'Miracle' attorney passes

Daniel Jerome Wright

Daniel J. Wright, a former Michigan Lawyer of the Year who accomplished the “Michigan Miracle” when he saved the state $178 million in 2003 and became the namesake of the state’s Daniel J. Wright Lifetime Achievement Award, died July 31 in Lansing after a long illness. He was 63.

Wright pulled off the “Michigan Miracle” when he led the state’s efforts to upgrade Michigan’s outdated child support payment system by federally mandated deadlines. As a Special Assistant to then Michigan Supreme Court Chief Justice Maura Corrigan, he met with officials from every state circuit court and relevant agency to solve the previous system’s failure to track child support payments and punish those responsible for missed payments. When he met the deadlines, Wright saved the state $142 million in federal fines and earned the state a $36 million refund for fines it had already paid as a federal incentive to meet the deadlines. Federal officials acknowledged at the time that it took a “miracle” for the state to meet the deadlines.

Former Chief Justice Corrigan, now director of the Michigan Department of Human Services, said Wright was the reason the “Miracle” occurred. “He was a tremendous diplomat and a person of his word,” Corrigan said. “He had a lot of convincing to do to bring all of the counties in line. That was the reason the Michigan Miracle happened.”

For his work to perform the “miracle” and overall dedication to the betterment of children and families throughout Michigan, the state created the Daniel J. Wright Lifetime Achievement Award in 2011. The award recognizes an outstanding advocate for Michigans children and families. Wright received his award from Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder during a ceremony in Lansing last November. Corrigan said Wright told her that the award and the ceremony made for the “happiest day of my life.”

Michigan Lawyers Weekly named Wright “Lawyer of the Year” for his work to implement the program. In his career with the Supreme Court, he has been head of the Friend of the Court Bureau, an administrative division connected to the court, and directed the court’s Child Welfare Services Division.

Carl Gromek, Wright’s former legal partner and friend for 40 years, attended the award ceremony. He said it was easy to understand why the state would want to honor Wright.

“People knew they could believe in him,” Gromek said. “It wasn’t just his breadth of knowledge or charisma, but his honesty and feelings for others that made him so successful.”

His commitment to improving the lives of Michigan’s children and families extended beyond his department leadership. In 2008, Wright started Adoption Forums for the Supreme Court to make it easier for children in foster care to find permanent homes. His efforts helped influence new legislation that gave children more power in the legal decisions that determined their future. Not only that, Wright was part of the Michigan Underground Economy Task Force, a group that sought to find ways to keep parents from hiding assets and income to avoid paying child support.

Older Detroit-area sports fans may remember him for his leadership in a different field. Wright was the quarterback of the 1965 St. Paul Lakers football team when it broke a record 24-game losing streak with a dramatic, 31-26 victory over Detroit St. David High School. It was Wright’s last-minute quarterback sneak that sealed St. Paul’s first victory in four years. He guided the team to three wins in its final four game.

Besides football, Wright was a standout on the St. Paul’s baseball team and was named to the All Catholic Teams for both sports and the All State Team for baseball.

Daniel Jerome “Danny” Wright was born on Oct. 27, 1948 in Detroit to Joseph P. and Alice Wright. He grew up in Grosse Pointe FarmsI with his four siblings: J. Patrick, Maureen, Kathleen and Eileen. He graduated from Grosse Pointe St. Paul High School in 1966 then earned a BA Degree in Journalism from Marquette University in Milwaukee.  Wright attended Marquette University Law School before transferring and graduating from the University of Detroit School of Law in 1973.

Before he joined the Supreme Court staff in 1989, Wright was a partner in the Detroit law firm of Gromek, Bendure and Thomas and also spent six years with the State Appellate Defender Offices in Detroit and Ann Arbor, where he represented impoverished defendants.

Privately, Wright, a movie lover, was a talented singer and guitar player who was also known for his knowledge of American, English and Irish literature. It was not uncommon for him to quote verbatim a passage of a book, a complete poem or lines from a movie when engaged in conversation.

He is survived by his wife, Lynne; a daughter, Margaret; a son, Eamonn; a brother, J. Patrick (Debby); three sisters, Maureen, Kathleen (Michael) Conway and Eileen (Ronald) Dimick; nieces and nephews Kara Conway, Maureen Conway, Ellie Dimick, Julie Dimick, Mary (William) Scott, Mary “Molly” Wright, JJ Conway and Patrick Wright.

Also surviving are Wright’s Sisters In Law: Laurie (John) Fitch, Debra (Steven) Cutshaw, Rhonda (Richard) Grant, Jill (David) Whitmore; Step-Children Tammy Logan and Tina (Charles) Giller; and Grandchildren Chloe Logan, Anna Logan, Makenzie Giller, Ayverie Giller and Jayden Giller.