Remembering Robinson

Legacy of former Wayne Law dean to be celebrated at event

By Tom Kirvan
Legal News

President of the State Bar of Michigan from 1990-91, the late Jim Robinson was a revered figure in Detroit and Washington legal circles, where members of the bench and bar spoke of him as a “legal giant,” a “bright light,” a “scholar,” a “mentor,” and a man of “exceptional integrity.”

For Joe Papelian, who worked under Robinson when he served as U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan in the late 1970s, such glowing terms only begin to tell the true story of a man committed to the ideals of justice.

“Without question, he was the most influential person in my professional life,” said Papelian, deputy general counsel-litigation for Delphi Automotive and a past president of the Oakland County Bar Foundation. “He touched many lives, both on a professional and personal level, and stood for excellence in everything he did. There was no one quite like him. I was honored to be his colleague and his friend.”

So much so that Papelian and his wife, Linda, will host a reception at their Bloomfield Hills home on Friday, Sept. 6 in support of the James K. Robinson Scholarship Fund at Wayne State University Law School. The event will run from 5:30-7:30 that evening with donations earmarked for the presentation of an annual $28,000 scholarship to a deserving Wayne Law student.

U.S. Court of Appeals Judge Ralph Guy and Gerald Rosen, chief judge of the U.S. District Court in Detroit, are among the legal luminaries expected to be on hand for the scholarship event, according to Papelian, who is helping spearhead planning efforts for the late summer celebration with other members of the Scholarship Fund Committee. They include Robinson’s wife, Marti, an attorney and recently appointed member of the Consumer Product Safety Commission; Wayne Law Dean Jocelyn Benson; Tom Cranmer, of Miller Canfield; Bill Winsten and William Hochkammer, both of Honigman Miller; Thomas Kienbaum, of Kienbaum Opperwall; Richard Rossman, former U.S. Attorney in Detroit; and Kristy Pagan, of Wayne Law School.

Robinson, who died of gastrointestinal cancer in August 2010 at age 66, enjoyed a brilliant legal career that included stays with major firms in Detroit and Washington, D.C. Those career stops were sandwiched around public service appointments as U.S. Attorney in Detroit and Assistant Attorney General with the Department of Justice. In 1977 at the age of 34, he was appointed U.S. Attorney by President Jimmy Carter. From 1993-98, he served as dean of Wayne State Law School, his legal alma mater. A native of Grand Rapids, Robinson and his wife created the endowed scholarship at Wayne State as a way to “give back” to the school that was dear to their hearts.

“Jim was so grateful to Wayne for the wonderful opportunities it afforded him during his legal career,” Marti Robinson said. “The scholarship that we created while he was still alive was a way to say ‘thanks’ for what Wayne meant to him. He would be delighted to know that it is helping the scholarship recipients pay for their law school education.”

Invitations for the September 6 reception hosted by the Papelians were mailed last week. Those interested in supporting the Robinson Scholarship Fund can contact Kristy Pagan at