Court Associations; been a consultant to the Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Assistance; served as President of the Michigan Association of Drug Court Professionals; and was appointed by the Michigan Legislature to serve on the first State Drug Treatment Court Advisory Committee, including a stint as chair.

About the award, Bowler says, “Well, it was a great honor. I think it’s critically important judges in particular stay very closely connected to the communities they serve in a number of different ways. And the community wants to see that kind of  involvement. There were many in that room who deserved it more than me.

“I hope we can keep our new lawyers tuned in to the idea that  lawyers really are there for the community. I’d like to tell them, if you want to learn how to be a lawyer, join the Grand Rapids Bar Association. Our history of officers shows that it’s a rich and rewarding experience, and it really does develop a foundation for
that professionalism and involvement attorneys sorely need.”