Nikki Filizetti Racine: Journey to Health Changes Lives, One Step at Time

WMU-Cooley 2001 graduate Nikki Filizetti Racine is Detroit Medical Center’s 2016 Epic Heart HeroNIKKI’S STORY started on August 14, 1992. “It was a day that literally took my breath away. I was 16, cruising around Marquette, Michigan with two of my high-school girlfriends, young and carefree. We were at a stop sign when I suddenly saw headlights and everything went black. The next thing I knew, I was strapped to a stretcher, unable to see, a neck brace in place, and being placed in an ambulance.”


“I remember the doctor coming into my hospital room that evening and telling me that I was incredibly lucky: I had nearly been paralyzed from the neck down. In a matter of seconds, everything had changed. My basketball career had come to a halt, my short-term memory was drastically affected, and my freedom was gone. All that I could control was the food that I put into my mouth … or didn’t.

I regained my health, fought back from my closed-head injury, and — on September 15, 2001 — I earned my law degree. This was the first time in my life that I was truly proud of myself and what I could achieve. With the ups in life come the downs, however. Less than six years later, thanks to a root canal gone drastically wrong, I became victim to a rampant infection that ate away a large portion of my jawbone. After countless surgeries and procedures, I had to have all of my teeth pulled. This was an excruciating experience; for years, I was unable to chew and properly nourish my body and, as a result, my heart continued to weaken. I remained unaware of what my heart was going through until 2009, when my husband went to Australia on a fishing trip. A few days after he left, my heart felt like it was going to beat out of my chest.


Ironically, my husband is an ER Physician but, with him being away and unreachable, I had to take matters into my own hands: I headed to the very Emergency Room where my husband was employed. There, I learned that my immune system had been severely weakened from my dental nightmare and, as a result, my body could not fight off infection. I was diagnosed with Viral Cardiomyopathy; my heart was functioning at only 30 percent. A bicuspid aortic valve (heart murmur) was discovered during this time, making it more difficult for the weakened heart muscle to pump. My cardiologist reported that there was a 50 percent chance that I would need a valve replacement in the future.

I was so scared; I still had so much to accomplish. I desperately wanted to have children. I wanted to make a difference in the world. I took my heart health into my hands and I concentrated on my healing. Nearly two years later, an echocardiogram showed that my heart function had improved to nearly normal. My husband and I were concerned with the cardiac stress pregnancy might cause, however. After several consultations, we learned that a risk of relapse was indeed possible with pregnancy. Knowing this, we chose to create our family through adoption. We soon received a call from our adoption agency that a baby boy had been born, and we had been chosen to become his parents. My joy was indescribable: I was now a mommy. I now had another reason to remain healthy and to keep my heart happy. We have since added a beautiful little boy from Ethiopia to our family.


My husband and I continue to live a healthy lifestyle and promote wellness among our family and friends. I have completed two full marathons and numerous shorter distances, and I am currently training for my third (and bucket-list) marathon, the New York City Marathon in November 2016. In 2012, I became the Director of Fund Development and Outreach for Adoption Associates, Inc., the very agency through which we had adopted our baby boy. I’d finally found my niche. I raise funds to help other children find their forever families. I created the annual Touched by Adoption 5K Run/Walk, where we celebrate adoption while promoting a healthy lifestyle. My heart continues to remain healthy as I spread the word about living life to the fullest. I certainly have fought my way back from moments that almost took my breath away forever, and I cherish moments that create memories with each breath I take. My heart is so full.”

nikkiracinec-183x3005,154 PRECIOUS MIRACLES
“This is the remarkable number of children that Adoption Associates has placed into loving homes since its creation in 1990. Two of those beautiful souls are right here in my home. I created this 5K Run/Walk five years ago as a way to celebrate adoption, promote health and wellness, and to and bring together all those who have been “touched by adoption” and/or support our mission in some way. This is one of my favorite days of the year. Changing lives … one step at a time.”

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Taxes in an election year: complications and observations

gell_marjorieBlog author and WMU-Cooley Tax Professor Professor Marjorie Gell analyzes why our tax system is so complicated. Professor Gell is the co-editor of the Guidebook to Michigan Taxes 2016 (CCH/Wolters Kluwer), as well as the Current Ex-officio and former Chair of the Taxation Section of the State Bar of Michigan. She has served on Tax Council, the governing board of the Taxation Section of the State Bar of Michigan, since 2005. In this capacity, she has served as Taxation Section Vice Chair, Treasurer, Secretary, Legislation Monitor & Public Policy Liaison, Editor-in-Chief of the Michigan Tax Lawyer, and Chair of the Taxation Section Annual Conference. On behalf of the Taxation Section, she has authored or co-authored briefs for submission to the Michigan Supreme Court and Michigan Court of Appeals.

This year, as in all election years, tax is a hot topic. As a professor who teaches federal income tax, I have a particular interest in what the candidates have to say about proposed changes to the Internal Revenue Code. Most all the candidates, no matter what their political persuasion, seem to agree on one point: the Internal Revenue Code is a virtual mess. Even so-called tax experts like myself find it complicated, and we struggle to keep up with the frequent changes that are made. So why is our tax system so complicated? For a discussion of some of the reasons, here is a link to an article I wrote a few years ago in the Michigan Bar Journal, the publication of the State Bar of Michigan, entitled 3.8 Million and Counting: the Complexity and Wordiness of Tax Law. 

There is much talk right now about the release of presidential candidate Donald Trump’s tax returns. As a tax law professor, the interesting aspect to me is the reaction that people are having. We haven’t seen the entire return, but I am guessing that Trump had a team of highly paid accountants who likely followed the law and took advantage of of every legal tax break they could find.

Most — probably all of us —do the same thing:  we apply every deduction and credit we can find to minimize our taxes, and pay the least amount possible. (Actually, as I point out in my article, the biggest tax “breaks” in the Code are ones that average citizens like myself take advantage of: the medical insurance exclusion, the mortgage interest deduction, and the 401K provisions). Yet when people see things like Donald Trump’s tax return and realize that not everyone pays taxes (or pay based on a tax rate much lower than the rest of us, as was revealed when Romney released his tax returns in the last election cycle), it creates a lot of cynicism. (“If he doesn’t have to pay, why should I?….”) Ultimately, studies have shown (see my article for cites), the cynicism can lead to compliance problems — people who decide to make things more “fair” for themselves by applying the laws more liberally than they should, or who decide not to file at all.

Is our tax system fair? Some would argue yes, and others no (as someone once said, “the only good tax is the one that doesn’t fall on you”). But whether some people pay more tax than they should, and others too little, is a public policy issue for Congress to address — ideally in a bipartisan manner. In the meantime, we all have an obligation to file our returns and pay the tax that is owed under the current law — no more, and no less.

So why so complicated? Why such a mystery?  It comes down to words. But Who’s Counting? In my article I explain.

The explanation for why tax laws are so complicated is just that: complicated. Much of the Code’s complexity, however, can be attributed to the fact that our tax rules are so voluminous. And just how voluminous are they? In the words of James Madison, “so voluminous that they cannot be read.”11 Literally. According to Olson, as of two years ago, the Code consisted of more than 3.8 million words; with tax regulations, the count jumps to more than 9.4 million words. In book form as available from tax publisher CCH, a copy of the current Code and its regulations would take up more than nine feet of shelf space.12 Let’s put this into perspective. An average reader reads 300 words per minute. At that rate, it would take almost 212 hours of uninterrupted reading to finish the Code and more than 522 hours to read the Code and regulations. In billable hours, at $200 an hour, it would cost $42,222 in legal fees to read the entire Code and $104,444 to read the Code and regulations.

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High-Speed Internet is Not a Basic Right

By Sara Kubik

Sara Kubik

Sara Kubik

Sara Kubik holds a PhD in Technology and Gerontology, a MBA in Marketing and Management, a BA in Graphic Design, and is expecting to complete her Juris Doctor degree at WMU-Cooley Law School in December 2016. She is an extern at the Speaker Law Firm, an appellate boutique law firm representing clients in the Michigan and federal appellate courts. This article was originally published by Law Technology Today on July 6, 2016.

In February 2015, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) classified broadband Internet service access as a public utility.

The move was focused around the concept of net neutrality. The FCC’s Open Internet Rules claim to protect consumers by prohibiting things like throttling data speeds or giving prioritization to higher payers of internet services.

I laughed reading these “bright line rules” because the cellular plan I’m on unabashedly states that they will throttle my data content when I reach a monthly limit. I’ve experienced this throttling; it makes viewing almost every web page impossible.

And the prohibition of speed prioritization? This same service “allows” me the option of paying more money to get a faster Internet connection.

So is the FCC’s move lip-service only? And what does this have to do with lawyers? This article is a realistic perspective on the future of high speed Internet access in rural U.S. areas. It will dispel the hype that we hear about broadband being a basic right and suggest practical solutions to the realities of Internet connectivity and web page designs in an unequal-access world.

But back to the FCC and its broadband-is-now-a-utility declaration. Here are some preliminary questions:

  1. What is a public utility? Generally speaking, utilities include things like electricity, telecommunications, water, and sewage service.
  1. Are public utilities basic rights? That’s debatable. Some would say they are not; providers can shut off service for things like non-payment of electrical bills. On the flip side, many have argued there is a basic human right to water and sanitation, something that is being challenged in the Flint, Michigan water crisis, for example.
  1. Should we lump broadband Internet access in with this group? Is it a basic right? The reality is, high speed Internet access is not a basic right for all Americans. And it never will be.

I live in a town in Michigan in a county that is classified as rural. Technically I am about one mile beyond the town’s limit. And from here, I cannot get cable, nor can I receive any type of wired-broadband Internet connectivity. And fiber optic Internet connectivity (which has the fastest Internet speeds)? Only in my dreams.

My options for Internet access at home are satellite-connectivity for any home computers or cellular-connectivity through my smart phone. Both are nowhere near as fast or maintain as consistent a connection as cabled or fiber optic Internet connections.

Now before you question if my house has running water and electricity (yes to both), I would like to also point out that I live about one mile from one of the largest universities in Michigan. I live one mile from 27,000 broadband-connected young folk! Yet I strongly believe that this Broadband-Internet-High-Speed-Is-A-Basic-Right idea is completely unachievable.

Here’s why:

  1. When it comes to cable or fiber optic lines connecting to our homes, not everyone has them and not everyone will be able to get them.

We are a large nation in terms of geographic size. Rolling out cables or fiber optics to every U.S. home location is not going to happen. (See a comparison of cable to fiber optic connectivity here.) To connect to a private home, cables and lines must either be below ground or above. So that means either digging a ditch or connecting to utility poles. Digging new ditches to everyone’s home is expensive compared to the overhead alternative. The infrastructure is already in place regarding utility poles, however, not everyone can access them.

And for those who can access the utility poles, there is a lot of fighting both amongst them and to prohibit others from accessing these passageways.

To summarize: there is too much ground to cover to install underground cable or fiber optic lines to every U.S. home, it would be too expensive to install all of those underground lines to all rural dwellings, and there are too many players in the overhead line market who can’t, or won’t, form high speed Internet agreements to serve the rural population.

Well, if we can’t be corded in rural areas, what else can we do?

Cut the cord!

But, this, too, is not an optimal solution…

  1. When it comes to cellular coverage and smart phone use, the data usage amount is routinely limited and the speed is not fast.

As mentioned above, living in a rural area and having a smart phone is not the same as living in an urban area. First, not every telecom company has service in rural areas. We still experience the “Can you hear me now?” phenomenon.

And of the smart-phone service we can get, there are issues like limited data amounts, or data plans that throttle users on so-called “unlimited” access plans.  Where this is felt the most is when we try to watch video on our smart phones. It’s a sure-fire way to hit our data cap in record time!

But that is assuming we can even see the videos. Often, and despite what the marketing may say, the speed of Internet access when using a smart phone is just plain painful. I explained the comparison of cable Internet connection versus smart phone internet connection to my mother like this: Cable is like a roaring river with rapids — you get a lot of water, but it doesn’t last too long. Smart phone access is like a long and winding stream that goes on and on — it’s a smaller amount of water, but it goes further. We, in rural areas, are most likely limited to a stream-type connection for our Internet access with our smart phones.

Well, then, what about satellite?

  1. When it comes to satellite subscriptions, the price is too high and the service is not consistent.

Satellite connections are also not as fast as wired speeds and the fees are really expensive. Plus, signals routinely drop. They drop. They drop. And then they drop. This makes Cloud-connectivity software something we try to stay clear of.

The Takeaways for Lawyers

The solution to all of this is not to force all rural inhabitants to move but to keep in mind the following …  do not forget about us, the-non-broadband group, when you design websites and digital solutions.

  • Start with mobile-optimized web pages and then do your desktop designs. One in five Americans do not have broadband access at home and also have relatively few options for getting online other than their cell phone. It’s not just we in rural America that are smart-phone dependent, though, and Pew Research has a great study on who else falls into this group. Again, remember that 20 percent of Americans are smart-phone dependent, so web pages should increasingly be designed, or at least responsive, for mobile viewing.
  • Assume we will connect to your site with our smart phones (which, like a stream, are the furthest reaching but can be the slowest in terms of speed).
  • Make it clear on your mobile-optimized sites that there may be more features on your desktop designs and provide us with a hyperlink to that site if we want to jump to it. This is an increasingly understood notion — that desktop websites have more features than mobile-optimized sites.
  • Remember that our screen sizes are smaller, so be efficient with your designs. Do not put in content that is not necessary or redundant on your mobile-optimized websites. Do not put in too many images; do not put in images that are too large in size. Law Practice Today provides an explanation on resolution, resizing, and re-sampling images. And although it loads quickly, try to limit your words, dear lawyers.
  • Drop the auto-play of video content. Even animated .gifs are potentially problematic (and highly annoying). If you want to attract rural clients, drop video content altogether!

Remember, too, that high speed Internet speeds vary depending upon what type of connection you use or have the ability to use (smart phone, satellite, cable, fiber optic). The gold star of universal broadband access is just not foreseeable given the problems noted above. It’s not a basic right; it’s not about being fair or unfair.

So let’s be realistic about what can, will, and should not be considered a basic right for the various ways to connect to the Internet in this very large country of ours. And on that note, because I wrote this article on my home computer, I must now drive into work to e-mail it.

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WMU-Cooley law students inspired at United Nations Indigenous Issues forum

unsymbolWestern Michigan University Cooley Law students Stephanie Samuels and Linda Marion attended the 15th Session of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNPFII) at United Nations Headquarters in New York City. The forum topic was Indigenous Rights and Stephanie and Linda were inspired. They share their experience below.     

We both took a course on Indigenous Rights during our participation in WMU-Cooley’s New Zealand foreign study program last winter. This eventually led us from New Zealand to New York to participate in the United Nations forum on the topic this past spring. Valmaine Toki, our law professor at the University of Waikato, encouraged us to attend the meeting. Professor Toki is an internationally respected expert in the field of Indigenous issues and the Vice Chair on the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues.

Stephanie Samuels (center)

Stephanie Samuels (center)

The theme of the 15th Annual Session of the UNPRII was “Indigenous Peoples: Conflict, Peace, and Resolution.” The topics covered included: autonomous processes and indigenous self-governance; the rights of Indigenous people to their ancestral lands and sustainable development; the effect of climate change, climate projects, and the Paris Agreement; the preservation of indigenous languages and culture; the unique role of indigenous women in addressing indigenous issues and gender equality; the role of nations in helping or hindering progress for indigenous peoples; the disproportionately high rate of suicide among indigenous youth, and many more. A special session was held to allow indigenous youth representatives to speak to the forum; this way, they were allowed to participate in the process and express their concerns directly to this powerful international body.


As WMU-Cooley Law School representatives at the forum, we acted as academic observers to the presentations made by representatives of Indigenous peoples, nations, and NGOs from all over the world. During special side events, we were able to interact with indigenous representatives as well as international dignitaries and U.S. government officials from the U.S. Mission to the United Nations. On one occasion, we met one-on-one with EPA Environmental Justice officials and a law professor heading an NGO on the subject area.

Welcome to the United Nations: Opening of the 15th Session of the UNPFII in the General Assembly Hall.

Welcome to the United Nations: Opening of the 15th Session of the UNPFII in the General Assembly Hall.

Another day, the door was opened to talk with diplomats and Indigenous representatives who assisted in drafting language related to Indigenous peoples for the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change; there were many such occasions. This was a wonderful opportunity for us — particularly since we are both interested in International Law. It allowed us to meet and interact with members of the global community and high ranking government officials. It broadened our understanding and opened doors to prospective national and international opportunities.


We are thankful to WMU-Cooley and our New Zealand Study Abroad Professor Toki for encouraging us to attend the UNPFII meeting. WMU-Cooley’s Foreign Study Office coordinated and registered us on behalf on the law school, which opened the door for us to attend. We strongly urge other students to seek out similar opportunities as part of their personal and professional development.



Official summary of the 15th Session of the UNPFII.
Official transcript and a video of the presentation by Statement delivered by National Chief Perry Bellegarde.
More information on the United Nations focus on Indigenous peoples.
The United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs.
More information on Indigenous peoples rights as they relate to intellectual property concerns (Intellectual Property and Genetic Resources, Traditional Knowledge and Folklore)
More on international law and intellectual property.

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Michelle Lahey Reed: Newborn Cuddler Program Fosters Double the Love

“On December 18, 2014, after 10 months, one week and six days, my family officially adopted Addisyn Sue Reed and Abygail Joy Reed,” exclaimed Michelle Lahey Reed, the  director of risk management services at Community Memorial Hospital in Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin. “I stand before you, the insanely blessed mother of four!” In 2010, Michelle, a WMU-Cooley Law School accelerated two-year program student and September 2000 graduate, was inspired to create a program in the hospital’s Special Care Nursery, where volunteers would receive training to hold and console special care nursery babies. Watch Michelle tell her touching and joyful story, and read below about her journey from implementing a “Community Cuddlers Program,” to being a foster parent (along with her husband, fellow WMU-Cooley graduate Shane Reed), to her family’s adoption of twins Addisyn and Abygail.


“It wasn’t long after I started working at Community Memorial Hospital that I sought out Kristin Lebiecki, the director of our Birthing Centers, to ask her if I could maybe hold a baby every now and again. I expected her to question me, or maybe even look at me funny but she didn’t, she just said ‘Of course!  We would love the help!’

In the beginning I would call the Special Care Nursery periodically and ask if they needed a hand. When they did, I could easily hold a precious baby and answer emails or calls from my phone. The special care nursery babies are used to alarms and machines beeping and never minded when my pager sounded. I could hold babies for two minutes or 10 – and it always made my day. There was actually a sticky note in the Special Care Nursery for quite some time with my extension on it.  And the amazing women who work in that unit would call me when they needed someone to rock, feed or just love on a baby. My kids are 12 and nine. Jaxson plays travel hockey and select baseball. Reagyn is a Next Step Company Dancer and a Franklin Prep Pom. The days of cuddling mama are long gone!


I vividly recall the first baby I cuddled who needed foster care placement. He was born into a not-so-perfect situation and needed a home. I held him more than any other baby I had held before. One of our case managers said, “Michelle, you should look into becoming a foster parent.” I gave her the look. I balked at the idea. I told her I had a full-time job! And two insanely busy children. I said that foster parents were crazy, amazing people and that I was far from crazy, amazing.  I asked her had she not seen the flyers in the elevators? They say “Kids Deserve the Best! Be a Kid Hero!” I pointed out I was not hero material either. Conversation over.

I happened to be present when that baby boy’s foster mother arrived. I expected an angel. Someone full of grace and kindness and patience – an overall incredible human being. The woman who walked in wore jeans. And she was full of questions. And more questions. And shaky. And she looked as if she might throw up at any second. But here she was. Taking home a four-day-old baby boy who needed her. And suddenly I admired her so much.

A few months later there was another baby in need of foster care. And then another. And then another. Each time I was amazed by the people who swooped in to help. The people who took these babies home and cared for them as their own. I was so enamored by how ordinary they were, yet what a phenomenal thing they were doing.

Around this same time we became the Community Hospital Division and my work load increased. My minutes for the babies became few and far between. Kristin and I worked together with Sue Schulke and our volunteers to implement the “Community Cuddlers Program” where our volunteers receive training to hold and console special care nursery babies. I loved that we could do this! As Risk Management, I am forever saying things like ‘No, no thank you! I’m sorry. What? And absolutely not.’ This was something I could wholeheartedly support.

It was also at this time that I had the honor of representing our organization in the Leadership Menomonee Falls Class of 2013. I became very aware of the concept of servant leadership which is where leaders serve others, and in doing so improve themselves. It is also where leaders recognize their responsibility to help those less fortunate than them. Although I had never heard of the term, the concept struck home with me – hard.

I couldn’t get the foster families out of my head. I did research. I made phone calls. I asked questions. I talked to my family and told them I thought we had room in our hearts and in our home and that we too could do this. And to my delight, they all agreed. In June of 2013, my family started the process to become a licensed foster family through Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin Community Services.


Becoming a licensed foster family is a bit of a challenge. After you complete small mountains of paperwork, they send some more. Some duplicate because the originals vanished upon arrival to their office and some new. We provided everything from our medical records to the kids’ report cards to the dog’s most recent vaccinations. We did interviews individually, interviews as a married couple, and interviews as a family. We sat helplessly when they asked our diva daughter what she wanted in a foster child and she ever so specifically laid out her preferences as if she were ordering a pizza. Following that great experience they called our mothers. They sent reference sheets to our friends. They verified our employment. They scoured our home with a fine tooth comb, and a hockey stick, to be sure every smoke and carbon monoxide detector worked. And, finally, on 11-12-13 my family became an officially licensed Milwaukee County Foster Family.


Our Green Light date, the date that a child could first be placed in our home, was December 5, 2013. We were so excited at the prospect of having a baby in our home! But no baby came.  No baby came the first week. Or the week after that. Not for Christmas. Not for New Years. Not in January. Those of you who work with me often can probably attest patience is not my strong suit. I reassured my family over and over, and told them surely we would get the chance to help more than one baby.

On February 5, 2014, in the Treiber Conference Room at Community Memorial Hospital, Dennis Pollard was giving his Presidents Forum. At 12:38 p.m. my cell phone buzzed and I stepped out to take the call. I will never, ever in my life forget that call. There were identical twin girls, eight months old, who needed a foster home. They were born at 29 weeks gestation. They had health issues as well as a concerning family dynamic.  Without a lot of details to consider, we had 30 minutes to decide whether we would take them in.

After several phone calls with the Bureau of Milwaukee Child Welfare, my husband, my mom (because, seriously, what girl does not call her mom), and a call to both kids at school, we accepted the placement. Here was our chance to help more than one baby. All at once.

At 5:44 p.m. that evening, Addison and Abigail arrived in the foyer of The Reed Ranch. Never mind who brought them, what they came with and what they didn’t, what they wore, or how they smelled. They were in our home. And they were absolutely beautiful. And from the moment that social worker handed them to me, my life forever changed.

I have a fabulous relationship with my one-up, Judi Cranberg. Yes she is my boss, but she is also a beloved friend and confidant. Of all the things I had chatted with her about, I could not quite recall mentioning my quest to be a foster parent. And so, around, oh, say, 9:30 p.m., when I sort of caught my breath, I text her a picture of two gorgeous baby girls fresh and clean in ducky jammies, and I said something along the lines of, ‘I think I may need a few days off.’

I did take two days off work when the twins arrived to figure out, you know, small things like daycare, doctors appointments and what not. But other than a day here and a day there when they were ill or had appointments, I was here at work. It was crucial to me that we get ourselves into a routine. On to a schedule. And that meant work and school and daycare and everyday life. I tried very hard to continue to be the Risk Director everyone knows and loves. To carry on as if two babies, four children in all, wasn’t a challenge at all. Except there were those days when you noticed I was wearing two different shoes. And days when you pointed out a large chunk of formula on the sleeve of my suit jacket. Or my personal favorite, a day I slept almost four hours in a row and I was totally ready to hit the ground running, and arrived at a meeting of my peers with my suit jacket completely inside out. I had wondered why my badge would not hang from my lapel just right.

There were so many things I did not think through. Like that first night when we only had one crib. I was texting my besties like mad praying one of them had hoarder like tendencies such that they had kept a crib or pack-and-play, despite their youngest children being in double digits. I hit pay dirt! Or the next morning when I needed to take my kids to school. Turns out four children, two of which happen to be in infant car seats, and one adult, don’t fit in a midsize sedan. And so I, Michelle Lahey Reed, Director of Risk Management, shoved my 12 year old son in the hatch of my car for the four-mile ride to school. And I will not say it was first and only time.


When I arrived at work on my 39th birthday, after a night of almost no sleep and what I was sure was yet another ear infection for both girls, I walked into a birthday baby shower. The Quality and Medical Staff Offices had decorated everything pink and my gift was a larger than life basket filled with presents for the twins. I was overwhelmed with gratitude. Those who knew we had the girls asked repeatedly if there was anything they could do to help. Many departments gifted the girls with the cutest of outfits and toys. I had the support of so many people across the Froedtert system. I appreciated every inquiry, every word of encouragement, every hug. I am most grateful to Mary Wolbert, my VP, and Judi Cranberg, my Executive Director, for being absolutely amazing to my family throughout this experience.  If they thought I was truly crazy they never said so to me.

I can’t be dishonest. There have certainly been some challenging moments. And not just logistics and every virus possible, but birth parent visits and court dates and hardcore emotions that can never be accurately depicted in a Lifetime movie.

But there have also been some hilarious moments. Imagine the horror my sixth grade son experienced when he watched the Human Growth and Development Video demonstrating the birth of a child. Unbeknownst to my husband and me, Jaxson was convinced that all babies arrived via social worker.

I could stand up here and tell you the highs and lows of foster parenting, but I will spare you. Instead I will tell you that nine months of pregnancy, two times, was a cakewalk compared to 10 plus months in the foster care system. I will tell you that the highs of having Addison and Abigail made every low, every challenge, every battle, every setback, every heartbreak, extremely worthwhile.  I will tell you that I cried more in 10 months than I cried in 10 years. For both good and bad reasons. And I don’t regret a single tear.

As luck would have it, Santa Claus came early for my family. On December 18, 2014, after 10 months, one week and six days, my family officially adopted Addisyn Sue Reed and Abygail Joy Reed! I stand before you, the insanely blessed mother of four!

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I want to tell you that I am ridiculously proud of my family. I will never be able to find the right words to tell you how awesome Jaxson and Reagyn have been to these baby girls. Nor can I adequately describe how emotional it is to see my husband rock and read two gorgeous girls to sleep. I want to tell you how heartwarming it is to hear my dad talk like Donald Duck and see my mom sew christening gowns for two more granddaughters.

I want to reassure you that Jaxson travels safely! I traded in my beloved, hard earned BMW for a 7-passenger minivan, complete with personalized license plates. Both the car salesman and I were a little teary.

I want to tell you that my twins are extraordinary. I think it was Shakespeare who said “though she may be little, she is fierce.” That’s my girls. Small, but mighty. They have overcome so much and come so incredibly far. They are truly a sight to be seen.

I also want to tell you that I do still visit our special care nurseries and rock the babies whenever I can. It’s just that now they are much easier to hand back!


I want to tell you that I am nobody’s hero. I am a 15 years happily married, south suburban, crazy combination hockey and dance mom who fell head over heels in love with two adorable baby girls. I am technically a giant failure as a foster mother because once those girls were in my arms I had no intention of ever letting them go! I’m not an angel. I’m not a saint. I never set out to be anyone’s inspiration. I am still ‘meanie head’ Michelle in Risk Management. Or as one of our more challenging patients said, ‘That wicked woman with the high hair.’

What I did is what all of you do on a daily basis, I turned a What if, into What is possible.


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Swearing-in counts as a best day in an attorney’s life

Being sworn in as a brand new attorney is an important day in the life of every lawyer. The Hon. Christopher C. Sabella of the 13th Judicial Circuit Court in Florida agrees wholeheartedly. He warmly welcomed the seven WMU-Cooley Law School graduates and their families this evening and reminded each of the former law students of the hard work and dedication that got them to this day.

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He noted that, this day, the day an attorney is sworn in, counts as one of the best days in an attorney’s life. He aligned the importance of this day to the day you marry or the day of a child’s birth. And the smiles on every one of the new attorney’s and their loved ones faces looked like he might be right! WMU-Cooley Law School Tampa Bay campus graduates (left to right) Michelle Ace-Carroll, Jennifer Alderman, Elizabeth Devolder, Philistine Hamdan, Eric Bossardt,  Cristina Solis, and Kymberly Starr were sworn in to The Florida Bar on Thursday, Sept. 29, 2016.

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Everyone needs estate planning, no matter the age: Five Topics to Discuss with an Elder Law Attorney

Sixty Plus students and faculty spend hours talking to citizens who are over the age of 60. One thing is certain. By the time you reach the age of 60, you are usually comfortable discussing end-of-life planning. The fact is, everyone needs estate planning, no matter the age. It doesn’t matter how much money you have, how many people are in your family, what you did in your career, or your level of education. People of even modest means should sit down with an attorney who has expertise in estate planning. – WMU-Cooley professor and elder law expert Kimberly O’Leary

Even if you are not over the age of 60, you probably know of people who could benefit by having this conversation. Here’s why. Don’t wait for the crisis. End-of-life issues affect everyone. If you wait until it’s too late, your options may be limited or decisions will need to be made by someone other than yourself.

Those conversations can include:

  1.  Independence planning:  If you become ill or disabled at some point in the future in any way that makes it difficult for you to take care of your personal business or your life, you can appoint a trusted friend or family member to assist you.  Such illness or disability might be temporary or might be permanent, and in either event, you can plan for help.  You do not have to be old or ill to need this kind of help, although statistically you are more likely to need help the older you are.  If you do NOT have anyone you trust to help you, this type of conversation can be even more important.  Planning these kinds of arrangements long in advance of when you may need them gives you a greater say in how your life will unfold in the event you become ill or infirm.
  2.  Medical decisions: You may have a time in your life when you are unable to make your own medical decisions.  If you were diagnosed with a terminal illness, and unable to make end-of-life decisions, who would make them for you?  You can plan that in advance.  A good elder law attorney can sit down and discuss all of the factors you will want to consider.  You can write this in any way that makes sense to you.
  3.  Wills, trusts, transfer on death deeds and bank accounts:  Everyone should plan how to leave their assets after they  pass away.  There are pros and cons to different approaches and not every approach is right for every person.  If you draft these documents yourself, you may unintentionally trigger a bad consequence you had not considered.  Sometimes people who own property of small value monetarily have items of great personal value to their family and friends.  You can decide how you want those items divided.
  4. Long-term care financial planning:  If you might need to enter a nursing home, or receive long-term care at home, in the future, how will you pay for that?  A good elder law attorney can help you understand Medicare, Medicaid, private insurance, long-term care insurance and how all of these program interact.
  5.  Other miscellaneous issues:  If you are 60 years of age or older, seeing an elder law attorney rather than a general practitioner is a good idea, even for legal work unrelated to “typical” elder law topics.  This is because an elder law attorney will be looking for things a GP will not necessarily see: how a divorce settlement interacts with Medicare is one example.  Are there signs of financial exploitation or elder abuse?  Are there hints someone might file for a guardianship?  These are the types of issues an elder law attorney can help.

If you or someone you know needs assistance in elder law, and you live in the Ingham, Eaton, and Clinton, Michigan counties, please contact Sixty Plus, Inc., Elderlaw Clinic to assist  you with your needs at 517-372-3484.

Professor Kimberly O'Leary

WMU-Cooley Law School Professor Kimberly O’Leary supervises and teaches third-year law students in its Sixty Plus, Inc. Elderlaw Clinic. The clinic works to help older adults by drafting documents to help them plan for the future, allowing them to maintain independence for as long as possible. Professor O’Leary has written extensively in the field of attorney-client counseling, housing law, diversity training, the relationship between social justice goals and clinical law offices and clinical teaching.  Other blog articles by Professor O’Leary: Aging parents should plan ahead to avoid being another exploitation or scam statistic and Sixty Plus, Inc. Elderlaw Clinic recognized for decades of service to older adults.

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