Experienced hand Former assistant prosecutor shares litigation expertise

By Sheila Pursglove

Legal News

George Ward had a bit piece in the movie, "Presumed Innocent," back when he was Chief Assistant Prosecuting Attorney in the administration of Wayne County Prosecutor John D. O'Hair. The 1990 film adaptation of Scott Turow's novel starred Harrison Ford in the role of the chief assistant prosecutor of fictional Kindle County, wrongly accused of killing his comely colleague.

Ward, an adjunct professor at Michigan State University College of Law, can assure his students the real deal is a far cry from Hollywood movies.

"Be forewarned --there'll be days in the law practice when you feel exhausted and frustrated and begin to doubt the worth of what you do," he says.

He suggests his students keep in mind the words of former U.S. Solicitor General John Davis, to remind them of why they chose law: "True, we build no bridges. We raise no towers. We construct no engines. We paint no pictures. There is little of all we do which the eye can see. But we smooth out difficulties, we relieve stress, we correct mistakes, we take up other men and women's burdens and by our efforts we make possible the peaceful life of men and women in a peaceful state."

Ward, who has also taught at Wayne State University Law School, University of Detroit-Mercy, and the University of Michigan-Dearborn, taught an undergrad class in criminal law last fall at Saginaw Valley State University, where he served on the Board of Control during the Blanchard administration. A native of Saginaw and graduate of SS. Peter and Paul H.S. (now part of Saginaw Nouvel), he enjoyed being back on home turf.

"I had an opportunity to spend one night a week in a familiar environment to visit old friends, and rekindle fond memories," he says.

Ward started teaching while working at Butzel & Long, a job he landed after clerking for Michigan Supreme Court Justice Theodore Souris.

"In those days, the justices had just one clerk, often referred to as an 'elbow clerk, and it was exciting because I was involved in all the cases assigned to Justice Souris for the lead opinion," he says.

Souris introduced him to Phil VanZile, a senior partner at Butzel Long, and Ward became an associate there, spending a lot of time in the library preparing memoranda of law. After a couple of years, he approached Dean Charles King at the Detroit College of Law on Elizabeth Street, to ask about teaching opportunities. As luck would have it, Professor Ralph McKinney, who had taught the second course in Contracts for several years, wanted to be relieved of that assignment; and Ward got signed up to teach Contracts II the very next semester.

"I enjoyed it so much, I've taught at DCL, now MSU Law, ever since," he says.

After Butzel Long, Ward worked for Travis, Warren, Nayer & Burgoyne, municipal attorneys for the Charter Township of Canton; and for Milmet, Vecchio, Ward & Carnago, before becoming Chief Assistant Prosecuting Attorney in Wayne County

"After 20 years in private practice, joining the Prosecutor's Office was like taking a leave and going to graduate school," he says. "What first struck me was: there was not the constant chore of recording billable hours, and no pre-occupation among the assistant prosecutors with profits; they really seemed focused on 'making a difference.' Most satisfying was the high ethical tone set by the boss. John O'Hair is an unfailing gentleman."

The highlight of Ward's years at the Prosecutor's Office -- besides his movie appearance -- was a chance to appear for the People of Michigan before the U.S. Supreme Court in the case of Michigan v. Bennis, a decision by the U.S. Supreme Court, which held that innocent owner defense is not constitutionally mandated by 14th Amendment due process in cases of civil forfeiture. Ward's article about the case, "Bennis and the War against Drugs," was published in The Catholic University of America Law Review, Fall 1996.

After concluding his work at the Prosecutor's Office, Ward summarized his prosecutorial experience in his book, "Liberty and Law: Culture, Court and Consent of the Governed," published by Proctor Publications of Ann Arbor.

Ward, who opened his own practice in Riverview in 2001, has extensive litigation experience in contracts, municipal law, negligence law, and eminent domain, and general commercial and corporate matters; and has represented charter and public school districts in audits of financial transactions, and formulation of corrective measures.

"Litigation is problem-solving -- and the correct answer is generally not obvious," he says. "But there are always two issues: what duty owed the plaintiff did the defendant breach? and what injury did the plaintiff suffer as a result?"

"I enjoy analyzing my client's disputes with an adversary, doing such legal research as is necessary to locate the rights and duties involved, and then hopefully persuading the parties that an amicable resolution is everyone's best interest; but, if need be, preparing to take the matter to trial."

As a freshman at the University of Detroit, Ward was torn between a career in law or journalism. His English professor recommended majoring in English, as the best undergrad training for either career. Ward took the LSAT in his senior year, scoring high enough to get accepted at the University of Michigan Law School.

He has happy memories of his time in Ann Arbor.

"The Law Quad is a classic beauty, the student body comes from across the globe, and there are a number of nationally renowned professors," he says.

His U-M Contracts teacher was Professor J.P Dawson, whose casebook on "Contract Remedies" made the Rose of Abalone case (Sherwood v. Walker) famous among students of the law of contracts.

"I had William Pierce for legislative drafting, and later had occasion to engage him as a consultant when I was Executive Director of the 1971 Detroit Charter Revision Commission and President of the 1981 Wayne County Home Rule Charter Commission," Ward says. "J. Chesterfield Oppeheim, my anti-trust professor, had recently finishing a federal study commission on Anti-Trust Law appointed by AG Herbert Brownell. And Yale Kamisar, who later was a star in the field of criminal justice, taught me Evidence."

Ward, who has served on many legal, professional and community Boards, has been a member of the Michigan Law Revision Commission since 1994 where he enjoys the challenge of keeping the statutory law up-to-date.

"Presently, the Commission is working with a consultant, a local law professor, in an attempt to pull all the diverse provisions of law that deal with various aspects of economic development in the state into a new Economic Development Code," he says. "I can credit Prof. William Pierce of U of M Law for developing my interest in the challenge of using plain English in the drafting of legislation."

Ward and his wife of 44 years, Margaret, visit Chicago each summer to visit two of their children, Teresa and Tom, and their families; the couple's other three children -- Molly, Bill and Anne -- and their families live in Michigan. The Wards are snowbirds, escaping some of the Michigan winter by heading south to Bonita Springs, Fla.

"We enjoy the restaurants and entertainment, visit old friends, and spend as much time on the beach as possible," Ward says.

Published: Wed, Jun 13, 2012