Monthly Archives: August 2015

WMU-Cooley legal experts reflect on levels of social change one year after Ferguson

How far have we come in the one year after Ferguson? That is the question we posed to law professors and legal experts at WMU-Cooley Law School about the real and perceived change in society since the public protests and civil unrest over the fatal shooting of Michael Brown by a police officer on August 9, 2014, in Ferguson, Missouri. 

Here are their opinions:

Karen Fultz

Karen Fultz

Professor Karen Fultz: In my opinion, over the last 12 months, we have seen an immediate response from the Department of Justice which included, among other things, a proactive role in ensuring that local officers are properly trained and strongly encourage local leadership to incorporate change that is sensitive to the need for more diversity in police departments.

Diversity that is reflective of the communities that the police departments are serving.

The unfortunate occurrence prompted the influx of federal funding and the implementation of body cameras for local officers and social awareness around the country that reinvigorated the discussion of race relations.

Jeffrey D. Swartz

Jeffrey D. Swartz

Professor Jeffrey Swartz: I believe that the effect of Ferguson has been to bring a focus to the debate on the issues relating to white policing of African-Americans.  As a practical matter it has produced very little in tangible action.

Yes, body cameras are the subject of conversation, but that issue almost dropped out of sight until the more recent events in South Carolina and Texas.  The only other visible results have been the action of the Justice Department, not in prosecuting anyone, but in examining certain big city police departments and auditing their practices.  This has resulted in some department’s procedures and policing practices to be reviewed and amended.

Until there is more urgent and emergent action by the departments, very little will change over the short run.  The departments are claiming they lack the money to buy and implement the use of body cameras.  Federal funding will be needed and that will make the issue a major political football in a presidential election year.

Mark Dotson

Mark Dotson

Professor Mark Dotson: I am a child of the 60s and 70s.  Much of the civil unrest and social responses we saw then were a result of police incursions on human rights – especially the rights of African Americans. It was no coincidence therefore that witnessed the emergence of entities like the Black Panther movement and the stature of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Fast forward to Ferguson, and the question of what tangible results can we identify as a result of the response of the shooting one year later, my opinion would have to reflect my awareness of the history of racial issues in this country and my sense for what qualifies as substantive change.On the positive front. I find that the youth, especially in the minority community, have become more vigilant – more aware of their environment. With respect to social and racial issues, you saw a similar response 40 years ago. You saw more solidarity. Greater willingness to express provocative opinions. More discussion, generally, in society as a whole. In addition, you hear more conviction in the voices of police department leaders when they speak of diversity, having a force that reflects society, and their support for community policing.The negative. For those that are hell-bent on never seeing the races co-exist peacefully, what we witnessed in Ferguson is not that different from what we experienced in the 60s and 70s, nor what we see today, one year later. Racist sentiments still exist. We have witnessed it again as recently as the South Carolina murders.In sum, the discussion has to be more than symbolic, like the removal of the confederate flag. For change to be meaningful – such that we are not having the same conversations from decades ago – every single individual needs to find a way to respect those unlike themselves.

Tonya Krause-Phelan

Tonya Krause-Phelan

Professor Tonya Krause-Phelan: In my opinion, the levels of social change one year after Darren Wilson killed Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri are multi-faceted. At the highest level, President Barack Obama acknowledged racial discrimination continues to exist and that police injustice is a systemic problem in our country. To that extent, President Obama expressed a willingness to use federal dollars to force significant changes in the way police departments operate.

The President’s comments, along with the surrounding events, have also led to growing scrutiny of the way our police forces have become militarized over the past decades. As far back as the Kennedy and Nixon administrations, we have witnessed politicians call police forces to arms to wage wars on drugs, sex offenders, juveniles, gangs, cybercrime, illegal aliens, terrorists, and everyone in between. It’s no wonder that law enforcement views the general public as enemy combatants. This phenomenon has become so pervasive that President Obama President intends to limit the amount and type of military style equipment being funneled to local police departments.

The Department of Justice promptly launched two separate investigations: one to investigate the circumstances surrounding Michael Brown’s death, the other to investigate civil rights violations in Ferguson, Missouri. These investigations concluded that a pattern of civil rights violations existed in Ferguson.

As a result, a revolution—languid in some places, measured in others—has begun in law enforcement. Police departments around the country have begun to use body cameras to capture their interactions with the community. Those departments that have not already implemented body cameras have either begun the process or are investigating the best ways to implement such programs. Law enforcement, legal, and social experts alike have begun to discuss and analyze the effects, and necessary reform, of an over-militarized police force.

The public, through protests, public awareness, and grassroots campaigns for reform, continues to bring the issues of race, discrimination, and law enforcement reform front and center. These actions have sparked an important dialogue and have led to police departments across the country creating policies and programs to increase public trust and to provide the public with transparency and accountability.

No matter what one believes the social change and lasting legacy of Ferguson to be, how we continue to address these issues, effectuate change within law enforcement, and engage in honest discussions about race in our country will be the true legacy of Ferguson.

Frank C. Aiello

Frank C. Aiello

Professor Frank Aiello: The last year has continued to highlight the stark dichotomy of views on civil rights issues in this country.  As my colleagues have noted, there has been some action in response to the events of Ferguson. Yet we also saw a divisively worded dissent in the Supreme Court’s same-sex marriage decision, a roll back of federal voting right protections, and further suspect police interaction with racial minorities.  Where does the silent majority stand on most of these issues and is its voice reflected in the policy momentum and judicial decisions since Ferguson?

How much do you think things have changed since the one-year anniversary of the death of Michael Brown and the Ferguson protest?

Share your thoughts in the comments below.


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Sixty Plus, Inc. Elderlaw Clinic recognized for decades of service to older adults

The work of Sixty Plus, Inc. Elderlaw Clinic students, faculty and staff is being recognized by the Elder Law of Michigan at the 7th Annual Joe D. Sutton Call to Justice Awards on August 21, 2015.  The awards honor those that share the mission of ELM, which is to advocate for, educate, and assist many different people, with a continued focus on older adults and persons with disabilities. In the words of Ron Tatro, vice president of ELM, “The Call to Justice Awards give us the opportunity to recognize the people and organizations that are making a real and tangible difference in the lives of seniors every day.” 

Professor Kimberly O'Leary

Professor Kimberly O’Leary

Sixty Plus History: In 1978, Fred Baker and the Young Lawyers Division of the Michigan Bar Association obtained funds from the Older Americans Act to establish a student-staffed legal clinic for people 60 and over. What the team lacked in resources, they made up for in enthusiasm and wits. The original 13 students, called the “Baker’s Dozen,” worked without any academic credit as volunteers.  Under the inspired leadership of faculty directors Dorean Koenig, Kent Hull, Nora Pasman-Green, Ann Miller Wood, Jim Peden, Marjorie Russell, Norm Fell and Kim O’Leary, WMU-Cooley Law School now houses the clinic in a state-of-the-art law office suite, where students use cloud-based technology to learn modern law practice systems.

“It is an honor to have Sixty Plus recognized for its long-lasting impact in the community” stated Professor and Sixty Plus Clinic Director Kimberly O’Leary. “This award gives credit to the countless hours of work performed by hundreds of Sixty Plus students, staff, board members and faculty for more than 35 years.”

Sixty Plus Today: “Sixty Plus is a vibrant clinic serving people in Ingham, Eaton and Clinton counties and has helped thousands of residents over the decades,” declared O’Leary. Working with community partners such as Elder Law of Michigan, Legal Aid of South Central Michigan, and Tri-County Office on Aging, Sixty Plus has helped create mechanisms for protecting the independence, resources and well-being of senior citizens in the region.”

Elder Law keeps growing as a critical and necessary area of need for lawyers and leaders with a legal background. 

What WMU-Cooley students say about Sixty Plus:
  • “It was like a switch clicked and all of a sudden you know what you’re doing.”
  • “They actually valued my opinions and my ideas…I realized I can do it”
  • “I’ve learned how to work with people in a professional setting”
  • “I can interact with a client”
  • “I can be creative, think outside the box”
  • “After communication, the client who felt lost felt relief and appreciated what I had done for them”
  • “I loved bouncing ideas back and forth”
  • “This experience led me to my passion”
Find out more about the Call to Justice Awards and Sixty Plus.

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Golf Outing is a win, win, win for team of WMU-Cooley graduates

If you are a golfer, then you know that summer is golf outing season. But for golfer and WMU-Cooley graduate Vincent Welicka, it really means it’s time to join up with his fellow graduates and friends for his law school’s annual alumni golf outing – in fact, for him and his team, that’s every summer since it started 26 years ago.

Tom Halm, Vincent Welicka, Dave Case, and Dave Prine hit the links for WMU-Cooley's 26th Annual Alumni Memorial Scholarship Golf Outing on July 13, 2015.

Tom Halm, Vincent Welicka, Dave Case, and Dave Prine hit the links for WMU-Cooley’s 26th Annual Alumni Memorial Scholarship Golf Outing on July 13, 2015.

“It’s gotten to be an obsession for our team for a lot of reasons,” smiled Welicka. “Initially our group started going to the golf outing because we had become friends while I was a referee in Livingston County. Working together there we soon realized we were all Cooley graduates. Participating in the alumni golf outing was like a reunion. We’d meet up as a team and get to have fun with everyone we knew from law school days. Three of our team members,Tom Halm, Dave Prine and I, have participated in every one of the golf outings.”

Chasing a ball

This obsession with golf wasn’t always the case. In fact, Vince Welicka had never played the game until he came to Cooley.

“I thought chasing a ball around a field to put it in a little hole seemed sorta stupid,” Welicka remembers with a laugh.

Cooley Law School Pratt Class, 1988

Cooley Law School Pratt Class, 1988

Then he met Kevin Fitzgerald in his first law school class. It happened that he was from his own hometown of Binghampton, New York – and he was an avid golfer.

“Kevin changed my mind about golfing,” chuckled Welicka. “He told me, under no uncertain terms, that, ‘if you are going to be a lawyer, then you will need to know how to play golf! Kevin really did teach me the game. My first golf outing was at the old Waverly Golf Course in Lansing. I only had to rent clubs that one time though because I was able to purchase a set of used clubs being sold at a garage sale at the house across the street from me when I was dropped off that day!”

“In retrospect,” reflects Welicka, “I guess you could say that my entire golf life has revolved around Cooley.”

Win. Win. Win.

“Participating in the golf outing is really a win, win, win,” proclaimed Welicka.

“One; it’s the camaraderie and friendships that make this event so great. The entire team gets a kick out of golfing with each and catching up. We also have a good time talking to the other participating Cooley graduates and professors.

“Two; it’s simply a great event – well done, down to the last detail. Always a nice venue – from the first one at Royal Scot to the Lansing Country Club, which we’ve enjoyed for the past several years. We have a blast!

“Three; the event provides help to benefit students. We have fun and help others. What could be better? It’s one way I can also give back to my alma mater.”

Good Old Days

If you ask Vince Welicka what stands out for him about the golf outing over the years, he responds with his usual matter of fact humor peppered with a dash of reality.

“Honestly, the one thing that really sticks out in my mind is that in the good old days we could actually win,” Welicka surmised. “We’ve taken home longest drive awards and even taken home the team tournament trophy a couple times.  This year, I remember being pretty happy with how I was hitting the ball, until I heard that I was 150 yards behind the longest drive winner! Participating in the golf outing today is not about winning anymore, it’s enough to just get out there, do the best you can, and have fun.”

After thinking about it for a minute, Welicka really only has one regret; “The only disappointment I have is that the next alumni golf outing is now a year away!

More photos from the 2015 WMU-Cooley Alumni Golf Classic

WMU-Cooley Law School President Don LeDuc (far right) teams up with his brothers, (from left) Reed, Kevin, and Dan, for the 26th Annual Alumni Memorial Scholarship Golf Outing.

WMU-Cooley Law School President Don LeDuc (far right) teams up with his brothers, (from left) Reed, Kevin, and Dan, for the 26th Annual Alumni Memorial Scholarship Golf Outing.


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