Solid foundation

Construction experience helps attorney excel in real estate law

By Sheila Pursglove
Legal News

As a kid, Brad Knickerbocker helped his father in the construction trade.

"My dad used to build homes with a small group of men who swung hammers, not nail guns —  I used to help him on the weekends and even helped build our family home when I was 10," says Knickerbocker, an attorney in Howard & Howard's Ann Arbor office. "I learned a lot and grew fond of real estate and construction — buying, selling, building — at a young age and it grew from there."

"Over the years, I've done and learned a lot in my practice which includes acting as de facto general counsel for about 8 years for a $1 billion publically traded REIT — Real Estate Investment Trust — with properties all over the country. I even acted as my own general contractor in building my home on a lake using 57 telephone poles driven 40 feet deep to keep it upright."

Knickerbocker focuses his practice on real estate acquisition, development and disposition, commercial leasing, construction, business law, commercial transactions, mergers and acquisitions, commercial litigation, environmental due diligence and real estate related-litigation. His extensive experience includes multi-state real estate portfolio purchase and sale transactions and negotiation of several simple and complex commercial loans for both borrowers and lenders, including mezzanine and equity participation loans.

Knickerbocker's litigation experience includes a couple of cases he likes to highlight, not because the clients won or saved millions, but rather because he proved the naysayers wrong. One case involved an alleged fraudulent conveyance of roughly $450,000, where the fraudster secretly took/stole money from relatives and lost it trying to score big in the stock market.

"He then allegedly created a fake mortgage company and a fake title company and found lenders willing to fund loans made to fake borrowers," Knickerbocker explains.

Fake loan proceeds were then allegedly used to pay back the family members he borrowed/stole from. One lender sued a family member, Knickerbocker's client, to recover money she received in repayment of monies stolen from her.

"In a case of first impression, the Court of Appeals agreed with me, despite 100 percent naysayers around me who unanimously disagreed with my position that a thief cannot fraudulently convey stolen money — stolen money is not an 'asset' of the conveying thief seemed obvious to me but not anyone else, except the COA," he says.

In another case of first impression, Knickerbocker obtained a favorable published opinion from the COA, this time involving the Michigan Treasury's misreading of a statute dealing with property taxes.

"It resulted in a finding of an abuse of discretion by failing to exercise any discretion due to Treasury's erroneous and long-standing misinterpretation of a statute," he says. "I'm proud of both these cases since I saw the outcome clearly while everyone else — mostly lawyers — told me I was wrong or dead wrong."

Knickerbocker also handles commercial/industrial property tax appeals.

"I was quite pleased to engineer a large tax refund for my partners on our office building, and significantly reduced the property taxes going forward, all to the pleasant surprise or amazement of most every partner at Howard & Howard," he says. "I should have taken bets on that one!"

Named among Michigan Super Lawyers and AV® rated by Martindale Hubbell, Knickerbocker followed his father's uncle into the law.

"He was the only family member I knew in the law business. He was sharp and had great integrity — I admired that and I knew I didn't want to perform manual labor as my parents both did in blue collar jobs," he says.

"In my teens, I found myself able to problem solve with a good feel for right versus wrong while watching an ongoing decline in what I perceived to be common sense problem-solving. Today it seems most every issue is 'grey' which I consider to be a manifestation of intellectual laziness or dishonesty. I consider myself a pathological truth-teller and many see that and the practice of law as polar — opposites that's disappointing to me."

Knickerbocker started his career path with a double major in political science and sociology, cum laude, from Western Michigan University; followed by a J.D., cum laude, from Wayne State University Law School where he was a member of Alpha Kappa Delta.

"Law school was tough," he says. "There were not too many at Wayne State Law who were able to coast and succeed —  I know I couldn't." "That made graduating in the top 15 percent of my class an accomplishment that I am quite proud of — I earned it!"

A Chelsea native, Knickerbocker moved back there 15 years ago, and makes the 20-mile commute to Ann Arbor — which in boyhood he viewed as "the big city." It was also the place where he would usher Wolverine football games.

"Believe it or not, Cub Scouts, Webelos and Boy Scouts used to usher the games when fans could walk in with significant alcohol in tow," he says with a smile. "So Michigan football has always held a special place in my heart and I now have season tickets."

Always the jock, Knickerbocker played football at Western Michigan University for a year and established many life-long friendships there.

"College football is harder for the student-athlete than even the talking-heads let on, notwithstanding the seemingly cushy accommodations we see now."

Knickerbocker also liked to water ski, snow ski, run, and play basketball and softball until family matters and a severe snow skiing injury made him limit activities to mostly "exercise."

"I've rehabbed from two crushed tibia and two fractured fibula sustained in early 2012 to the point of the utter amazement of orthopedic surgeons and doctors, all of whom had seemingly heard about my horrific injuries, and couldn't believe I was walking normally again, let alone running, skiing, and biking. Neither can I. I learned a lot about the world of rehab and sports injuries too. From the beginning, there were 'low expectations' for a good outcome and that bothered the heck out of me — I wanted my somewhat active life back! It really is what you do rehab-wise when the physical therapist and others are not standing watch over you that makes all of the difference."

Knickerbocker has three daughters, ages 10, 16, and 19. His middle daughter Grace is severely handicapped with Kleefstra Syndrome, a condition not unlike that of severe Down Syndrome.

"Amazing Grace, as I like to call her, has struggled and fought to survive for much of her life," her proud father says. "Needless to say, she and my other two girls placed a premium on non-work hours. It's been rough or very rough at times and for a long time. But my girls are awesome and I'm proud to say that Grace's sisters accept her without a second thought."

Knickerbocker has served as the president of the Cavanaugh Lake Association in Chelsea for over 10 years and, motivated by a "Make-A-Wish" vacation awarded to his handicapped daughter Grace (and family) in 2009, has been engaged in fundraising for Make-A-Wish of Michigan over the last several years.

A member of a neighborhood biking team - "Team Grace" in honor of his daughter —  Knickerbocker has ridden in the Make-A-Wish (a/k/a WAM 300) annual 3-day, 300-mile bike ride from Traverse City to Michigan International Speedway (MIS) in Brooklyn to help raise money to grant "wish" vacations to deserving kids afflicted with (or who defeated) life-threatening illnesses and their families.

"Team Grace has been the No. 1 small team fundraisers for four years running and that's exciting — I'm predicting next year will be the fifth 1st place fundraising award in a row," he says. "Fundraising year after year is hard but having a handicapped child and experiencing a Make-A-Wish vacation first-hand with my family, I know what an incredible 'gift' Make-A-Wish provides in the worst of times for not only the sick child, but the suffering families, especially the well siblings who are often forgotten but endure so many lengthy challenges and disruptions in their young lives."

Published: Mon, Nov 14, 2016

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