Monthly Archives: April 2017

From Pardons to Portraits: Gerald R. Ford Leadership Program Participants Wear Shoes of a Leader

Sixteen Michigan residents, including residents of Lansing, Grand Rapids, Portage, Baroda and Sidney, completed the Leadership in Times of Crisis program at the DeVos Learning Center in the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum in March.  The program is a joint initiative of Western Michigan University Cooley Law School, the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum and The Western Michigan University Center for the Study of Ethics in Society.

"New York, New York, USA - November 3, 2012: A close up of the front page of the The New York Times newspaper dated August 9, 1974. The New York Times reporting President Richard Nixon resigns after the Watergate scandal, Vice President Gerald Ford taking office."

The unique leadership program is not only open to enrolled law students, but to the public. Participants in one class get to take on the role of advisor to President Ford (played by Professor Devin Schindler), including arguing for and against the pardon of Richard Nixon while seated around the cabinet table in the Ford Museum.

In another session led by Professor Paul Sorenson, participants negotiated a contentious issue using procedures learned earlier that morning, experiencing in the process of how President Ford’s renowned reputation as a deal maker was due to many years of arduous, patient work.

A fascinating exploration of the relationship between healthy cities and state funding policies was led by Kalamazoo County Commissioner Kevin Wordelman.

The last class session explores the war in  Vietnam and the fall of Saigon. Participants viewed artifacts during a tour of the Museum’s collection. Artifacts included the portrait of President Ford the American ambassador removed from the wall of the embassy while fleeing Saigon and service medals thrown over the White House fence by veterans angry with President Ford’s amnesty program for men who did not honor the draft.

Guest speaker Tiennga Cao recounted the harrowing story of how she and fellow Vietnamese refugees felt at that time, adrift at sea for over two weeks before being rescued by an American naval ship. At the time of her rescue she was so weak that she could not stand on her own. She was brought to Grand Rapids, President Ford’s home town, and, in her own words, has made it her mission ever since her rescue to help people in return for God saving her life.

Leaders Program guest speaker Tiennga Cao

Leaders Program guest speaker Tiennga Cao

The Museum’s Education Director, Barbara McGregor, led a tour of Museum pieces relevant to the fall of Saigon, including the actual staircase from atop the American Embassy where many Vietnamese people began the transition from their homeland into new lives in other countries.

The program received high marks from all participants. Reservations are being accepted for the Fall 2017 session starting in September.  The program consists of four sessions, one session per month on a Saturday mornings from 9:00 a.m. to noon. The fee is $150. Participants receive a Certification of Completion bearing the name and logo of the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum & Library.  For more information contact Professor Victoria Vuletich by email or by phone at (616) 301-6800, ext. 6960.

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Filed under Ethics, Faculty Scholarship, Knowledge, Skills, Ethics, Uncategorized

Love Your Job. Live Your Life. Say Lawyers and Law Students

“It was very inspiring for our students to learn from a diverse panel group that perceived impediments to a well-balanced life can be overcome despite the demands we all face in the legal profession.” – WMU-Cooley Law School Associate Dean Joan P. Vestrand

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“Love Your Job, Live Your Life” was the theme of a panel discussion held at WMU-Cooley’s Auburn Hills campus. Law student members of the the Women Lawyer’s Association discussed how they manage successful careers, find meaningful time with their families, remain active in social activities, and succeed in practicing law, while maintaining a happy healthy outlook on life.

The panel included Hon. Julie A. Nicholson, Oakland County District Court judge; April McKie, WMU-Cooley Law School graduate; Erin Bonahoom, Canvas Legal PLC founder; Michelle Easter, Easter Law PLC founder; and WMU-Cooley Law School professors Erika Breitfeld and Monica Nuckolls.  

“Surround yourself with positive people who will encourage and push you to keep moving forward to reach your goals,” said Easter. “They will provide the supporting block you need when you feel like you’re failing. Those cheerleaders will help you succeed.”

The program was sponsored by the WMU-Cooley Law School-Auburn Hills chapter of the Women Lawyer’s Association as well as WMU-Cooley Law School’s Career and Professional Development Department.

“It was very inspiring for our students to learn from a diverse group of panelists that perceived impediments to a well-balanced life can be overcome despite the demands we all face in the legal profession,” said Joan Verstrand, WMU-Cooley Law School associate dean.

Law students Love Jobs Live Lives event

(Left to right) Professor Linda Kisabeth, co-adviser Women Lawyers Association Michigan (Auburn Hills Student Chapter); Professor Erika Breitfeld, panelist; Danielle Stone, Executive Board Member Women Lawyers Association Michigan (Auburn Hills Student Chapter); Professor Monica Nuckolls, panelist; Hon. Julie A. Nicholson, 52-3 District Court, panelist; April McKie, J.D., panelist; Michelle Easter, Easter Law PLLC, panelist; Janae Stack, president Women Lawyers Association Michigan (Auburn Hills Student Chapter); Chanavia Smith, Executive Board Women Lawyers Association Michigan (Auburn Hills Student Chapter); Shari F. Lesnick, Co-Adviser Women Lawyers Association Michigan (Auburn Hills Student Chapter).

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Larry Nolan: It is through your faith and your faith tests that you grow

WMU-Cooley 1976 graduate, Board Chair, and State Bar of Michigan President Lawrence P. Nolan was the keynote speaker for the WMU-Cooley law student Christian Legal Society this month. He shared with the law students and guests how when tested in your career, by a client or in a case, you can use your faith to get through it. Watch the video or read the highlights below.

When I talk to different groups, including your group, I let them know that the need and demand for lawyers is great. We really need to know we have good lawyers out there, and judges.

When I first got sworn in I spoke in my inaugural address about standing up for lawyers, but I also stated that I would stand up for judges. People ask me why judges should be exempt from criticism. They say the President gets criticized, Senators get criticized, members of the House of Representatives get criticized, so why shouldn’t judges get criticized?  I said, the one difference is that judges can’t respond. They can’t follow up and have a press conference. If a case is pending, they can’t defend themselves. Simply, it’s about being fair and just.

There is a lot of good things happening within the profession. I am proud to be a lawyer. I’ve been practicing 42 years now at the same location, same small office on Main Street in a little town called Eaton Rapids, just about 20 miles south of here (Lansing). I love the law, and believe if you have a passion for the law, it will serve you well and you can make a difference. I wrote an article in the Michigan Bar Journal this month. It was called the USS Iowa explosion April 19, 1989. Forty seven sailors were killed on board a ship called the Iowa and there were four major ships that were 900 feet long. Think of that, think of (University of) Michigan’s stadium. That would fit a third of Iowa into Michigan stadium. It was three times the size.

I got involved with the case, not because I knew the family from Eaton Rapids who lost their son, but because I went to church and sat in the first pew and their family sat behind us. In our church, during the celebration, you turn at a point in the mass and say peace be with you with people you are sitting near. I only knew the family because they always sat behind us. I only knew them because I saw them on Sundays. I never had any social discussion with them, until this tragedy happened. They came to me because they knew that I was a Christian lawyer, I was in their hometown, and they wanted some meaning to come out of this event. It was a six-year year journey, from filing suit in the Eastern District of Virginia and Norfolk, to Richmond in the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals, then to the Supreme Court. It all arose because I was living in the community, going to the same church, and the family felt comfortable coming to me in handling the case where their son was tragically taken from them. We as lawyers, and we as Christian lawyers, you can look at the 10 commandments and just about take anything off the 10 commandments and use them as the common law and develop from that all the other laws that exist.

I still enjoy what I am doing 42 years later. I want to share a story with you all. I once went to funeral where there was a Rabbi who gave the eulogy and said the deceased person was mensch. When he described what mensch was he said it was a person who does the right thing knowing he could to the wrong thing, but does the right thing even knowing no one is watching. In your future endeavors, always remember one thing; Do the right thing when you know no one is watching.

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During my career, whether it’s during a case or with clients, I have been tested daily. It is my faith that gets me through it. Both my parents were immigrants. My father from Ireland. My mother from Canada. They came to America for a better life, and for that I’m thankful. I think that many of you would feel that same way – a spiritual feeling you have that you have been blessed by your parents, your background, and where you are today.

Sometimes in adversity there are no explanations.  I am like anyone. I have the same shortcomings. We are all human. I find myself often asking the question why when confronted with adversity. Why would someone do something like that? I’d like to know the answer. There was a French poet who once said that adversity tempers the human heart in which it finds its true meaning. If you think about it, we’ve all gone through tough times. Nobody likes to hear about your tough times. Yet if you think you have gone through tough times, you may want to stop by a hospital. Go to the children’s care unit or the cancer unit. Or volunteer at a soup kitchen, or visit those who have suffered addiction and have not been able to beat it.

You might see how fortunate you have been, and that you are receiving a legal education where you can help people in a very real way.  It is through your faith and your faith tests that you grow. I know we have all suffered loss, but if you can fall back on your faith, I think you’re ahead of the game in life.

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Judge Donald L. Allen: Years to Develop your Reputation, Seconds to Destroy it

“We talk a lot about integrity. I think there is one thing people need to understand. It takes years, maybe even decades, to develop a reputation for your integrity, for your professionalism. It takes years and years of doing the right thing, but it only takes seconds for that to be destroyed. Think about that for just a second. Years to develop a reputation that you would be proud of, seconds to destroy.” – Judge Donald L. Allen on integrity during WMU-Cooley Law School’s Integrity in Our Community award ceremony.

Judge Allen spoke to WMU-Cooley law students, faculty and staff about the importance of values, integrity and preserving one’s reputation at the Integrity award ceremony. He went on to say, “The ability to help others challenge injustice and to make sure what is wrong is made right is one of the privileges of a law degree. Law students are learning how to be in a position to earn a living basically helping other people. That is a tremendous privilege. I want to leave you with a quote, and this quote comes from John Fitzgerald Kennedy. He says, ‘With a good conscience our only sure reward, with history the final judge of our deeds, let us go forth to lead the land we love, asking His blessing and His help, but knowing that here on earth God’s work must truly be our own.'”

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Judge Allen is the presiding judge of the 55th District Court Sobriety Court, which focuses on the rehabilitation of repeat offense substance abusers in Ingham County. He has spent most of his professional career as an assistant attorney general at the state’s attorney general office. In 2005, Allen was appointed deputy legal counsel to Gov. Jennifer Granholm. The following year, Granholm appointed him to serve as director of the Office of Drug Control Policy, which he served until his 55th District Court appointment in 2008. Judge Allen was appointed chief judge of the court by the Michigan Supreme Court on Jan. 1, 2016. Watch Judge Allen’s speech (25:31)

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Filed under Awards, Ethics, Latest News and Updates, The Value of a Legal Education, Uncategorized

Law Student from Germany Learns What Real Freedom Means While Helping the Wrongfully Convicted

I’m a 22 years old law student from Germany. As part of an international exchange program, I spent my last term doing a study abroad experience here at WMU-Cooley Law School. Coming to Michigan, and working with the WMU-Cooley Innocence Project, was an experience I will never forget – Anna-Lisa Benkhoff, Muenster University law student and WMU-Cooley Innocence Project intern

When I decided to come to America and attend WMU-Cooley Law School, I had no idea what kind of experiences it would bring. Growing up, I always sought out new opportunities and to challenge myself. I heard about the WMU-Innocence Project when I was looking into study abroad opportunities in the United States. I was excited about the idea that students got to work on actual criminal cases with real people who have been wronged. I especially like that I would learn practical knowledge and skills in the law.

The WMU-Cooley Innocence Project fights against wrongful convictions in post-conviction cases, using DNA-testing to prove innocence.

I spent much of my time in the law clinic working on one case. Our client was convicted of criminal sexual conduct in the first degree, involving two perpetrators. It was the first case I ever worked on and it was an unbelievable experience. I actually was able to meet our client in prison.

Once I got to meet him in person, I knew I was working for the right reasons. It means a lot to be able to help someone who has been wronged get out of prison.

Based on our work, the client was granted an evidentiary hearing on the WMU-Cooley Innocence Project’s motion under MCR 6.500. During the hearing, the judge heard our newly discovered evidence. From that evidence, the judge must decide whether to grant our client a new trial.

In addition to doing research to support the case, I wrote legal memos and assisted in preparing the case for litigation. I feel so proud that I helped to prepare the paperwork needed for our client’s evidentiary hearing. I helped to prepare a witness list and questions for direct and cross examinations.

 During the hearing, WMU-Cooley Innocence Project interns questioned witnessed on the stand – just like a real lawyer.

The evidentiary hearing took four days, and is now submitted to the court for a decision.

Even though I’m leaving the United States and the WMU-Cooley Innocence Project, I will continue to follow its important work. I had a such a great time and got to meet so many nice and very cool people. I now realize the hard work it takes to improve the criminal justice system. I would recommend this experience to anyone. Not only do you gain practical legal skills and experience, you have the privilege of doing something very important – saving someone from life imprisonment when they have been wrongfully convicted. It was unforgettable.

WMU-Cooley Innocence Project Director Marla Mitchell-Cichon and German International Exchange Program law student Anna-Lisa Benkhoff.

WMU-Cooley Innocence Project Director Marla Mitchell-Cichon and German International Exchange Program law student Anna-Lisa Benkhoff.

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Filed under Student Experiences, study abroad, The Value of a Legal Education, Uncategorized, WMU-Cooley Innocence Project