At 'Epicenter' WSU law alum assumes role as governor's legal director

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By Paul Janczewski

Legal News

Michael F. Gadola never planned for his career to unfold like this. But how could a Catholic kid from Flint with an interest in politics and current affairs look into the future and see himself sitting in downtown Lansing as the legal affairs director to Gov. Rick Snyder?

"I'm not one of those people who had a 10-year plan, or a five-year plan, or even a one-year plan," Gadola said. "It was just, 'What's next?'"

It wasn't like Gadola, 49, was ho-hum about anything, just flipping from one job to the next, drifting where the tides took him. He did whatever job he had very well, impressed the right people along the way, took advantage of several excellent opportunities and saw his career progress in ways and places that no law school graduate could ever imagine.

"I got to do things I enjoyed doing, and it's worked out really well," he said.

Did it ever.

Gadola was born and raised in Flint and attended four Catholic elementary schools.

"They kept closing on me," he joked.

He went to Powers Catholic High School and graduated from there, finally landing in a school that stayed open. Coming from a strong Catholic family, Gadola said it was "just what you did."

Although his father, Paul V. Gadola, was an attorney, and later a U.S. District judge, and his grandfather, Paul Gadola Sr., was a Genesee County Circuit judge, Mike, as he prefers to be called, never had a mindset to enter law, "although everything pointed in that direction, given the family history." His uncle, the late Thomas L. Gadola, was a Genesee County Probate judge, and Tom's son, John A. Gadola, is also a Probate Court judge there. Mike Gadola's cousin, Miles Gadola, is a Republican Genesee County commissioner.

In high school, he was drawn into debate and public speaking classes, and had interests in politics and current events. He read a lot of magazines and newspapers, and attended political conventions with his father, a staunch Republican, who also ran for public office several times. Gadola spent much of his youth working on campaigns, stuffing envelopes and other low-level political chores.

After graduation, Gadola attended James Madison College at Michigan State University, a program that produces future attorneys and features smaller class size but is more demanding and rigorous with the emphasis on research and writing. He specialized in international relations. Although he began in 1979, Gadola did not graduate until 1985, taking time off here and there to work on political campaigns and other odd jobs.

"Like a lot of people that age, I had to figure out what I was going to do," he said.

But he harbored a strong interest in things political, and said the period ushered in an interesting time in state Republican politics, with President Ronald Reagan and Gov. John Engler. Gadola landed a job in Lansing, working in the mailroom at the Department of Licensing and Regulation and for the Senate Republican Caucus Services. In 1986, Gadola managed a state senate campaign in Saginaw.

Eventually, Gadola took the LSAT, did well and decided to go to law school.

"At a certain point the logic of going to law school couldn't be resisted," he said. "It would give me more of a career than kicking around working on political campaigns the rest of my life."

He entered Wayne State University Law School in 1987 and graduated three years later. He also met his wife, Prevti, in the first week of law school. They have two children, Sameer, 16, and Malini, who prefers to be called Molly, 13.

Gadola also was Editor-in-Chief of the Wayne Law Review, which helped him get hired by the Dickinson-Wright law firm. Gadola believed he'd become a litigator, given his earlier success at public speaking, debate, and argument. But the opportunities to argue cases in court were few and far between for a first-year associate.

So Gadola left there in 1991 to become Gov. Engler's deputy legal counsel and counsel for executive organization, which included working on judicial appointments, tribal issues, including gaming, prison litigation for the Department of Corrections, and emergency management matters for the State Police.

"It involved a lot of the same sort of things I'm working on here today," Gadola said. "There was a wide variety, and a lot of responsibility."

From 1995-96, he became Director of the Office of Regulatory Reform, but returned to Dickinson-Wright for two years, working in the Lansing office and specializing in general litigation, telecommunications, and election law to obtain more experience and round out his resume with traditional law practice.

Gadola also figured he needed that if he followed in his father's footsteps and ran for a judicial position someday.

"But it was not my cup of tea, not what I envisioned, and it confirmed for me that large firm law practice was not for me," he said. "And I missed politics and public policy."

Gadola said he enjoyed the law firm and loved the people.

"It was a very good proving ground and mentorship for me as a young lawyer, and I gained a lot of valuable experience," he said.

He returned to Engler's staff and took up duties he had earlier, but saw another opportunity open up in 1999 when he became House Majority Counsel. Gadola knew that Engler's chief legal counsel would stay there as long as he was in office, and saw this as a way "to be introduced to something totally different."

That happened to be the first time term limits were in effect in the legislature, and nearly 60 members were new to their seats.

"We were all kind of new, and it was an exciting time," Gadola said. "In some ways, it was the most fun I've had in my career around the Capitol. The legislature has a different energy and pace. It's very energizing to be in the middle of that process. I like dealing with people and personalities, and watching the sausage get made, and how deals come together, and being at the epicenter of all these big decisions."

As always seemed to happen for Gadola, another opportunity came in 2001 when he moved to the state Supreme Court as counsel. He later became general counsel for the State Court Administrator's Office. He stayed there for 10 years, the longest time he's had at any job.

"I didn't expect to be there that long, but that's how it worked out," he said.

Gadola dealt with a variety of issues with a small core group of staff and decision makers.

"I was right in the middle of every significant decision or recommendation that was made during my 10 years there," he said.

Gadola said it was an interesting time in the state Supreme Court's history, "some of it more pleasant than others," as new judges took office and the shift in the balance of power occurred.

"I think I helped, and we managed to accomplish some beneficial things and worked for some very exceptional people," Gadola said.

Whether the justices in power were conservatives or liberals, Gadola said he "just looked out for the best interest of the court."

As a Republican, Gadola dealt with strong personalities from his own party, and with Democrats throughout his career.

"I've had good relationships because I treat people as people," he said.

Last November, Gadola was named as Snyder's legal affairs director. He started in his latest government position in January. Gadola said he didn't lobby for the spot, and did not work on the Snyder campaign, and only got to know Snyder a few weeks before the election.

Gadola believes as Snyder was scouting for talent to round out his staff, people put in "a good word for me."

Being a Republican certainly doesn't hurt, but Gadola likes to think he got Snyder's eye because of his body of work throughout his career.

"Rick Snyder didn't owe me anything," he said. "He could have given this job to anyone."

As counsel to the governor, Gadola handles an array of issues and litigation in matters of legislation, judicial appointments, executive orders and other matters.

"I'm not the guy who represents him in court if he's sued," Gadola said, noting that's the job of the state Attorney General.

Gadola has been on the job since January, and said "it's (been) a whirlwind."

"It's been so busy we barely had time to catch our breath," he said. "Now, we are no less busy, but less frantic than we were in January and February. The governor keeps us very busy. He has a lot of ideas about re-inventing Michigan, and that's what we're doing. And I'm witnessing that up close."

Gadola said his job carries much responsibility, but his staff -- Deputy Legal Counsels Beth Clement and Dave Murley, and staffers Cheri Arwood and Lynn Seaks -- means he can approach the job with a ton of confidence.

"I feel pretty good about the work we're doing and the soundness of the advice we're giving (Snyder)," he said.

Gadola said this job entails everything he's ever wanted -- "public policy, politics, the law, working with great attorneys on interesting legal issues and being in the center of the action, having a seat on the table when important decisions are being made that affect the future of the state and the people who live here."

So Gadola may not meet the book definition of what most believe a lawyer should be, but he's fine with that, too.

"You can do other things with the law, and my career is a pretty good example of that," he said. And other family members who are judges do not look at him as the black sheep of the family.

"I don't think they feel sorry for me," he said. "I've done okay."

Published: Tue, Jun 21, 2011

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