State Bar to honor award winners at banquet


State Bar of Michigan members will gather at the Amway Grand Plaza Hotel on Wednesday, Sept. 21, to honor the best in the legal profession. Thirteen major SBM awards will be presented at a special banquet held in conjunction with the SBM Annual Meeting, which will take place Sept. 21-23.  The awards and honorees are:

Champion of Justice Award
Oakland County Circuit Court Chief Judge Nanci Grant discovered an influx of combat veterans on her dockets and those of her colleagues. Her response was launching the county’s combat veterans treatment court in 2013, the only one of its kind in the state and one of only two in the country. Its goal is keeping veterans out of jail by providing them with intense supervision, treatment for mental health and substance abuse issues, readjustment counseling, and mentoring sessions with military veterans who can relate to their combat experiences. The combat veterans treatment court isn’t the first time Grant recognized a particular population needed help navigating court proceedings. As a practicing attorney, Grant noticed people—especially seniors and those who had recently lost a loved one—were unsure and fairly uneducated about the need for estate planning. In 1990, she developed a series of free programs for Oakland County residents called “Removing the Mysteries of the Probate Court” to help get their estates in order and chart a path through the probate process.
Champion of Justice Award
During his 45-year legal career, Judge Ulysses Boykin has amassed an impressive list of accomplishments. Upon graduation from Harvard Law School, Boykin became the first African-American attorney to practice at Dickinson Wright. He was elected to the Third Circuit bench in 1999 and though he practiced primarily corporate law and civil litigation, he quickly adapted to criminal court and became a skilled trial judge and a leader in promoting rules and procedures to create a more efficient court. Boykin also served on the Michigan Crime Victims Compensation Board and the Michigan Military Appeals Tribunal and chaired the Detroit Civil Service Commission. He is perhaps best known for his work as a mentor, sharing his time and knowledge with high school and college students, young attorneys, and fellow judges.

Champion of Justice Award
Vincent Chin’s murder and the lack of jail time for his killers set Roland Hwang on a path to ensure Chin was never forgotten. In doing so, he played a major role in the movement to protect the rights of Asian-American citizens. Hwang cofounded American Citizens for Justice, an Asian-American civil rights organization that has hosted rallies, raised money for attorneys, and sponsored debates on civil rights. Thirty-three years later, he remains an ACJ leader and a frequent participant in activities as the state and national level addressing civil rights and hate crimes. He’s been involved in the Michigan Governor’s Advisory Council on Asian Pacific American Affairs, the Michigan Asian Pacific American Affairs Commission, and the national and state Asian Pacific American bar associations. An adjunct instructor at the University of Michigan for nearly 20 years, Hwang also led the charge to turn the Vincent Chin case into a Michigan Legal Milestone.

Champion of Justice Award
At Western Michigan University Cooley Law School, Marla Mitchell-Cichon has been supervisor for the Sixty Plus Elderlaw and Estate Planning clinics, co-director of the Access to Justice clinic, and director of its Innocence Project. Since the Innocence Project launched in 2001, students under Mitchell-Cichon’s supervision have screened thousands of cases. New evidence brought to light by their work has resulted in the exoneration of three clients wrongly imprisoned for crimes they did not commit. In a fourth case, the Michigan Court of Appeals last year ordered further DNA testing for a man convicted in a 1988 murder in Oakland County. Mitchell-Cichon also played an integral role to get rid of the sunset provision on Michigan’s post-conviction DNA testing law. That measure is now permanently on the books. She’s now educating lawmakers on a proposed law that would allow victims of wrongful conviction to get compensation from the state.

Champion of Justice Award
H. Rhett Pinsky’s first notable case was in 1972, when he filed a federal class action lawsuit against the Grand Rapids Fire Department on behalf of two applicants who alleged the GFRD’s methods of recruiting, testing, and selecting candidates for job openings was racially discriminatory. Two years later, the court ordered the fire department to implement an equal opportunity hiring program and develop a better entrance exam for applicants. Nearly two decades later, Pinsky played a key role in a Grand Rapids group’s successful gender-equity lawsuit against the Michigan High School Athletic Association. Although the case is most famous for leading to changes to the state’s high school basketball and volleyball seasons, the ruling forced the MHSAA to do a better job complying with the federal Title IX law banning sex discrimination in schools.

Roberts P. Hudson Award
Linda Rexer has worked tirelessly to increase access to justice for the poor. The executive director of the Michigan State Bar Foundation for nearly 30 years, the organization had administered more than $190 million in grants, primarily in support of legal services to the poor. She collaborated with Michigan legal leaders to establish Interest on Lawyer Trust Accounts, which the Michigan Supreme Court approved in 1990. Ever since, Rexer has earnestly and persistently persuaded Michigan financial institutions to participate in IOLTA and work to increase IOLTA income to support legal aid grants. At the end of 2015, state IOLTA funds totaled more than $27.5 million.  

In 1994, Rexer established the MSBF to oversee distribution of the portion of Michigan court filing fees designated for civil legal aid. By the end of 2015, these fees totaled nearly $136 million. In 1997, Rexer was instrumental in creating the Access to Justice Fund, through which Michigan lawyers can make voluntary financial contributions to support civil legal aid. At the end of 2015, ATJF contributions totaled more than $14 million.  Rexer has assumed many volunteer leadership roles within Michigan. She was a founding member of the SBM Access to Justice Task Force and co-chairs the Committee on Justice Initiatives; she was a founding member of the Michigan State Planning Body, an independent group focused on civil and criminal legal aid for the poor; she was appointed by Chief Justice Marilyn Kelly to co-chair the Michigan Solutions on Self-Help Task Force; she co-chaired the Access to Justice Committee of the SBM Judicial Crossroads Task Force; and she co-chaired the Access and Affordability Committee for the SBM 21st Century Practice Task Force. She has also taken up many volunteer leadership positions on a national level. 

Rexer will retire at the end of 2016. She has received other State Bar awards, including the Michael Franck Award for contributions to the profession.  Now, the State Bar’s highest award, the Hudson Award, honors a legacy overflowing with long-lasting improvements to access to justice for all in Michigan.

Frank J. Kelley Distinguished Public Service Award
William Forsyth has been a Kent County prosecutor for 40 years. He’s been a driving force behind innovations benefitting the county and the state. He played a key role in drafting Michigan’s truth-in-sentencing law eliminating disciplinary credits, good time, and corrections centers for certain offenders and requiring them to serve their minimum?sentences?in prison before coming up for parole. In Kent County, Forsyth set up a program to keep people convicted of certain crimes out of jail, requiring them to pay restitution and placing them under court supervision. He also assigned a prosecuting attorney to work on cold cases using the investigative subpoena process, a move that has helped solve more than 20 homicides. Recently, Forsyth persuaded the court to vacate the conviction of a man jailed for crime he didn’t commit – while investigating a cold case, new evidence came to light connecting another person to the crime.

Frank J. Kelley Distinguished Public Service Award
Wayne Pratt has done more to fight health care fraud than almost anyone else in the U.S. Department of Justice. The chief of the Health Care Fraud Unit for the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Michigan has saved Medicare nearly $1 billion. In 33 years as an assistant United States attorney, Pratt has prosecuted some of Michigan’s most notorious narcotics traffickers and corrupt health-care providers. Recently, he successfully prosecuted Dr. Farid Fata, who provided expensive chemotherapy and other treatments to patients he knew did not need them so he could enrich himself while his patients suffered. Since becoming fraud unit chief in 2010, the federal officials have successfully prosecuted more than 50 doctors and 30 pharmacists for felony violations involving fraud, controlled substances and, kickbacks.

John W. Cummiskey Pro Bono Award
A business and commercial lawyer at Miller Canfield in Kalamazoo, Leo Goddeyne has focused his pro bono efforts on counseling organizations serving low-income communities – helping them obtain and maintain tax-exempt status and comply with state laws. Goddeyne has been a leader with the Kalamazoo Bar Association and Legal Aid of Western Michigan. As chair of the KBA Pro Bono Committee, he was integral in starting weekly pro bono legal clinics and oversaw their growth – now the clinics facilitate about 80 lawyers offering about 300 hours of free legal services each year. “As important as Mr. Goddeyne’s work with clinics and nonprofits have been, his most significant contribution is the support and encouragement he has given to his successors on the KCBA Pro Bono Committee,” wrote Donald Robert, managing attorney for Legal Aid of Western Michigan.

John W. Reed Michigan Lawyer Legacy Award
George Roumell has built a reputation beyond reproach. As a lawyer, he worked on significant cases including Bradley v. Milliken, arguing before the U.S. Supreme Court on behalf of the Detroit Board of Education. As an arbitrator, he has handled more than 6,000 cases. As a professor since 1957 and the longest-serving member of the faculty at Michigan State University College of Law, Roumell’s greatest accomplishment may be the impact he’s made on generations of students. Norman Lippitt, who nominated Roumell for the award, said everyone who knows him holds him in the highest regard. “I can’t imagine another professor from a Michigan law school whose influence on Michigan lawyers has elevated the quality of the legal practice in the state more than Professor Roumell,” Lippit wrote.

Kimberly M. Cahill Bar Leadership Award
Once led by Kimberly Cahill, the Macomb County Bar Foundation goes above and beyond to promote law-related education. MCBF hosts special events each year – a Law Day essay contest and ceremony; Constitution Day events to educate students, adults, and lifelong learners about constitutional principles and interpretations of American law; and the Macomb County regional of the Michigan High School Mock Trial competition. MCBF also presents ongoing educational programs including a club that meets monthly to participate in discussions about history books, and in collaboration with Sterling Heights Television produces “Legally Speaking,” an Emmy-nominated public television show about law-related topics. MCBF hosts the Lawyer-Teacher Partnership connecting attorneys with school classrooms and created and funds a series of scholarships for second or third year law students enrolled in Michigan schools.

Liberty Bell Award
David Britten is a teacher. He is also a chauffeur, college tour planner, mentor, and supporter of current and former students.  “He encourages Detroit Public Schools students to dive in and participate as leaders and difference makers,” Wayne County Assistant Prosecuting Attorney Danton Wilson wrote of Britten, who has coached winning mock-trial teams and assisted the Teen Leadership Institute, the combined student council from all DPS high schools. One of Britten’s students hosted a Detroit mayoral debate at her school. One mock-trial student became citywide student council president and was named Michigan High School Student of the Year by the Michigan Center for Civic Education. Another mock trial student teamed with a classmate to raise $100,000 for an incubator for young entrepreneurs in Detroit. And another student founded the African American Criminal Justice Association at Michigan State University.

Liberty Bell Award
Teresa Weatherall Neal has dedicated her career to Grand Rapids Public Schools – starting as a teenage student worker and rising through the ranks to eventually become superintendent. Under her leadership, Grand Rapids Public Schools and the Grand Rapids Bar Association partnered in the 3Rs program. The Rs stand for Rights, Responsibilities and Realities – the goal is creating better citizens and exposing students to legal careers. Attorney volunteers work with ninth-graders to improve their understanding of the rule of law and the Constitution, increase interest in civic and government issues, provide career counseling, and improve the pipeline of minorities going into legal careers. She also oversaw Parent University, a community initiative that helps parents learn skills to become full partners in their children’s education by offering classes, family events, and other activities to empower families with skills and resources.