Altered Course Detroit attorney became deft at changing direction


 By Tom Kirvan

Legal News
He once harbored thoughts of becoming a priest.
For those who have dueled with him in legal circles, it might be hard to picture David DuMouchel as a man of the cloth. 
His legal persona, developed over the course of a 35-year career in the law, can be tough. His language salty. His views disarmingly direct. 
He is, after all, one of the foremost criminal law attorneys in the state, a man who heads the Corporate Compliance, Internal Investigations and Criminal Defense practice for the Detroit office of Butzel Long. 
He has been recognized by state and national legal publications for his courtroom expertise. He recently was named “Detroit White Collar Criminal Defense Lawyer of the Year 2010” by Best Lawyers in America, and has been listed in that publication every year since its first edition a quarter of a century ago. He also is in the top tier of litigation attorneys in Chambers USA Leading Lawyers for Business, and is a fellow of the prestigious American College of Trial Lawyers, whose membership is limited to 1 percent of the attorneys in the state. DuMouchel is in select company as a recipient of the Leonard Gilman Award, an honor he received from the Federal Bar Association as the outstanding criminal law practitioner in the Eastern District of Michigan.
Yet, there DuMouchel stood in 1968, at a Catholic crossroads, weighing the possibility of a career in the priesthood after graduating from Western Michigan University.
“I taught at a Catholic school, lived in a rectory, and fully intended to be a priest,” said DuMouchel, who served as chairman of the Michigan Attorney Grievance Commission from 1978-85. “It seemed like it was the path I was supposed to take.”
Indeed it did. In May of 1968, DuMouchel received word that he had been awarded a coveted scholarship to attend law school at the University of Notre Dame. It was a $6,600 scholarship award that would have covered three years of tuition at the prestigious law school.
Yet, on the eve of classes in the fall, DuMouchel turned down the scholarship offer, opting to sign up for the seminary instead.
“It was not one of my brighter decisions in life,” DuMouchel said of the change of heart. “Not too many people would turn their back on a scholarship offer to Notre Dame, but I did.”
However, it wouldn’t be long before the Kalamazoo native discovered that the priesthood wasn’t for him, deciding to take a career turn as a probation officer with the district court. It was there that he began to find his legal footing under the guidance of Judge Richard Enslen, now a member of the U.S. District Court bench.
“He was an early mentor and personal role model of mine,” DuMouchel said of Judge Enslen, a U.S. Air Force veteran who served as director of the Peace Corps in Costa Rica. “I’ve always had the utmost admiration for him. I hung around his office and did my best to get in the way in the hope that I would learn something from him.”
DuMouchel said that Judge Enslen was the driving force behind “Operation Kalamazoo,” a rehabilitation program for those caught in the web of substance abuse.
“His work in that regard was ahead of its time,” DuMouchel said of the Kalamazoo jurist. “He was very much a visionary in that sense.”
Judge Enslen’s efforts would serve to influence DuMouchel when in 1971 he took a job with the city of Detroit in a drug treatment capacity. A year later, he was hired to run a drug treatment program for the city of Hazel Park.
“It was gut-wrenching work, but I really enjoyed the counseling aspect of it,” DuMouchel said. “It was an opportunity to really be of help to people, to change the way they approached life.”
DuMouchel, ironically, was still searching for his path in life after earning a master’s degree in corrections from the University of Detroit in 1972. The degree came after he aborted academic plans to attend the University of Michigan School of Social Work and Detroit College of Law.
“I was changing career plans about as often as I changed shirts,” DuMouchel cracked. “I was all over the board. Actually, I’m not entirely sure now that I know what I want to be when I grow up.”
DuMouchel began his legal career in earnest at Wayne State University, where he was a member of the law review and graduated in 1975 with academic honors. A law review colleague offered DuMouchel his first big break – an opportunity to apply for a clerkship opening with Michigan Supreme Court Justice Thomas Giles Kavanagh. 
“Justice Kavanagh was her uncle and she knew that he was going to have an opening for a clerk,” DuMouchel said. “When she mentioned it to me, I told her that being a law clerk was about the last thing I wanted to do. But I decided to give it a shot anyway. As blind luck would have it, we immediately hit it off. He hired me on the spot and it turned out to be an absolutely tremendous experience, one that I wouldn’t trade for anything.”
During his two-year stint as a clerk, DuMouchel would get to know and learn from such Supreme Court Justices as G. Mennen Williams, James Ryan, Charles Levin, Larry Lindemer, John Fitzgerald, and others.
“They were as collegial a group as you’ll find on any court,” DuMouchel said. “They certainly sported different political and legal philosophies, but they didn’t let that interfere with their dedication to the work of the court. Justice Kavanagh, in particular, was as fine a man as you’ll ever meet. He knew the importance of his position, but he never confused it with his own importance.”
Kavanagh, who would be elevated to the role of chief justice, acquired a reputation as the court’s foremost wordsmith, a talent he would do his best to share with DuMouchel.
“He would spend 15 minutes searching for just the right word, poring over a dictionary or a thesaurus to come up with the perfect choice,” DuMouchel said. “I would submit a 25-page draft of an opinion and he would cut it down to five pages with the promise to trim it even more. Something that I had labored over for more than a month could be cut to shreds seemingly in a matter of minutes. He believed that every word should be written with purpose. He would take out every adverb, saying that they don’t strengthen a sentence; they only weaken it.”
Another of his early mentors was U.S. District Court Judge Julian Cook, former chairman of the Michigan Civil Rights Commission.
“Julian was my evidence professor, and this was another case in which I just hung around his law office, trying to get in the way, to learn as much as possible without being too much of a pest,” DuMouchel related. “I was fortunate that he took an interest in me and was willing to share his knowledge, though after he became a judge and overruled my objections during trial, I said it was due to a failure of my evidence teacher, not mine!”
DuMouchel, fresh from his clerkship, was itching for a chance to get into criminal law, hoping to practice with Ivan Barris, one of the top attorneys in Detroit. It didn’t appear destined to be.
“I applied for a clerkship with his firm while I was in law school and didn’t get it,” DuMouchel said. “When I was looking for my first real job in private practice, I applied with his firm again and was turned down a second time because they didn’t have an opening.”
So he joined another Detroit firm for a short time until “blind luck” struck again.
“Ivan called me out of the blue one day, saying that they had an opening and could I stop by his office to talk,” DuMouchel said. “It took me all of six seconds to get over there.”
Barris represented “some of the worst kinds of people around – and some of them even criminal clients,” but he did it well, maintaining his “sense of honesty and integrity” throughout, according to DuMouchel.
“He was loud, rough, tough, disorganized, but he was also a brilliant trial lawyer,” DuMouchel said of Barris, who committed suicide in 1985 after he reportedly was passed over for a judgeship appointment. “He believed strongly in the importance of being involved in bar activities, insisting that it was vital in developing your legal reputation and contributing to the profession.”
After the death of Barris, DuMouchel joined Butzel Long, a large Detroit firm without a history of criminal practice work. At first, it was an uneasy alliance, due principally to some misgivings on the part of several of the attorneys there even though the firm’s management has been “completely supportive of this practice,” according to DuMouchel. In particular, shortly after joining Butzel, DuMouchel remembers catching some momentary grief from a partner who wasn’t keen on seeing an unseemly character in blue jeans and T-shirt, sporting a beard down to his belt, walking out of one of the firm’s neatly appointed conference rooms.
“He told me that ‘we just can have that type of client roaming the office here,’” DuMouchel related. “I responded by telling him that the guy with the beard, who looked like he had just come from a ‘Grateful Dead’ concert, was actually a DEA agent working undercover and that my client was the one with the white shirt and tie sitting in the conference room.”
Alan Gershel, former chief of the Criminal Division for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Detroit, would smile at the story. He came to appreciate DuMouchel’s legal tact.
“Out of the many defense attorneys I have dealt with, Dave was one of the absolute best at being able to expose the underbelly of the government’s case,” said Gershel, now a criminal law professor at Cooley Law School. “He did this in a very thoughtful and professional way that was never insulting or demeaning even when the investigators were present. He proposed resolutions that combined effective advocacy for his client as well as recognition of the government’s interests. 
“Regarding his character, Dave is one of the most principled people I know,” noted Gershel. “He enjoys a very solid reputation as being a man of integrity. When you had a case with Dave, and I did, you never had to write a letter confirming a conversation.”
DuMouchel, whose father was a classified ad manager for The Kalamazoo Gazette, grew up in Kalamazoo, graduating from Loy Norrix High School in 1964. He and his wife, Margaret, met while in high school and will celebrate their 40th wedding anniversary this year. A graduate of the University of Michigan, Margaret earned her master’s degree in library science from Wayne State and currently works as a librarian for the Macomb County Library system.
The DuMouchels have two children, Dominque and Damien. Dominque, a graduate of Villanova University, is married with an 18-month-old son. She is employed as Vice President of Training and Organizational Development for a bank based in New Jersey. Damien, an alumnus of Boston College, is a third year student at the University of Miami Law School. He is scheduled to graduate in May and is considering the possibility of practicing criminal law in his native state.
Of course, if the younger DuMouchel does return to Michigan he will be blessed with an excellent legal role model. His father, who has taught professional responsibility at Wayne State Law School and the UDM School of Law, was part of the Butzel Long team of attorneys who conducted a 10-week investigation into Clery Act compliance at Eastern Michigan University in the aftermath of the murder of an EMU coed in 2006. The 500-plus-page report served as a stinging indictment of EMU’s handling of the case and its failure to notify the campus community of the homicide, eventually leading to the resignation and dismissal of several top administrators.
“In a lot of investigations involving disciplinary matters, it’s not so much the crime, it’s the cover-up that ends up costing people their job or their law license, or, in criminal cases, their liberty,” DuMouchel said. 
A couple of years before the EMU investigation, DuMouchel was involved in another high-profile case, this time representing a pharmaceutical executive charged with providing bribes and kickbacks to doctors and hospitals in what then was one of the largest health care fraud cases in history. DuMouchel and Butzel Long attorney Laurie Michelson, with help also from their partner George Donnini, eventually gained the defendant’s acquittal after a three-month trial in Boston federal court.
“It was a case that involved two years of work leading up to the trial,” DuMouchel related. “We invested an incredible amount of time, effort, and emotion in that case, and there was so much tension in the courtroom that day as we awaited the verdicts. After he was acquitted, I will always remember our client saying how happy and grateful he was to now being able to see his kids graduate from high school, to be there for the occasion.”
The comment served as reminder to DuMouchel of the importance of his work – to the clients, their families, and the system of justice as a whole.
“Criminal lawyers are a breed apart, by and large wonderful people to work with,” he said. “There is nothing quite like the sense that you are the only one standing between your client and a jail cell. It is an awesome responsibility and one I take very personally every day.”
Tom Cranmer, a criminal defense attorney with Miller Canfield and former president of the State Bar of Michigan, would echo the comment, particularly as it applies to his longtime friend.
“He is as fierce a competitor on the golf course as he is in the courtroom,” Cranmer said of DuMouchel. “Dave and I have been partners many times both in golf tournaments and high profile cases. When there is a 12-foot putt to be made to win a golf tournament, Dave is the person I want with the putter in his hands. If, heaven forbid, I ever found myself charged with a criminal offense, there is only one person I would want standing next to me in a courtroom and that is Dave DuMouchel.”


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