Get to Know Gerald Fisher

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By Sheila Pursglove
Legal News

A long time municipal attorney, Gerald Fisher is now a full time professor at the WMU Cooley Law School, Auburn Hills campus, teaching property law, constitutional law, and state and local government law.

For many years, Fisher practiced with Secrest Wardle, specializing in municipal and land use regulation law. He served as general counsel for cities (Novi), villages (Bingham Farms) and townships (Independence, Bloomfield, West Bloomfield) and as Special Counsel for governmental entities throughout the state. He continues to consult in municipal law matters, primarily on behalf of local governments on issues relating to subjects he teaches at Cooley. 

Fisher earned BS and MA degrees at Michigan State University, a J.D. from the Detroit College of Law (now Michigan State University College of Law) and an L.L.M. from Wayne State University in local government finance. He has appeared regularly in the Michigan Supreme Court in municipal law cases, and has been a long time member of the Section Council on the State Bar Government Law Section. He was a founder and first chairperson of the Oakland County Municipal Law Committee, and is an emeritus member and past president of the Oakland County Bar Foundation.

In 2001, Fisher was honored as Lawyer of the Year in Michigan, recognized by Michigan Lawyers Weekly, and named as one of the Best Lawyers in America in 2007.

Fisher is currently the chairperson of the Oakland County Parks and Recreation Commission. He is married to Julie Fisher, has two children, and resides in Clarkston. 

What would surprise people about your job? I am considerably older than nearly all the students I teach. Yet, it’s a continuing and pleasant surprise that, on the most basic of issues discussed in classes, including such things as “race,” “sexual orientation,” “housing justice,” and “due process,” there remains an extremely meaningful common student-teacher understanding. 

Why did you become a lawyer? As I encountered business, economics, and social issues in undergraduate school, it became clear that principles of law represented critical ingredients needed for a full understanding. I wanted to be in a position to combine ideas about what ought to happen is society with a full means of understanding, and this required the study of law.

What is the most unusual thing you’ve done? After practicing law with two small firms over a five-year period following law school, I opened a law office on my own in a very small town – with no clients to speak of. My landlord’s 10-year old son came into my office before I shelved all my books and asked: “Well Mr. Fisher, what are you going to do now?” The magnitude of the task ahead was revealed by that innocent question!

What’s your favorite law-related TV show? A few years ago, I purchased the entire set of Sherlock Holmes adventures for the TV series made in the 1980s and 1990s, starring Jeremy Brett. I still watch them, and nearly always learn something new about Sherlock’s cases.

Who are your role models – real and/or fictional? I’ve had the good fortune of having many role models, from sports figures as a younger person to great lawyers over the years. One constant model who was real, but seems almost fictional, is Ben Franklin. He was a true Renaissance man who attempted to refine his skills in many areas of life. We are continuously reaping the benefits of his wisdom, applied in the formulation of the Constitution and practical aspects of life.

What advice do you have for someone starting law school? That they must understand the basic fact that it will be mandatory for them, as well as parents, spouses, companions, and perhaps other close friends, to make exceptional sacrifices in order to make the necessary expenditures of time to achieve real success in law school. This caution is always followed by the point that the sacrifices will all be worthwhile.

What’s your proudest moment as a lawyer? My proudest moment was associated with the solution to a very sticky problem involving excessive use of motorboats on an inland lake in a township I was representing. The township supervisor directed I do something about boat overcrowding. This task faced two significant challenges: first, state law establishes exclusive control over the operation of motorboats on inland lakes, and second, the court of appeals had only months before held that local governments had no authority under the zoning power to regulate inland lakes. In the face of waves of rather blunt criticism, I prepared an ordinance under the township’s general police power authority (rather than using the zoning authority) to address the number of motorboats that could be docked on lakes in the community. The circuit court promptly threw the ordinance out as being unauthorized. The Court of Appeals soon followed the same course. However, the Michigan Supreme Court granted leave to appeal, and after briefing and argument upheld the ordinance as a valid exercise of the police power.

If you could trade places with someone for a day, who would that be? I would trade places with perhaps the most creative talent of all time, Mozart. To have the brief experience of an astounding and apparently endless flow of creativity would be exhilarating. If the trade were made, I can’t imagine how boring he would find my life!

What do you do to relax? I find relaxation in listening to music, doing yoga, meditating, walking, and having a nice meal with family and friends.

Favorite local hangouts? Restaurants in southeast Michigan: Hong Hua (Chinese), Mr. Paul’s Chop House (with a great blues pianist), and the White Horse Inn.

Favorite websites? WSJ.com, which provides what I find to be the best, and most even-handed, writing on legal, political, and all types of other subjects.

Favorite music? Classical (Mozart, Beethoven, Chopin, and Handel), jazz (played by Oscar Peterson and Wynton Marsalis), and opera (Verde).

What are your happiest memories? During high school: being a backup practice goalie for the Detroit Red Wings and scrimmaging against Gordie Howe. After high school: being invited to the Red Wing rookie camp in Hamilton, Ontario. In law school: finding that hard work actually pays off in the law. After law school: marrying my wife, Julie, watching my son win honors at a 6th grade state-wide math competition, giving a speech at my daughter’s wedding.

What is your most treasured material possession? My home in Clarkston situated on a peaceful lake.

What do you wish someone would invent? A means of transporting people for short and long distances without traffic and other dangers.

What’s the most awe-inspiring place you’ve ever been? I was dumbfounded when I visited several canyons in Utah. They are other-worldly, and their natural beauty simply takes your breath away.

If you could have one super power, what would it be? It would be marvelous if some person could have the power to assist others in healing themselves when stricken with medical or mental ills.

What is something most people don’t know about you? Most people don’t know (and some people question when I tell them) that I was a goalie for the Detroit Junior Red Wings, and then for the Michigan State University varsity hockey team.

If you could have dinner with three people, living or dead, who would they be?
Abe Lincoln, Mark Twain, and Winston Churchill. What a wide-ranging dinner discussion for which to be present!

What’s the best advice you ever received? Try to recognize and be prepared to act on opportunity.

Favorite places to spend money? On excellent charities, family education, and meals with family and friends.  

What is your motto? Set goals high and give the best effort to achieve them,

Which living person(s) do you most admire? My children, because of their capability, and desire to use their knowledge and skills for good purposes.

What do you consider to be your greatest achievement?
I believe I’ve gained an understanding of several aspects of life to enable me to help others achieve some of their desired goals.