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Police background serves as  asset to employment lawyer

By Sheila Pursglove
Legal News

In the mid-1970s, Lou Eble left his studies at Eastern Michigan University to experience “real life.” First working in retail, it was a Saturday night ride-along with a friend at the Detroit Police Department, that introduced Eble to policing – and he was hooked.

“The job was not only exciting, it was a way to make an important contribution to the community,” says Eble, a senior attorney with Nemeth Law in Detroit.

Because Detroit was laying off officers, and no other major police departments in Michigan were hiring, Eble headed to Texas and spent four years as a state trooper in the highway patrol.

 “The Department of Public Safety has a great reputation and is one of the finest law enforcement agencies in the country,” he says. “One division, the Texas Rangers, is legendary. The people were great to work with, and I always felt proud wearing the DPS uniform.

“The best part was the ability to be proactive. In traffic enforcement you often are able to prevent a tragedy – for example, by arresting a drunk driver or stopping a reckless driver – before a catastrophic event occurs.”

Eble then joined the Houston PD and worked in patrol, the criminal intelligence division, and as a sergeant in the homicide division.

 “To me, being a homicide detective is the greatest job on earth,” he says. “Homicide was, and is, the real world. You are not dealing in theories but real life situations.”

In his mid-30s, Eble, a graduate of Finney High School in Detroit, attended the University of Houston-Downtown part-time, but found it a tough grind.
“Houston was experiencing more than 600 homicides a year and the detectives were working almost around the clock,” he says.

 “I got tired of studying for finals while in the hallways of the courts waiting to testify.”

Leaving the force to study full time, he earned his undergraduate degree in criminal justice, magna cum laude, and three years later graduated, cum laude, from Harvard Law School.

“It seems like I wanted to be a lawyer my whole life, probably from watching too many episodes of Perry Mason,” he says.

After working as a labor and employment lawyer for the Houston firm of Baker Botts, where he met his future wife, Eble brought his family to Michigan and eventually joined Nemeth Law, where he primarily handles employment litigation.

“In most employment law cases, the main facts are not in dispute – for example, that the plaintiff was discharged. What is in dispute is the motive,” he notes. “Employment law is very people oriented. I love interviewing clients, witnesses, and opponents.”

Named among Michigan Super Lawyers, and nominated as a Fellow of the Litigation Counsel of America in 2009, Eble is amazed at some of the things he comes up against.

“It’s a good sign when I ask plaintiffs a question such as ‘Why do you believe you were discharged because of your age?’ and the plaintiff answers, ‘Is that what I’m claiming?’ Believe it or not, that has happened on several occasions – talk about lack of preparation.”

In one case, a plaintiff had minor knee surgery, and claimed, under the American Disabilities Act, that he was discharged as a result of his “disability” – and repeatedly testified he could not perform essential job functions because of his bad knee.    

“It became apparent the plaintiff was greatly embellishing the extent of his injury – and that his attorney had no knowledge of the ADA,” Eble says.
“When I asked the plaintiff what his employer could have done to accommodate him, he replied ‘Nothing.’ I asked, ‘Are you saying you cannot perform the essential functions of your job with or without a reasonable accommodation?” He replied, ‘That’s exactly what I’m saying.’ The plaintiff’s attorney, apparently for emphasis, asked the man the same question, with the same result. Needless to say, summary judgment was granted.”

In another case, Eble had an attorney depose a witness in a sexual harassment lawsuit.

“For the life of me, I could not figure out why the plaintiff’s counsel wanted to depose this witness,” he says. “The witness had no apparent connection to the plaintiff. After hours of contentious questioning by plaintiff’s counsel, I was still at a loss as to how the witness was relevant.”

After the deposition concluded, plaintiff’s counsel handed Eble an age discrimination lawsuit filed against Eble’s client, in which the woman who had just been deposed was listed as the main comparator to the age discrimination plaintiff, with her name in bold in eight paragraphs.

 “I informed plaintiff’s counsel he had taken the deposition under false pretenses – he replied ‘so what?’ Fortunately, the federal court saw the problem,” Eble says. The deposition was stricken for all purposes in the age discrimination lawsuit, including impeachment, and plaintiff’s counsel was sanctioned $3,600.

A contributor to the development of defamation law, Eble’s Baylor Law Review article, “Self Publication Defamation: Employee Right or Employee Burden?” has been cited or otherwise relied on by at least five states, including four state supreme court decisions, as support for decisions to reject the self-publication defamation cause of action. It is also cited in numerous law review articles and is referenced and discussed in a 2003 published law school textbook “Torts: Cases and Materials.”

Eble notes his law enforcement background is a great asset. “I believe some attorneys, especially new attorneys, are too eager to believe what witnesses tell them,” he explains.

“Not me – I interrogate my witnesses and/or clients much to the same extent as I do a deponent. If there are bad facts, I want to know about them as soon as possible, not in the middle of a deposition or, worse, at trial.”

But on one occasion, that zeal backfired. As an attorney for the Houston Police Officers Union, Eble assisted officers in providing written statements to internal affairs. One patrol officer, accused of being excessively aggressive with teenagers during a traffic stop, claimed he could not remember the alleged incident. Eble told him that in his own years as a highway patrolman, stopping more than 10,000 cars a year, he could remember every incident that got out of hand. Chastened, the officer then said he did recall the stop and provided a detailed statement. A couple of union attorneys congratulated Eble because he had likely saved the officer from a lengthy suspension for being untruthful.

But as it turned out the teens had written down the wrong badge number.

“This explained why the officer initially told me he did not remember the traffic stop,” Eble says. “The moral: Sometimes you should believe your client!”
A member of the Oakland County Sheriff’s Advisory Council, Eble also has served as a Special Deputy for the Oakland Country Sheriff’s Department Cold Case Unit since its inception, almost six years ago.

“It’s a wonderful concept – former law enforcement personnel and a former prosecutor working on old homicide cases at almost no cost to the county,” he explains. “A great idea and one that has been used by various departments in the country.”

In a recent reminder that he has been out of law enforcement on a full-time basis for a number of years, he and his partner were in an unmarked police car tracking down witnesses on an old homicide case. One of the witnesses called his partner’s cell phone and started providing crucial information, but Eble had difficulty hearing over the busy police radio. He repeatedly pressed a button on the radio trying to turn it off – until his partner pressed another button to silence it. A sergeant then called to inquire about their safety.

“It turned out the button I had repeatedly pressed was an emergency button signaling we needed help,” Eble explains. “Back in the day, we didn’t have emergency buttons.”

 Eble and his wife Jennifer, an attorney at Bush Seyferth & Paige in Troy, were both marathon runners, and ran in the 2004 Boston Marathon. Jennifer has competed and won many 50-mile ultra runs and completed one 100-mile run.

“I run very little now because of arthritis in my left knee,” says Eble, a member of the Multiple Sclerosis Marathon Strider Team for several years. “However, I’m still very active and train about six days a week.”

Their four children – Rachel, Louie, Joey, and Faith – enjoy wrestling, soccer, cross country, track and hockey, and the whole family likes downhill skiing, cross country skiing, running, and cycling.

The family lives in Rochester Hills, where Eble has served as a citizen representative on the Public Safety Committee.

“We love the area,” he says. “It has great schools, parks, and lakes close by. We moved to Michigan in 1999 and have never looked back. We absolutely love living here, even in spite of the last two winters.”

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