Magistrate calls an end to public service career

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By Paul Janczewski

Legal News
 
Michael J. Hluchaniuk has led a successful and rewarding career as a lawyer in private practice, as an Assistant United States Attorney, and a federal magistrate judge.

But on December 23, Hluchaniuk will retire from the bench, and possibly his legal career, to pursue the next stage of his life, enjoying family, friends, and hobbies.

“We’ve all known people who have retired too early, and probably some who retired too late,” Hluchaniuk said in a recent interview. “And one’s health is sometimes pretty fragile, and even though I’m feeling good today, I don’t know what I’ll be like three years from now.”

Hluchaniuk, 69, is not one to seek the limelight and broadcast to the world all his accomplishments. 

“It’s not my nature to seek public attention,” Hluchaniuk said. “I like to keep my nose to the grindstone, do my job, and go home at the end of the day.”

So it was surprising when he agreed to an interview, saying at one point that he wondered if anyone would find his story the least bit interesting. But Hluchaniuk should take solace in the fact that many people in the legal community, including current and former staff and federal support personnel, find him newsworthy enough to warrant a profile.

Hluchaniuk was born in Dauphin, Manitoba, Canada, but moved to the United States when he was 2 years old. So he has few, if any, recollections of our neighbor to the north.

The family moved to the Detroit suburb of Allen Park and he eventually received American citizenship. A graduate of Allen Park High School, Hluchaniuk earned a bachelor of science degree in industrial engineering from the University of Michigan in 1969. 

“And the thought of becoming an engineer was less attractive to me than some others things, at least to the extent you can make such decisions based on little or no experience,” he said. “But the thought of going to law school came to mind, so I applied and went to Wayne State Law School.“

During his first year there, Hluchaniuk worked part-time loading trucks at the old A&P Grocery store.
 
“(My parents) didn’t have any money to support me, so I basically paid my own way through law school,“ he said, while also taking advantage of student loans. 

After his first year at Wayne, he qualified for a work-study program based on financial need, offering him the opportunity to work at a free legal aid clinic during his second and third years of school.

There, under the supervision of practicing attorneys, Hluchaniuk received plenty of practical experience, heading down to the Detroit Recorder’s Court and trying criminal cases in domestic relations. 

“I got into court a fair amount as a law student,” he said. “And I liked being in the courtroom, and that became what I wanted to do for the rest of my career.”

Hluchaniuk graduated from law school in 1972, and his first job was working for the Michigan Supreme Court in the court reporter’s office in Lansing. While he gained valuable experience editing the opinions of Court of Appeals judges, Hluchaniuk was less than thrilled with the work.

“It was not a completely satisfying work experience because I was basically sitting in an office and doing research and writing, which I didn’t find to be all that appealing from a professional standpoint,” he said. 

He then landed a job as a staff attorney with the Jackson County Legal Aid Society, handling mainly domestic relations cases and various civil matters. He was there for nearly two years when he joined the Greater Lansing Legal Aid Bureau as a staff attorney.

“The position I had was a little more specialized,” he said. “I didn’t have the broad range of civil litigation that I was engaged with in Jackson County.”  

His primary job there was working on a class-action lawsuit relating to a sub-standard housing development, suing the developer. He enjoyed the challenge, but the assignment did not last long because the Lansing City Council “pulled the funding from the program under pressure from the developer,” Hluchaniuk said.

After that, Hluchaniuk went into private practice in East Lansing, handling criminal defense work, plaintiff’s personal injury cases, domestic relations, and legal work for a few nonprofit organizations in the area.

“I enjoyed being in court, and tried a lot of cases, and liked that experience,” he said.

But after five years in private practice, he decided to head to the public service sector, becoming an Assistant United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan in Bay City. Hluchaniuk would remain there for the next 27 years.

“When I started, I was the only lawyer there,” he said. “They eventually added some others and some staff and made me the branch office supervisor.”

Hluchaniuk said it was the “most enjoyable legal experience” he had because he was in court often, prosecuting criminal cases.

“I liked the trial process and I tried a lot of cases,” he said. 

Although the court and the office was located in Bay City, the jurisdiction encompassed the northern division of the Eastern District, from Saginaw north to the Mackinac Bridge. 

While there, Hluchaniuk handled a significant number of drug cases, and prosecuted one case where individuals were smuggling drugs into several state prisons. Another newsworthy case involved a drug-related homicide involving members of a motorcycle club. 

In 2007, his career took another turn when Hluchaniuk was named a magistrate judge in Flint. 

“After 27 years in one place, as an AUSA, I was interested in doing something else, and this opportunity presented itself, and I was fortunate enough to be selected,” he said.

Hluchaniuk sought the magistrate position “to see the law applied from a different vantage point,” he indicated.

As a magistrate judge, Hluchaniuk performs a variety of judicial duties, presiding over arraignments, detention and competency hearings, civil matters, as well as suppression hearings.

Throughout his legal career, whether in private practice, as an AUSA or a magistrate judge, Hluchaniuk has described his legal demeanor as mild-mannered, but assertive, and even-handed. 

“I don’t get upset that often,” he said.

Magistrate judges serve 8-year terms, and with Hluchaniuk’s coming to an end, he has asked for permission to work part-time, called recall status, and is awaiting word of approval. Hluchaniuk also could have asked for his term to be extended. 

“I elected not to do that,” he said. “I was ready to find some more things that I wanted to do with my life other than work. Since I started with the U.S. Attorney’s Office, my job has been very time consuming, and it’s prevented and limited my ability to do other things. So I thought, at age 69, I’d like to find some more time to travel and spend time with my grandkids.”

He also plans to spend more time on outdoor activities, such as fishing, kayaking, cross-country skiing, and hiking. 

“Anything that gets me outdoors,” he said with a smile.

Hluchaniuk also dabbled for years in woodworking, such as furniture making, but found he could not devote enough time to the process. 

“It’s not the kind of thing that you can do well for a half hour here or there,” he said. “But I find that activity quite satisfying.”

Hluchaniuk and his wife, Janet, met at U-M, and have been married since 1971. They lived in Frankenmuth for 30 years, and now reside in Williamston.

“I’m very satisfied with my legal career,” he said. “I’ve done a lot of things that I’ve hoped to do, litigated cases of significance, and I’ve gotten to see the practice of law from the judicial side, which has been an interesting and rewarding experience.”

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