Strength and Honor: Noted attorney follows firm?s guiding principles

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By Debra Talcott
Legal News

When attorney Michael Hohauser talks about his family, his work, and life in general, his voice exudes passion and joy.  A collector of antique microscopes and a fan of poetry, Scrabble, and gin — the card game he plays with his wife Sue — Hohauser has an enviable energy level and admirable work ethic.

A past president of the Oakland County Bar Association (1990-2000), Hohauser was this year’s recipient of the Frances R. Avadenka Memorial Award, which is named for the organization’s first female president. The award honors a member of the OCBA who exhibits leadership, industry, and community involvement.

“It is always humbling to be chosen for an award,” says Hohauser.  “And one always worries about being worthy and asks, ‘have I really done enough?’”

That “enough” came in the form of Hohauser’s support of Lighthouse of Oakland County, where he has served on the board and on several committees, was vice president twice, and then president.

“It was during my term that PATH (Pontiac Area Transitional Housing) opened. That wonderful project was the work of many dedicated people. I was part of it all but by no means an extraordinary part.”

Hohauser credits Noreen Keating of Lighthouse, whom he met by chance at a Detroit restaurant many years ago, for inspiring his involvement in the organization.

When presenting Hohauser with the award at the June 3 annual meeting of the OCBA, Judge Ed Avadenka talked about his commitment to Lighthouse, PATH, and bar activities and acknowledged his years of service on various OCBA committees and State Bar committees, his teaching at University of Detroit Mercy and Cooley Law School, his lecturing, and his publishing. Hohauser’s contributions to specialty bar associations such as Straker Bar, Women’s Bar, Arab-American Bar, B’nai B’rith Barristers, and Lighthouse also were highlighted.

“I was gone a lot,” concedes Hohauser, “but the home fires were never in danger,” he says admiringly of Sue, his partner of 43 years, whom he met as an undergrad on the campus of Michigan State University.

“One fine fall morning, I saw a girl, graceful as a fawn, running across the green in Brody Complex.  A natural pessimist, I thought I could never have a girl like that.”

However, a few weeks later, Sue’s roommate made a point of introducing the two in the dorm’s cafeteria. 

“She was wearing a wool A-line dress with a bow. The bow was off kilter. I straightened it,” remembers Hohauser.

The rest, as we say, is history. Sue called that evening to ask if Hohauser would be her philosophy tutor, and the wo began their friendship over discussions of German philosopher Martin Heidegger. That fall Sue took her future husband to see her grandpa’s dilapidated and deserted farm in the Irish Hills.

“She wanted to make coffee, but because there was no running water, I figured we would just leave,” recalls Hohauser.

Instead, Sue picked up an old steel fencepost and walked off into a valley 200 yards behind the farmhouse.

“She kept saying, ‘I know it’s here somewhere’ and stabbed the ground with her post. After two or three strikes, up ‘it’ came — an artesian spring. She knelt and filled her vessel, and I never knew thirst again.”

When asked to share the secret of a long and successful marriage, Hohauser is quick to reply.

“The secret is to find actual love and then to work the find.  It also helps when one partner is a water wizard,” he adds.

For 37 years the Hohausers have enjoyed living in Rochester, the community where they raised their daughter Elizabeth, son Jonathan, and daughter Kate. The couple was also there to help Hohauser’s brother Harvey, a single parent, with the upbringing of his three sons, Jay, Todd, and Eric.

Last month the Hohausers enjoyed a delightful Father’s Day brunch prepared by Sue, who is known for her culinary talents.

“We had two kinds of quiche, crepes, fresh fruit, industrial-strength Greek pasta salad, buttermilk waffles, and lemon meringue pie,” recalls Hohauser, saying that “everything was from scratch — homemade.”

Family members and neighbors dined al fresco, overlooking what Hohauser describes as rolling acres that Sue planted herself.

Life, however, wasn’t always so comfortable for Michael Hohauser, who attended college on scholarships and is thankful for every achievement he has made and every blessing he now enjoys.

“To say our situation back home was ‘modest’ is too kind,” he reflects.  “My childhood was a little painful and difficult.  Poverty will do that.  Harv and I worked to help support our family from the time we were 13 or 14.”

The “drive” that the Hohauser brothers exhibited as young teens from humble beginnings has helped them achieve much more for the next generation.  Harvey Hohauser is a business owner, and Michael leads Hohauser Law Firm in Troy, the culmination of his many years in the legal profession.

“I hung out my first shingle in 1974,” says Hohauser, who earned his J.D. from Detroit College of Law and says personal injury work “came naturally” to him.

Around 1980 he joined George Googasian, Steve Hopkins, and Craig Forhan in forming Googasian, Hopkins, Hohauser and Forhan.

“What a privilege it was to be with those men.  We were together about 15 years — wonderful growth years for me during which I had the necessary exposures to learn the craft.”

When that firm broke up, Hohauser and Al Harnisch formed an association.

“It was great being with Al, but the drive from Rochester to Bingham Farms couldn’t last. Our association was too short, but our friendship will endure, no matter the distance.”

In 2000 Hohauser opened his office on the corner of I-75 and Big Beaver, a comfortable 11 miles from his front door.  The guiding principles at Hohauser Law Firm are “Strength and Honor.”

The idea came to Hohauser one day when he and an old friend, Tom Trenta, were discussing the state of the practice of law.

“Tom passed away last year from cancer resulting from his exposure to Agent Orange in Vietnam,” says Hohauser.  “Tom was — and is — a great man and a great soul.  We were just talking about lawyering, generally, and the qualities of a great lawyer:  strength and honor.”

That conversation stayed with Hohauser, who adds the words to his firm’s marketing materials because those principles are, as he says, “in what we do.”

Last year Hohauser represented a client who had lost both arms and both legs as a result of medical malpractice.

“It was a wonderful feeling to help that man who has been used so badly by the medical establishment. It was a big case. But every case has the potential to help a person or family or to make a difference in people’s lives.”

Hohauser says that for the past 10 years he has been fortunate to have attorney Sarah Kuchon practicing with him.

“What a strong and sensitive intellect!  What attention to detail!”

Another member of the team is Michelle Archembeau-Felder, an RN trained at the University of Michigan.

“Michelle came with Henry Ford Hospital experience. With those two women beside me, there is nothing we can’t do.”

Hohauser’s daughter Elizabeth was with the firm until recently. She is currently on leave of absence to enjoy spending time with her two children, Max and Maggie, who are turning out to be worthy Scrabble opponents for their grandparents.

In addition to running a busy law practice and getting together with his large extended family, Hohauser enjoys writing. Considered by many to be a bit of a wordsmith, he is currently working on an article that analyzes the concept of privity as a necessary element to establish duty and liability in the disciplines of medicine, architecture/engineering, accounting, and law.

“The idea for this piece began to take root as a result of a course I taught at Cooley titled Professional Liability,” Hohauser explains.

Hohauser is quick to point out that Sue stays equally busy.  She is active in the Meals on Wheels program and serves as caregiver for the couple’s 4-month-old grandchild, Angela Grace.

“Last Thursday was Meals on Wheels day. Did Sue get somebody else to make her deliveries?  No.  She packed up this virtually newborn little lady and hauled the baby around delivering all of her scheduled meals. That’s grandma!”

Despite their busy schedules, life also offers plenty of leisure time at the couple’s Charlevoix cottage, where the two stay busy pursuing their personal passions.

“Sue and I read. We eat. I do carpentry. She gardens. We eat. We fish the lake. We eat. If the kids come up, we play cards. We eat.”

The Hohausers will, no doubt, agree that the life they have achieved together typifies a line from of one of his favorite poets, Edna St. Vincent Millay:  Beauty is whatever gives joy.

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