CDAM honors pair of attorneys; Assoc. held awards banquet March 18

By Mike Scott

Legal News

Attorneys Steve Fishman and Margaret Sind Raben were honored at the annual Criminal Defense Attorney of Michigan awards banquet March 18.

Fishman received the CDAM's Right to Counsel Award for his commitment to represent clients and assist other defense attorneys, said Jill Price, chairman of the CDAM awards committee and an attorney in the Federal Defender Office in Detroit.

Fishman, a Detroit-based lawyer, has represented many high-profile clients over the years, from professional and college sports athletes to fellow attorney Geoffrey Fieger. Yet it is his work with all clients that helps him stand apart.

"Steve will represent any client from the high-profile to one no one knows with the same level of vigor," Price said. "He's a smart and savvy negotiator and believes strongly in the Constitution. He'll take on any case no matter how unpopular it may be.

When asked about his reaction to the award, Fishman chuckled, saying, "I never thought I was old enough to get these awards." But he is humbled by the recognition, he said, particularly because it comes from his peers in criminal defense law.

"It's tremendous because (the CDAM) is an important voice in dealing with issues that relate to human rights," Fishman said. "It is critically important to have an organization that speaks up for ordinary people. Rich folks have enough people already speaking up for them."

Sind Raben received the President's Award, given to past CDAM presidents who have gone above and beyond their roles to further the causes of association members. She is a partner with the Detroit-based firm of Gurewitz & Raben, PLC. One of her most notable efforts has been to communicate the efforts and beliefs of defense attorneys around Michigan to state legislators. She also has been instrumental in the Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM) movement in Michigan. FAMM is an organization that provides a national voice for fair and proportionate sentencing laws headquartered in Washington D.C.

"She has committed a significant amount of time and energy to these efforts and really has put forth her perspective in a way that benefits the rights of defendants in Michigan," Price said. "I know that if I needed a great lawyer I would go to both Steve and Peggy as among my first choices."

The CDAM created its annual awards banquet six years ago but the organization has been in existence for more than 35 years. The awards typically honor attorneys who have done exemplary work in helping to ensure justice for all state residents and those who have helped to promote the efforts of the CDAM through extraordinary means, Samuels said.

The association also provides a wide range of training topics to its nearly 400 members, and other criminal defense attorneys each year, said CDAM President Jim Samuels, managing partner of Samuels Law Office in Big Rapids. Topics that are frequently covered include the use and introduction and research of scientific evidence and the role that crime labs play in gathering information along with a wide range of corrections issues.

One such issue related to Michigan's jail system is the awarding of disciplinary credits for prisoners, a controversial topic for some. The CDAM is also actively bringing the topic of the process of providing indigent legal defense for clients and for compensating lawyers who take on such clients, Samuels said.

The state traditionally is among the bottom five in the country for defense lawyer compensation for such cases. Payment currently is determined by counties although Samuels hopes that the state legislature will revisit the issue.

"Clients have an absolute constitutional right to the best attorney they can get and so this is a sixth amendment issue," Samuels said. "There is really no comparison to how prosecuting attorneys and defense attorneys are compensated (in indigent cases)."

Another issue that has received attention from the CDAM is Michigan's medical marijuana law which Samuels also feels should be revisited by the state legislature because of vague wording that makes it difficult in his view for some parties to understand how marijuana can be legally used by state residents for medicinal purposes.

"We continue to follow the appellate decisions closely," Samuels said. "The way it is written is a problem."

To help increase its collective voice, the CDAM is trying to attract and recruit more members, comprised of both young and established defense attorneys. The biggest benefit to being a member is the broad network that lawyers can take advantage of when they have questions for expert defense attorneys. With a large percentage of statewide defense attorneys being a part of very small or solely owned practices, this extended network can be invaluable for advice.

"We have established a tradition where our lawyers are always quick to call back other members," Samuels said. "I've been practicing for about 30 years and I use this network to help with my pleadings from time to time."

Published: Mon, Apr 11, 2011