State Bar award winner keeps it all in the family

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(left) - A tireless worker on behalf of state and local bar organizations, Birmingham lawyer Kurt Schnelz will add the prestigious Roberts P. Hudson Award to his list of legal accomplishments. (right) - Gene Schnelz, who retired from the Oakland County Circuit Court in 2007 and now works as a mediator, won the Hudson Award in 1994, nearly 20 years before his son, Kurt, will receive the honor from the State Bar.

Photos by Robert Chase

By Tom Kirvan
Legal News

It’s considered the highest award conferred by the State Bar. So much so, in fact, that the honor is only presented periodically “to commend one or more lawyers for their unselfish rendering of outstanding and unique service to and on behalf of the State Bar of Michigan, the legal profession, and public.”

This year’s recipient of the coveted Roberts P. Hudson Award, named after the first president of the State Bar in 1935, considers himself doubly blessed to have earned the honor, “walking in the footsteps of many extraordinary men and women” who have preceded him as honorees, including one with whom he is particularly familiar.

His father.

Kurt Schnelz, a longtime member of the State Bar Board of Commissioners and a past president of the Oakland County Bar Association, has been named the 2013 winner of the Hudson Award. He will be saluted September 18 at the Lansing Center as part of the State Bar’s Annual Meeting.

The occasion will serve as the first time that a son has joined a father as award recipients. Schnelz’s father, Gene, a retired Oakland County Circuit Court judge, received the Hudson Award in 1994 along with then Detroit Mayor Dennis Archer.

“I’m very humbled to be receiving this award,” the younger Schnelz said. “I never would have expected such recognition when I first became involved in State Bar activities as chair of the Law Student Section nearly 30 years ago.”

His father, a man with a keen wit and a joke always at hand, preferred to play the role of the proud parent in this case.

“As a father, I am delighted that Kurt will be receiving the award, which recognizes all that he has given in terms of service for the betterment of the public and the legal profession,” Judge Schnelz said. “He has always been ready to pitch in, to help out when called to duty.”

His words were echoed by Ed Pappas and Tom Ryan, past presidents of the State Bar who wrote a letter nominating Schnelz for the award.

“As spelled out in the criteria established for this award, it must go to a person whose career has exemplified the highest ideals of the profession,” they wrote. “It is given to a lawyer who has rendered outstanding and unique service to and on behalf of the State Bar, given generously, ungrudgingly, and in the spirit of self-sacrifice. Kurt’s career is a shining example of an attorney who has brought honor, esteem, and respect to the legal profession.”

An alumnus of Alma College, Schnelz received his J.D. from the former Detroit College of Law in 1985, serving as an assistant prosecutor in Oakland County for two years before beginning his career in private practice. He is the president and one of the principal shareholders in the Birmingham firm of Schnelz Wells, P.C.

For most of his legal career, Schnelz has focused on the field of family law, building a successful practice as a matrimonial attorney. His initial work in the field coincided with his deepening involvement in county and state bar activities, volunteer service that was encouraged by his father.

“My work with the various bars has been interesting and rewarding, and I have made many lifelong friendships that I will always treasure,” Schnelz said. “For whatever I have given in terms of service, I have been blessed many times over by the relationships that have been built and the many dedicated people that I have met.”

Troy attorney Maureen McGinnis, a member of the State Bar Board of Commissioners, praised Schnelz for his willingness to give freely of his time to many worthwhile causes.

“I have had the good fortune of participating in many bar association activities with Kurt and I have seen him lead by example and encourage others to support the profession in a number of positive ways,” said McGinnis, whose father, Donald McGinnis Jr., a past president of the OCBA, also wrote a nomination letter in support of Schnelz.

“Professionally, I have had many opportunities to work with Kurt and have always found him to go above and beyond his duties . He is a true professional and demonstrates the utmost respect for his colleagues and the practice of law.”