Print Page   |   Contact Us   |   Sign In   |   Register
History
Share |

History of the MCBA and 100 Years of Legal History in

Macomb County

by Lawrence S. Katz

The year 2006 marks the One Hundredth Anniversary of the Macomb County Bar Assocation. A century earlier the legal system of the county named after General Alexander Macomb, a highly-decorated veteran of the War of 1812, was already well established and ad hoc projects by lawyers were commonplace, often under the rubric "Macomb County Bar Association.” It was in 1906, however, that a formal organizational structure took hold permanently. This piece is devoted to the past 100 years of legal history in Macomb County.

Michigan law required drivers to pull over to the side of the road if approaching horses appeared spooked by their automobiles. The Michigan State Telephone Company published the nation’s first classified business yellow pages. A loaf of bread cost seven cents and a dozen eggs 26 cents. A bound and shackled Harry Houdini jumped off the Belle Isle Bridge and emerged from the frigid waters of the Detroit River free of the restraints. The year was 1906.

A year earlier, attorney Robert F. Eldredge had written in his book, "Past and Present of Macomb County Michigan: together with biographical sketches of many of its leading and prominent citizens and illustrious dead” (1905) (pp. 708-709).

Macomb County can well be proud of its representatives in the legal profession in the past and the members of the present bar have before it an inspiring example in the record of their predecessors for energy, ability and faithfulness. If they desire to maintain the standard, it well behooves them to put forth their best efforts.

The present bar of Macomb County is made up of the following members: George M. Crocker, Silas B. Spier, Martin Crocker, O. Lungerhausen, Byron R. Erskine, Robert F. Eldredge, Seth W. Knight, John A. Weeks, Franz C. Kuhn, Varnum J. Bowers, Wm. S. Jenney, Neil E. Reid, Winent H. D. Fox, Alfred J. Parker, Frederick C. Miller, F. J. Hole, Wm. J. Dusse, Wm. T. Kelly, Edward A. Sumner, Wm. F. Sawn, Clarence H. Nunneley, Allen W. Kent, Charles H. Hummerich, Bert V. Nunneley, and Wm. T. Cross, of Mt. Clemens; Dwight N. Lowell, J. L. Starkweather, W. T. Starkweather, Charles C. Thorington, Lafayette H. Bates. Wm. T. Hosner, Henry J. McKay, of Romeo; O. S. Burgess, W. S. Stone, of Richmond; Bert C. Preston, and Lynn M. Johnson, of Armada; George E. Eckert, of Utica; Floyd E. Andrews, of New Baltimore, and Abraham L. Cook, of Roseville.

These attorneys played significant roles in the advancement of public life on the county and state levels. More than any other, attorney Martin Crocker (1858-1938), was responsible for the development of the City of Mount Clemens. After graduating from Mount Clemens High School, he had studied law in the office of his father, the Honorable Thomas Martin Crocker (1825-1902), and graduated from The University of Michigan Law School in 1879. He became mayor of Mt. Clemens in 1902, and was later appointed postmaster of Mt. Clemens by the President. Crocker donated land for a street (with the understanding that it would always be called Crocker Avenue), gave money to help pay for the Macomb-Crocker bridge, later replaced by the Cass-Crocker bridge, and arranged for an extension of Crocker Avenue to Lake St. Clair.

The author of the book was the grandson of Macomb County’s first private practitioner, Robert P. Eldredge (1808-1884). The elder Eldredge had first hung out a shingle in Mt. Clemens after passing an examination in open court in Detroit in the Fall of 1828 – ten years after Territorial Governor Lewis Cass had organized Macomb as Michigan’s third county, after Wayne and Monroe. He appeared before the city’s founder and the patriarch of Macomb County judiciary, Christian Clemens (1768-1844). Lacking a legal education, Clemens decided cases on pure common sense in a log courthouse that had been built under his direction in 1818. When it burned to the ground, it was replaced by a small, two-story brick courthouse-jail in 1840. These were the early years of Mt. Clemens, when young men read law in the offices of established attorneys in order to prepare for admission to the bar. When more educational opportunities became available, students attended local schools and then graduated from The University of Michigan Law School.

Robert P. Eldredge’s son, James B. Eldredge (1835-1901), was a Macomb County prosecutor (1864-1866, 1870-1876), Probate Judge (1876-1893), and Circuit Judge (1894-1900). James’ son, attorney and author Robert F. Eldredge (1864-1948), had a sister, Julia, who married attorney Silas B. Spier.

It was on December 11, 1905, that a small core of attorneys with a collective vision - the creation of a permanent organization of Macomb County attorneys – met to discuss legal issues and other matters of mutual interest. They nominated prominent Romeo attorney Dwight Lowell to make a list of attorneys in the county. Not satisfied with that challenge, Lowell compiled a state of the law and a history of the legal profession in the county through the year 1905. (His report to his colleagues is preserved in a record book which can be found in the office of the Macomb County Bar Association.) After the first of the year, the 39 lawyers in Eldredge’s book began meeting formally, and elected Lowell their first President.

This had by no means been the first effort at formal organization. In fact, the Macomb County Bar Association had existed in various states of vitality long before the turn of the Twentieth Century. An excerpt from the February 21, 1901, obituary of James B. Eldredge reads: "A meeting of the bar association of which he was elected president at its organization December 31st, 1889, was called at once hearing of his death on Monday, and without exception the members fittingly testified to the high regard in which he was held.” The Macomb County Bar Association had handled Eldredge’s funeral arrangements and adopted a formal resolution honoring him, which was published with the obituary. (And in a 1950 article in the Macomb Daily the Association announced itself to be about 75 years old according to its available records.)

A March 9, 1906, article published in the now-defunct Mount Clemens Monitor reads in part: "A meeting of the Bar Association was held Monday, at which the matter of purchasing portraits of the Macomb county circuit judges was taken up. The idea was generally favored and it may be that before long fine oil pictures of Judges [Arthur L.] Canfield, [James B.] Eldredge, and [James G.] Tucker, [Jr.], will decorate the court room. It is thought that they will cost $150 each.” A century later, evidence of the success of such projects can be found on our circuit courtroom walls.

In most communities, ordinary conflicts were heard in Justice of the Peace courts. These judges, who often were not lawyers, decided cases with less formality than the municipal and district courts which replaced them. (It was not until the 1963 Constitution was adopted that judges were required to be lawyers and the Justice of the Peace court system was ended.)

On the county level, lawyers in this first era of the formal bar did not need the blind-draw system: Circuit Judges sat alone. In chronological order, Macomb County Circuit Judges were Byron R. Erskine (1906-1910), Henry J. McKay (1910-1911), James G. Tucker, Jr. (1912-1923), and Clarence Reid (1923-1943).

The county bar evolved slowly over the past century into the organization it is today. In these early years, meetings were not always held regularly and the focus was primarily on social activities rather than on educational or community service programs. It would be decades before the Association had its own office, and meetings were then held in law offices, homes, restaurants and taverns. The lack of a central location naturally slowed the sense of organizational identity. It also resulted in the loss of much of its recorded history because, lacking a single storage facility, each president generally retained his meeting minutes in his personal files. Inexplicably, they rarely passed them on to their successors.

In 1908, Robert F. Eldredge was elected President and Franz C. Kuhn Secretary. Kuhn (1872-1926) had also graduated from the local high school and attended The University of Michigan where he earned a law degree in 1893. Kuhn was admitted to the bar in 1894, and the Fall of that year was elected Circuit Court Commissioner. In 1894, after three terms as Macomb County Prosecuting Attorney, he was elected Probate Judge. After serving six years, he was appointed Attorney General by Governor Fred M. Warner. By 1912, at the age of 40, he had become a Michigan Supreme Court Justice, one of the youngest state supreme court justices in the United States. He resigned the position of Chief Justice in 1920 to become president of Michigan Bell Telephone Company.

As the administration of President Silas B. Spier ended in 1911, a constitution and by-laws were adopted, providing for annual elections and barring from membership Macomb County attorneys "guilty of immorality.” Former county prosecutor Oscar C. Lungerhausen was elected president and the Association emerged from what the Monitor had described on September 22, 1911, as a "moribund condition.”

As the Eldredge name had been in the past, the Lungerhausen and Spier names remained prominent as our bar gradually grew in the ensuing decades. Silas B. Spier’s son, James Eldredge Spier, was a Macomb County Circuit Judge from 1929 to 1971. Judge Spier’s son, Robert E. Spier, was a Macomb County Probate Judge from January 1, 1977 to December 31, 1992. Lungerhausen’s son, John Traugott Lungerhausen, became county bar president in 1940.

From its formal inception to 1941, the MCBA was a small, loosely-knit collection of general practitioners. In the first 35 years leading to World War II, these 50 men, more or less, saw the county’s population increase from 32,000 to over 107,000, as they handled legal issues of every kind. About two-thirds practiced in the burgeoning City of Mt. Clemens, the "Bath City of America.”

Local legend had it that the Mt. Clemens bath era began when a rheumatic old nag was rejuvenated after being soaked by water from an abandoned brine tank. Word spread quickly around the globe that the city’s sulfur water could heal polio, syphilis, rheumatism, jaundice and a variety of other ailments. In 1873, Dr. Henry Taylor opened the Mineral Springs Company and The Original Bath House, and by the turn of the Twentieth Century 11 bathhouses – including the Arethusa, Colonial, Fountain, Medea, Park, Plaza, Olympia, and St. Joseph – and a host of hotels and boarding houses were vying for their share of this $3 million a year business. The 50,000 visitors to the odorous but famous city included Babe Ruth, Jack Dempsey, Clark Gable, Mae West, Eddie Cantor, George Jessel, William Randolph Hearst and the Vanderbilts. The industry reached its peak in the 1940s, before declining with increasing skepticism about the curative power of mineral baths.

Lawyers with offices outside of Mt. Clemens – sometimes no more than one or two in each city or township – resolved a wide range of legal conflicts arising within the county’s 482 square miles – from Armada to Warren. Living and working in mostly rural communities, they learned to "specialize” in whatever problem walked in the door.

In the early years, the president of the Association entertained at a wild duck dinner. A short-lived effort to establish yet another tradition involved the hosting of a dinner by anyone who had received a retainer of $10,000 or more. Fred McGraw of St. Clair Shores gave the first one. It was also the last.

Macomb County lawyers from this era regaled later generations with tales of the practice of law from the turn of the Twentieth Century until the attack on Pearl Harbor. One story has it that during Prohibition days, a well-known MCBA member represented a client accused of bootlegging. He held up a bottle of whiskey received as evidence and said, "I know something of whiskey, and this doesn’t look like whiskey, nor does it smell like whiskey.” As he brought the bottle up to his mouth, he asked, "Your Honor, may I?” The judge nodded, and the attorney drank the entire contents. Slamming the empty bottle on the table, the attorney moved to dismiss for lack of evidence. The motion was granted.
Another Macomb County attorney, known for his flamboyant and dramatic style, told the jury in closing: "Just think, gentlemen of the jury, this agrarian was on his way to market, a happy man, thinking about the money he would get for the 12 pigs he had raised from piglets. Each weighed 300 pounds, a ton and a half of meat. He was full of hope and dreams. Along came the D.U.R. streetcar, just where the track crosses the road, ran into his wagon, demolished it, and killed all 12 pigs, shattering his hopes and dreams. Just think, gentlemen of the jury—the same number of pigs as there are on the jury.”

During the years of the Great Depression, Macomb County Bar members – like those everywhere – struggled to support their families in the practice of law. Stories abound of lawyers playing cards and ping pong waiting for new business, and then pretending to be busy as prospective clients walked in. The lawyer lucky enough to nab a good case filed it in the Macomb County Courthouse.

The Courthouse was a prominent landmark featuring a dramatic figure of Justice over the entrance and a clock tower added in 1889. A clock committee, spearheaded by local financier and industrialist A. T. Donaldson, had raised funds to purchase the clock, which was supplied by the E. Howard Watch & Clock Co. of Chicago for the lofty sum of $1,490.00. The cornerstone for that building had been laid under the auspices of the Masonic Lodge on October 21, 1880. The dedication ceremonies in November, 1881 had included a rousing address by Mayor George M. Crocker, music by the Port Huron Band, and a reception at the Avery Hotel. As early as the Roaring Twenties, overcrowded conditions had forced the Board of Supervisors to start thinking about replacing that courthouse.

The land on which the courthouse stood had been deeded to the county by Christian Clemens on the condition that it be used as the county seat. In 1929, the Board of Supervisors unsuccessfully sought to void that condition so that it could sell the land on which the courthouse stood and use the proceeds to finance the construction of a new building on another site. On November 11, 1930, the Arrow Wrecking Company began the task of demolishing it. In August 1930, St. Clair Shores architect George J. Haas announced his plan for a limestone-clad, 12-story building with a square footprint and an Art Deco design. In September of that year, the Board of Commissioners approved the proposal. On March 14, 1931, the Otto Misch Company was named general contractor for the new structure that was to cost no more than $650,000. Construction was undertaken with a crew of 75 men, most of them county residents, who worked 24 hours a day, using floodlights when necessary. Michigan governor Wilber M. Brucker led the officials present in the intense heat of July 1, 1931, as the cornerstone was laid for the new Macomb County Building on the corner of Gratiot (now North Main) and Cass Avenue. The program featured a flyover from Selfridge Field and music by the Armada Band. The ceremonies took place before a large crowd on a platform erected at the southwest corner of the courthouse site, with the skeleton of the new building as a backdrop. Sealed into the new cornerstone vault were some newspapers and business cards from the old cornerstone vault; 1931 county newspapers; membership rosters of civic groups; photographs of the old courthouse; a set of plans for the new Macomb County Building, and a photograph of architect George J. Haas.

Construction began aggressively but the ravages of the Depression soon engulfed the County and its funds had evaporated by February of 1933. Contracts for the new 13-story building were voided and construction was halted for several months, leaving the top 8 floors unfinished – a monument to the nation’s economic failures. On June 5, 1933, a dedication ceremony was held for the unfinished structure and county officials moved out of rented quarters to occupy the available lower floors. Work continued sporadically as contractors were paid from modest tax revenues and about $50,000 in federal New Deal funds. The building was not completed and declared debt-free until 1944.
Although court facilities moved into its current home - the Macomb County Court Building - in 1970, the 1931 edifice, now known as the Old County Building, remains in full government service in the very spot Christian Clemens had selected for the county’s first courthouse in 1818.

The Macomb Bar has been at the forefront of several Michigan legal milestones. These include the Metzger Motor Car, Henry Ford Libel, Mount Clemens Pottery and Milo Radulovich cases.

The Metzger Motor Car Case and
Due Process

In 1914, Silas B. Spier, as co-counsel, successfully persuaded the U. S. Supreme Court in Metzger Motor Car Co. v Parrott to defer to a Michigan ruling that a 1913 vicarious liability statute was unconstitutional because it failed to protect owners who lacked knowledge and had not given consent.

The Henry Ford Libel Case and Freedom of the Press

In June of 1919, Judge Tucker presided over a libel trial which aroused nationwide interest. Henry Ford had sued the Chicago Tribune for $1 million after that paper published an editorial calling the automobile magnate an anarchist. The Wayne County Circuit Court had changed venue to Macomb County because the venue contained too many Ford Motor Company employees. The trial was held in the second-floor courtroom of the three-story 1880 Macomb County Courthouse (the site of the current Old County Building). The jury returned a verdict in favor of Henry Ford – granting him a judgment of six cents.

The Mount Clemens Pottery case and Economic Justice

In 1946, United States Supreme Court Justice Frank Murphy of Michigan authored Steven Anderson, et al v Mount Clemens Pottery Company, a landmark labor law decision interpreting the Fair Labor Standards Act. The court there ruled that the employees should be paid for all the time they are on the premises ("portal to portal”). High profile attorney Bert V. Nunneley of Mt. Clemens (1881-1972) was co-counsel for the pottery company. In 1919 Nunneley had been appointed Special Attorney General to work with Alexander J. ("Alex”) Groesbeck on the prosecution in a celebrated murder case that had brought Groesbeck back to Mount Clemens. Groesbeck (1873-1953) was a descendant of the early French settlers in the Macomb County area, born on a farm in what is now the City of Warren. After graduating from The University of Michigan Law School, he had established a practice in the City of Detroit before becoming Michigan’s Attorney General and it was while he was serving in that capacity that he returned to Mt. Clemens to prosecute that case. Following his term as Attorney General in 1921, he began the first of a record-three terms as Michigan’s Governor.

Nunneley was elected MCBA President in 1931. The Mt. Clemens law firm Nunnely founded in June of 1903 after his graduation from The University of Michigan Law School, later included his sons, John and William. William (1908-1983) followed in his father’s shoes when he was elected Macomb Bar President in 1955. Currently known as Hirt, MacArthur & Maison, PLLC, the firm has been recognized as a Michigan Centennial Business.

Recognized by the State Bar of Michigan as its 20th Legal Milestone, a memorial plaque to the Pottery case was dedicated on September 1, 1994, at the Riverfront Gazebo by the Municipal Building in Mt. Clemens and placed on the wall of the Macomb County Courthouse near the statue of General Alexander Clemens.

The Milo Radulovich Case and the Fall of McCarthyism

In 1953, MCBA member Kenneth N. Sanborn and Charles C. Lockwood represented Milo Radulovich, a then-resident of Dexter, Michigan, in his fight against the United States Air Force. The Air Force had attempted to decommission Radulovich for associating with his allegedly-subversive father and sister. Taking the case pro bono, these attorneys prevailed and the Air Force reinstated the commission. A memorial plaque was dedicated and placed outside at the Michigan State University College of Law Building in East Lansing on September 2, 1998. Sanborn subsequently became a State legislator and judge, and retired from the Macomb County Circuit Court bench in 1990. In 1998, Judge Sanborn was given a Champion of Justice Award by the State Bar of Michigan for extraordinary devotion to a cause. He remains active today as a mediator, arbitrator and visiting judge.

As the decade of the ‘50s dawned, the MCBA, led by Howard Carroll, was still holding at about 75 members. After passing the bar in 1935, Carroll had been active in a variety of political social and charitable positions and was widely respected for his integrity and knowledge of constitutional law. First elected as Macomb Bar President in 1950, he was a major unifying force in the Bar. Carroll’s election as President was highly controversial at the time because it broke with the tradition of promoting officers on a seniority basis. Nominated at that mid-century meeting, Carroll defeated the vice president 26 to 25. Carroll went to great lengths to assuage the hurt feelings of the spurned aspirant, including the insistence that photographs include all members of the Association. The result was the first-ever group photograph of the MCBA. Although the Association was still primarily social in nature, Judge Carroll added a new dimension with "training sessions” held in his basement. In 1956, Carroll was elected Macomb County Circuit Judge, where he served with great distinction for 22 years.

The 49 men and 3 women at that meeting in 1950 paid tribute to five men with long and distinguished careers in the law. Michigan Supreme Court Justice Neil E. Reid, William T. Kelly, Bert V. Nunnely, George W. John and former Probate Judge Frederick C. Miller, who was too ill to attend. Guests of honor were Air Force officers Col. William L. Doolan, Jr., Judge Advocate of the 10th Air Force and his assistant, Col. George Gray; Major Graham Weigel, base legal officer, and assistants Capt. William C. Butler and Lt. Conrad J. Lollis.

Each year, the Macomb County Circuit Judges hosted an annual "Tom & Jerry” Christmas party at the Medea Hotel, and MCBA charter member Neil E. Reid hosted a variety of summer parties. Reid had come a long way since graduating from Romeo High School in 1889. He had attended Harvard Law School on a scholarship but returned to Michigan to become a court reporter to finance his education at the Detroit College of Law. In 1910, he was appointed to the Macomb County Probate Court, and in 1923, appointed to the Macomb County Circuit Court. In 1944 he took his elected seat on the Michigan Supreme Court and later became Chief Justice. Over the years, Justice Reid entertained county bar association members as well as church groups and Boy Scouts at the Reid cottage at Anchor Bay and at his Drummond Island cottage in northern Michigan. Fare was generally venison with an occasional ox roast.

Membership in the Macomb Bar, as in every male-dominated profession, declined dramatically with our entry into the Second World War. Only when veterans of World War II and the Korean Conflict returned from service to attend law schools or hang up shingles was the roster of the Macomb Bar restored to its former numbers.

Throughout its history, members of the Macomb County Bar Association have distinguished themselves in service to the nation in the Navy, Air Force, Marines, Michigan Air National Guard, Coast Guard and Army during World Wars I and II, the Korean War, Vietnam War, Operation Desert Storm, Operation Iraqi Freedom, and in peacetime. Relatively recent soldiers and sailors include Naval Commander Anthony J. Spada, Captain Calvin Rock, Coast Guard Captain Michael D. Schwartz, Colonel Donald M. Miller, Lieutenant Colonel John Potvin, Lieutenant Colonel Charles Trickey, III, Major Steven S. Sierawski, Captain Kenneth Martin, Captain William C. Butler, Captain Kenneth N. Sanborn, Lieutenant Dean Metry, Captain James H. Finney, Captain Lara Stutz, Captain Tracey Yokich, First Lieutenant John B. Bruff, First Lieutenant Max D. McCullough, Lieutenant Junior Grade James R. Daoust, First Lieutenant Donald Gillain, First Lieutenant Joseph Milhelich, Sergeant E-5 Larry Baumgartner, Sergeant E-5 Glenn Gartling, Sergeant E-5 Nicholas R. Hostettler, Sergeant E-5 Michael Suhy, Sergeant E-4 Arthur Garton, Specialist Fifth Class Charles Pfeffer, Specialist Fifth Class Rex A. Burgess, Specialist Fourth Class Robert Merrelli, Specialist Fourth Class Mark Teklinski, and Airman Martin J. Smith. Macomb County is home to Selfridge Air Force Base (now Selfridge Air National Guard Base), where Donald M. Miller served as base commander from 1983 to 1986. Colonel Miller was appointed Macomb County Circuit Judge in 1998.

Kenneth Martin described how his well-known partnership with William Butler began:
"I first met Bill when I was called back into service in 1951 and sent to Selfridge Field as a JAG officer. Bill had also been called up from the reserve and was stationed there. He was a Captain and I was a First Lieutenant and he has never let me forget it. To this day, even after I had been promoted to Captain, he still calls me ‘Lieutenant.’

"I can’t begin to count the number of cases we tried in that one year I was there, but in one four-day period we tried 23 cases. Because the military never wanted anyone to say that any trial was tainted by rank, I was always the prosecutor and he was defense counsel. There weren’t many not guilty verdicts because any Base Commander had only two rules – keep the court martial rate low, but, if you try them, convict them. Not guilty findings were bad for his image.

"In the summer of 1952, I was sent overseas to Guam, and Bill was discharged shortly thereafter.
"In October or November of 1953, I came back from Guam and was ordered to Selfridge for my discharge processing. I was driving out Gratiot through Roseville (there was no I-94 then) and noticed a sign on a small white building near Martin Road that said ‘William C. Butler, Attorney at Law.’ I stopped and went in and, sure enough, there he sat.

"We talked and he then asked me what I was going to do after my discharge and when I told him I had no plans, he asked if I wanted to form a partnership with him and go into practice, and I agreed.

"We were ‘married’ for 27 years and during that time never had a dispute that wasn’t settled within an hour at the local pub.

"We started together on December 1, 1953. We were the ‘new kids’ in Roseville and had no clients. It was tough and in the early part of 1954 Bill was offered a job as an assistant prosecutor. We talked it over and decided that he would take the job and I would continue the practice and he would come in the office nights and weekends. He later became chief assistant under Al ‘Gabe’ Byers and this lasted for a few years until, believe it or not, the private practice became too much for me to handle alone and he left that job and came back with me full time.”

In the first decade following the War, the Macomb County Bar Association was rapidly and radically transformed. While it changed little in sheer numbers – its membership less than doubled to something less than 100 – the organization acquired some texture. Howard Carroll added a new dimension with "training sessions” held in his basement and women finally joined its ranks and leaders emerged who would re-mold its essential character and even bring it into national prominence.

In 1947, Mildred Vlaich, a graduate of Wayne State University Law School, became the first woman admitted to the Macomb County Bar Association. She was the first woman to serve as an assistant prosecutor in Macomb County, serving from 1949 to 1952. In 1975, Vlaich also became the first woman to serve as 52-3 District Judge, covering Rochester and several adjacent jurisdictions.

At the age of 27, Mary E. McDevitt became the first woman to don robes in the County in 1957, when she was sworn in as Justice of the Peace in Roseville, the area once called Erin Township. The Roseville native had graduated from Mount Clemens St. Mary High School and obtained her law degree in 1954. Her father, the late James E. McDevitt, had been a lawyer who was appointed village attorney in 1936 and died shortly thereafter. McDevitt became Roseville Municipal Judge on January 1, 1959, and on January 1, 1969, 39th District Judge for the cities of Roseville and Fraser. She remained the only female on the bench in Macomb County until 1982, when Kathleen Jansen was elected to the Macomb County Probate bench. Judge McDevitt remarked at the time of her retirement on January 1, 1997, "I don’t consider myself a woman’s libber or a pioneer . . . I am simply a survivor.” Judge Jansen was elevated to the Michigan Court of Appeals in 1990, a position she still holds, through popular election.

Judge McDevitt reminisced: "My first recollection of the Macomb County Bar Association is the day in December, 1954, when I was admitted to the State Bar of Michigan in the Macomb County Circuit Court. Judges James E. Spier and Alton H. Note administered our oath of office to the three other attorneys and myself: Ray McPeters, James Chapman and Howard Snapp. There were several members of the Macomb Bar present to greet us in Judge Spier’s courtroom. My sponsor was attorney Kenneth Kramer, whom I had known from working as a secretary for J. Russell LaBarge, Senior, when Mr. Kramer came into the office as a new attorney. When I first became a member of the MCBA, as I recollect, there were fewer than 100 members.

"Shortly after our admission, the Macomb Bar Association invited the four of us to a membership meeting at Tassie’s Tavern. That is where I first met Justine Orris and Mildred Vlaich and Marie Kamberg, who were already members of the association. I found out there was another woman member, Betty Dunn, whom I never met. That night I saw the camaraderie and personal relationships that existed between the members at that time. I also got in on some of the squabbles between different attorneys, some of which some members expressed in not-so-endearing terms. I immediately felt welcomed by the older and younger members alike.

"At that time Judges Spier and Noe were the only two circuit court judges in Macomb County. Judge Joseph V. Trombly was the only probate judge.”

As now, the annual boat cruise was a Macomb County Bar Associations tradition. However, in the same year McDevitt first donned robes another tradition would be broken with a simple question. "I remember that the annual boat cruise was the big event of the year, but women members were not allowed to participate,” McDevitt said. "In 1957, I believe it was, I asked the then-president, Bill Nunneley, why women members could not attend. He didn’t seem to know why we couldn’t attend, so Justine, Mildred and I attended that year and for many years afterwards.”

Emil E. Cardamone recalled: "In those early days, that some Macomb lawyers had a penchant for fun and high jinks. To cite one example, I attended my first Bar Association annual cruise shortly after joining. The cruise included dinner at the Idle Hour Inn on Harsen’s Island. After a highly enjoyable day of boating, imbibing, swimming, sunshine and good fellowship, our boat finally arrived at the restaurant pier. One of our passengers, a distinguished jurist who shall remain nameless, stepped off while the boat was still 10 feet away from the pier. He tumbled into the water with a resounding splash. In the restaurant, dinner was delayed because the waitresses were threatening to quit. This is because a certain prominent MCBA member had been repeatedly running his hands up the waitress’s skirts, and another distinguished member had been setting off cherry bombs inside the dining room. Although the restaurant management eventually saved us, the MCBA was banned from the premises for the next 10 years.

 

100 Years of Legal History in Macomb County

by Lawerance Katz

 

Roy W. Rogensues reminisced: " My most memborable incident occurred during Robert J. Chrzanowski' s first felonly jury trial as an assistant prosecutor. It was a larceny from a building involving a washing machine. Fred York, Don Ricard and I were leaving the Old County Building for lunch and discovered the washing machine with its evidence tag sitting on the sidewalk by the door. We decided to steal it and hid it in the basement. We informed Howard Carroll, the trial Judge what we had done and he agreed to participate by repeatingly reminding Chrzanowski that he had not introduced the washing machine which he and the Warren Police were frantically trying to find. Just before a motion for directed verdict was about to be made, it mysteriously showed up in the corridor outside the courtroom door.”

In the ‘40s and ‘50s, bar membership lagged behind the County’s expanding population. From the outbreak of World War II to 1960, the population of the County nearly quadrupled to over 400,000, yet they were still served by only about 200 lawyers. In the 1960s, however, membership doubled to about 400, as the venue for monthly meetings shifted from Judge Carroll’s basement to various local restaurants.

In 1952, George Steeh, Jr. (later State legislator, 41-B District Judge and father of George C. Steeh III, former 41-B District Judge, Macomb County Circuit Judge and currently United States District Judge) became the first president of the Young Lawyers Section of the MCBA. Steeh was succeeded as president by William Gentz.

Organized statewide at the Fifth Annual Meeting of the State Bar of Michigan in 1940 by about 50 attorneys under the age of 36, this Section is the oldest and largest section of the State Bar of Michigan. It is divided into three Districts: District 1, comprised of Wayne and Macomb Counties, District 2, comprised of Oakland County, and District 3, comprised of the remainder of the state. In 1960, it founded the statewide Institute of Continuing Legal Education, which became a model for all 50 states, and its activities include sponsoring Law Day programs and the Liberty Bell Award, which is given each year on Law Day to a non-lawyer in the community who has most furthered the ideals of the Constitution.

Over the past three decades, the Young Lawyers Section has become a major force in the MCBA. The Macomb YLS offers seminars and networking opportunities for its members, and sponsors public service activities addressed to the needs of women, minorities and seniors. Its contributions have included the construction of basketball backboards in the juvenile home and relief efforts for disasters such as the Tsunami and Hurricane Katrina. The YLS Board of Directors has been recognized by the MCBA Board of Directors with the Special Service Award for its public service.

Robert MacKenzie was a force for progressive reform and increased professionalism. MacKenzie resurrected the Young Lawyers Section after a period of inactivity, spearheaded the continuing legal educational movement and encouraged more community-oriented bar services. MacKenzie succeeded his law partner, prominent criminal defense attorney James Daner (later appointed Macomb County Circuit Judge) on the State Bar Board of Commissioners, where he represented the county with distinction. He was instrumental in the formal recognition of legal assistants in the State of Michigan.

After MacKenzie turned 36, the Young Lawyers Section again became inactive, but was revived in the early ’70’s. Under the leadership of Gary Anthony, the Section initiated "free legal conferences” on Law Day for several years, which evolved over time into the MCBA Lawyer Referral Service.

After two failed millage elections, the County Board of Commissioners authorized construction of a new County Courthouse in 1967, financed through the County Building Authority. The new building was dedicated in 1969 and opened in 1970.

After decades of roaming from one venue to another, the MCBA would soon have a permanent home. This new Court Building had been designed with an eye toward the future. Salvatore (Sam) Crimando, the county’s dedicated Court Administrator from 1965-1992, recalls:

"I didn’t realize it then, but (Executive) Judge James E. Spier had the foresight to establish a non-judicial operation because he could see the population explosion would compel the expansion of court facilities which would be too time-consuming for the bench to handle. He was the one most responsible for the Circuit Court Building being constructed and as we discussed its size, it was he that determined that 14 courtrooms would be needed for future expansion. As you can see, he pretty well forecast what would happen.”

By this time, the Association had evolved into the organization it is today. In 1971, the MCBA became a non-profit 501(c)6 corporation, hired Judge Alton Noe’s secretary on a part-time basis to keep permanent records, and began sending newsletters to its members. The Bar Association obtained space adjacent to the second-floor meeting chambers of the Board of Commissioners for a lawyers lounge and meeting place. The lounge was located in prime space on the southeast corner of the building and beautifully decorated and furnished at MCBA expense, through the efforts of Charles Towner and Paul F. McNamara in particular. This lounge, however, was used infrequently because of its remote location and lack of privacy for client conferences. Moreover, the lounge was the scene of occasional conflict when County Commissioners insisted on using the lounge as their meeting room. In 1980, the Association vacated the lawyers lounge at the direction of the County and sold its furniture.

Because the Association in the late 1970s had committed to a comprehensive Lawyer Referral Service and retained a public relations firm to run the program with secretary - and later its first full-time Executive Director - Karen Schmidt, the directors were committed to the re-establishment of offices in the Courthouse for that purpose. President Gary S. Anthony approached Judge Robert J. Chrzanowski, who agreed to make his large fourth floor conference room available to the Association. Chrzanowski [later recognized for assigning six Friend of the Court Referees to hear motions to relieve court congestion in family law cases long before the legislature created the Family Division of the Circuit Court in 1996 (effective January 1, 1998)] then obtained approval of MCBA occupancy in the Courthouse by the County Commissioners on the basis that (1) the lawyer referral program, administered at the sole expense of the Association, performed an important public service by offering free legal consultations to County residents and (2) the Association would not occupy space needed for County purposes. Although no lease was signed, there was a tacit understanding that the Association would make an annual donation for maintenance of the County law library.

Anthony recalls: "Bob Chrzanowski’s gracious consent to allow use of his large conference room by the Association is the only reason we have a Courthouse presence today. We had nowhere to go. Bob should be remembered for that significant contribution.” His judicial successors, Lido V. Bucci and James M. Biernat, Sr. likewise allowed the Bar the use of this space. The MCBA’s current lease with the county provides assurance that this location will remain its long-term home.

By 1979, MCBA membership had increased to 663. In the 1980s the Bar Association was run by the public relations firm of Linda Eckert and Associates. By the time Judy Flury became Executive Director in 1986, membership had increased to over 800. By 1993, membership had increased to approximately 1,100.

Following Judy Flury as Executive Directors were Sharon Eineman, Jean Scott, Maria Ellerman and Z. Kay (Fischer) Fitzpatrick. Rick R. Troy has held the position since 1999.

Emil Cardamone identified four prominent personalities, active in the bench and bar through the decade of the ‘70s and beyond, as having the greatest influence on his career:

"Philip F. Greco. Shortly after I first met Phil Greco, I realized that he was a very special person. In fact, he was almost too good to be true. He was a masterful real estate lawyer. He had an uncanny ability to resolve the most horrendous real estate problems. His talent and creativity for saving real estate deals that otherwise would have failed is legendary. He could fix and save deals that were seemingly impossible to fix. Phil was a great friend to lawyers and was always available to help with a real estate problem. He was a warm, kind and generous man who never said no to any worthy charitable or civic endeavor. Phil was a great inspiration to me. I learned a great deal from simply watching this "giant of a man” go quietly about doing all kinds of good things for lawyers in particular, and for mankind in general, not for lucre but simply out of the goodness of his great heart. If a Hall of Fame for Macomb lawyers is ever created, there is no doubt that Phil would be the very first inductee.

"Judge Edward J. Gallagher. I first appeared before Judge Gallagher in the Municipal Court in Warren shortly after my appointment as an Assistant Prosecuting Attorney in 1959. When court adjourned at noon that day, I was summoned to chambers and the Judge invited me to lunch. During lunch we exchanged personal and family histories and found that we had much in common. For example, we both were native Detroiters and derived from humble beginnings, and we both had served as combat infantrymen in the European Theater during World War II. That day was the beginning of what to me was a valued personal friendship that lasted until his untimely death in 1982. Ed was a great mentor and confidant to me during my entire professional life, especially during my tenure was Warren City Attorney. He had a vast knowledge of all aspects of municipal law and we spent many hours debating the fine points of that legal specialty. I admired, and tried to emulate, his gift for finding practical solutions to complex legal issues. Ed would also regale me with tales of the tumultuous political history of old Warren Township during the time he served as its attorney. He was, by far, the very best friend I ever had in the legal community.

"Ed was a very compassionate man. His beautiful wife, Audrey, once told me that on occasions when he was forced to sentence a convicted criminal to prison, he would be sleepless the night before and agonized over having to perform this unpleasant judicial duty.

"He was also a modest and humble man who disliked pretentiousness, dishonesty, histrionics, lack of candor and incivility in his courtroom. He had little use for attorneys who were less that completely forthright in his court.  "I have the distinction of having been involved in the very last trial that Judge Gallagher conducted as a Macomb County Circuit Judge. Fred York, the Clinton Township Attorney, was my opponent. It was a two-week non-jury trial involving a zoning issue. When it was over, Judge Gallagher summoned us both to his chambers. He told us that it had been a pleasure for him to observe two good attorneys try a good case and that he hated to see it end. Fred and I were honored and elated to receive this accolade. Shortly thereafter, Judge Gallagher retired from the bench because of failing health and passed away a short time later. His death was a deep personal loss to me.

Judge James C. Daner. I had heard of Jim Daner long before I first met him in 1959. Jim had achieved a reputation as a fine criminal defense attorney. He had won acquittals in a number of high-profile cases that generated considerable media publicity. I had been a member of the Prosecutor’s staff for only a few weeks when Jim unexpectedly came to my office, introduced himself and invited me to lunch. I was in awe that a man of his stature would spend his valuable time with a lowly rookie like me. But I later learned that this was the character of Jim Daner. He was a kind and thoughtful man who enjoyed sitting down with new young attorneys and counseling them in the finer points of the practice. He was never too busy or unavailable to assist another lawyer with a thorny legal problem. I was fortunate to be the beneficiary of his wise counsel on numerous occasions and was privileged to be able to call him at any time to seek his advice about a troublesome legal or ethical problem. On one occasion, I received a 15-page, handwritten letter from him in response to my simple question about a legal issue.

"Jim had a healthy ego but in a good way. It was based on his tremendous pride in being a lawyer. It manifested itself in the excellence of his performance as a practicing lawyer and as a circuit judge. Jim loved the law and he loved lawyers. I thought of him as the quintessential "lawyer’s-lawyer” and my admiration for him was boundless.

"Judge Raymond R. Cashen. Ray was, to me, the personification of all that a good judge should be. I considered myself very lucky whenever I drew him as the judge of one of my cases. I always eagerly looked forward to being in his courtroom and I am pleased to tell you why.

1. He had a superb judicial temperament. He consistently treated everyone – the attorneys, the litigants, the witnesses and his staff – with great courtesy, dignity and respect. I never once saw him angry or upset. I never once heard him disparage, chastise, embarrass demean or berate anyone, either in or out of his courtroom.

2. He was scrupulously honest and objective in his judicial decisions. Every decision he made was always based on thoughtful findings of fact and applicable law. They were always based on reason, fairness and common sense, never influenced by extraneous factors. His judicial integrity and objectivity were unsurpassed.

3. He had exemplary character, courage and personal rectitude. He was truly a wonderful gentleman and a genuinely decent human being.”

In 1984, a Macomb Circuit Judge was the recipient of the Foot in Mouth Award for his question to a prospective juror in a malpractice case. The defendant was accused of administering an inordinate number of cortisone shots to a patient. To ensure the jury would not be prejudiced, the judge asked each prospective juror if he or she had ever received a cortisone injection – until he came to a gray-haired lady about 60 years old.

"And you ma’am, have you ever received a silicon injection?” the judge asked.

"When I realized what I said, I turned red as a beet,” the judge later remarked. "Everybody started laughing. Whatever caused me to say that, I don’t know.”

Silicon injections were apparently still on the minds of lawyers when the MCBA announced its annual awards the same year. Attorney Gilbert Metry won the Metaphysical Award for the best "fabrication or creation from thin air of a cause or action.”

Dean Metry, the recipient’s son and then-law partner, said his father was representing a gentleman in a support case when a question arose as to who would pay for the ex-wife’s injections. The younger Metry said his father told the court, "Why should my client have to pay for (injections)? He hasn’t even touched them.”

A special Mediator of the Year Award was given to attorney William Butler as the result of a letter he sent to the Chief Judge after the judge ordered him to mediate a case. "I thank you and my starving wife and children thank you from the bottom of their holey shoes,” Butler wrote. "I told them how nice it was that you thought of me to refer a case to me at least once a year.”

Some attorneys lacked Butler’s humor. In 1988, a Detroit attorney, accused of punching his Mt. Clemens adversary while they were discussing settlement of a civil case in Judge Jansen’s conference room, was arrested on misdemeanor assault charges. Assistant Macomb County Prosecutor Steven Kaplan observed at the time: "Words may have been exchanged. . . nevertheless, it does not justify a physical assault.”

Around the same time, a scuffle broke out in the prosecutor’s office between a defense attorney and an assistant prosecutor, both veteran practitioners in their 60s. Lacking the energy if not the will to carry on the attack, neither lawyer was charged.

In 1985 and 1986, under the leadership of President Gene R. Bolanowski, the MCBA initiated ambitious programs designed to stimulate dialogue with the community and improve the Bar’s professional image. In both those years the Association held "Citizen’s Conferences,” with speakers including Michigan Supreme Court Justices Patricia Boyle and Dennis Archer, Attorney General Frank Kelley and Father William Cunningham. In their reports to the membership published in Bar Briefs, participants described the "speak out sessions” between lawyers and the general public as being most meaningful. Those reports suggested that, through direct dialogue, lawyers had learned that they needed to communicate more effectively with the public, and the public learned that they needed to acquire a better knowledge about the legal system.

In 1987, Justine Ann Orris became the first woman elected president of the Macomb County Bar Association. "Being a first is not easy,” Orris said when she took office. "Just look at what happened to poor Eve with Adam . . . I do not want to be known as the first and last.” At the time of her election, Orris reflected on the sacrifices she had to make after passing the bar: "In those days, a woman attorney had to give up a part of her social life to advance – much more so than a man. By the time I found ‘Mr. Right,’ I realized things were too complicated for marriage and a family, and I was still trying to make a living.”

Beginning in the late 1980s, Chief Judges Robert J. Chrzanowski, Peter J. Maceroni and Antonio P. Viviano, respectively, have worked closely with Court Administrator, Sam Crimando and his successor, Keith R. Beasley, to improve the efficiency of the Macomb County Circuit Court and promote the effective administration of justice.

About the same time, a group of Macomb County attorneys began meeting to discuss ways of raising funds for law-related projects in the community. This core of leaders included Judge Walter P. Cynar, Peter J. Bender, Paul T. Garvey, Philip F. Greco, Judge Kathleen Jansen, Joseph Puzzuoli, Alan Ackerman, Keith Cermak, Greg Buss, Steven Rabuat, Paul O’Reilly and Justine Ann Orris. These efforts culminated in the establishment of the Macomb County Bar Foundation in 1992. Since then, the Foundation has raised substantial tax-deductible funds for projects in fulfillment of its mission to:

• Improve and facilitate the administration of justice in Macomb County;
• Insure to the fullest extent possible that legal services are made available to all members of the public, regardless of race, creed, color or economic status;
• Work in conjunction with charitable organizations whose purpose is to provide meaningful benefit to the community, including the disadvantaged and handicapped, and other groups with legitimate needs;
• Promote the study and research of law, and promote the continuing legal education of lawyers;
• Acquire, preserve, and exhibit rare books and documents, objects of art and items of historical interest having legal significance or bearing on the administration of justice;
• Educate the public in general as to their legal rights and obligations and other subjects related to the law; and
• Foster and maintain the honor and integrity of the profession of law.

The Foundation’s Presidents; Hon. Walter Cynar, Philip F. Greco, Sr., Paul T. Garvey, John F. Potvin, Kimberly M. Cahill, Anthony J. Bellanca and James T. Miller have created and maintained the Foundation’s tradition of leadership in the fields of legal education, literacy projects and programs to aid victims of sexual and physical abuse and in 2006 implemented a long planned scholarship program.

Fifty-nine years after Mildred Vlaich became the first woman admitted to the Macomb County Bar Association, 49 years after Mary E. McDevitt became the county’s first woman judge and 19 years after Justine A. Orris became the first President of the MCBA, the Association is now 25% female. Many of them are active in the Women Lawyers Association of Michigan – Macomb Region, which has become a major force for progressive reform both within the profession and throughout the community. Its programs promote the rights of women, minorities and equal justice regardless of social status.

One of these women found herself at the cutting edge of technology shortly after the turn of the 21st Century. Kenneth Wyniemko had been convicted in 1994 of one count of breaking and entering, fifteen counts of first degree criminal sexual conduct and one count of armed robbery, and had been sentenced to 10-15 years, 40-60 years, and 15-25 years, respectively. Attorney Gail M. Pamukov agreed to represent him as a participating attorney in the Innocence Project. Over objections, Judge Edward Servitto granted Pamukov’s motion for DNA testing, which had not been utilized at the time of trial. On June 17, 2002, Wyniemko was exonerated after DNA results showed conclusively that he was innocent. "DNA testing when properly done is the most powerful tool in law enforcement,” said Pamukov.

In the past 35 years, the MCBA has adapted to the demands of a changing society. As the county’s population burgeoned and its rural character radically transformed, the MCBA became a full-service, cosmopolitan bar association with four full-time staff members. The Association’s mission has broadened as it has expanded member services such as legal seminars, developed a user-friendly website, initiated an award-winning cable television show featuring high-profile guests and topics of local and national interest, and added public service programs such as pro bono representation of indigent clients.

Although the roots of the MCBA surely reach back to the 1880s or earlier, 2006 marks the one hundredth anniversary of the Macomb County Bar Association reorganized by Dwight Lowell.

All of us know how much this country has changed in the past century. The face of the nation’s bar naturally reflects these changes in society as a whole. Our 39 founders were all men. Often, they either emerged from or founded Macomb County’s most prominent families. They played an integral role in the economic and industrial growth of the County in the early years of the Twentieth Century. Today, as everywhere else, our practitioners are women and men from a variety of backgrounds responding to increasing demands for legal services from all segments of society.

In 2006, Centerline attorney Kimberly M. Cahill was sworn in as 72nd President of the State Bar of Michigan. Cahill was MCBA president from 2001 to 2002, and was a founding member and past president of the Macomb County Bar Foundation. She is the daughter and partner of long-time Macomb County attorney Florence Schoenherr-Warnez.

The District Court bench now includes seven women, Dawnn M. Gruenburg (37th) (1990); Norene S. Redmond (38th) (1999), Linda Davis (41-B) (2000), Jennifer M. Faunce (37th) (2002), Catherine B. Steenland (39th) (2002), Kimberley A. Wiegand (41-A) (2003) and Sheila A. Miller (41-B) (2006). The Macomb County Circuit-Probate bench now includes five women, Mary A. Chrzanowski (1992), Pamela Gilbert O’Sullivan (1994), Kathryn A. George (2002), Diane M. Druzinski (2002) and Tracey A. Yokich (2003). Of the 27 judges on the Michigan Court of Appeals, eight are women. They now include two former Macomb County Circuit Judges, Kathleen Jansen (1990) and Deborah A. Servitto, who was elevated by appointment of the Governor in March of 2006.

More noteworthy is what remains the same. The legal profession as practiced in Macomb County has retained much of its essential character. Most lawyers still engage in the general practice of law, either individually or in small firms. The bench and bar maintain a collegial relationship. The Macomb County Court Building has a navigable atmosphere.

The population of Macomb County is now 836,000, with fields and farmlands giving way to subdivisions and office buildings. As the County looks to the next 100 years, the Macomb County Bar Association, 1,325 strong and growing, is poised to meet the many challenges that undoubtedly lie ahead.

Membership Management Software Powered by YourMembership.com®  ::  Legal