New UDM scholarship to honor the 'Michigan Miracle' lawyer

The late Daniel J. Wright (University of Detroit-Mercy Law School ’73) was an exceptionally talented attorney, a brilliant Michigan Supreme Court Commissioner, and a lover of Irish poetry who could quote the works of W. B. Yeats from memory.

He also was the “Michigan Miracle” lawyer who saved the state of Michigan $178 million in 2003, averting enormous federal fines when he successfully led the state’s efforts to upgrade Michigan’s outdated child support system by federally-mandated guidelines.

Now, to honor’s Wright’s memory and support future child welfare leaders, a group of Wright’s friends have established the Daniel J. Wright Memorial Endowed Scholarship in Child Welfare at the University of Detroit-Mercy.

Maura D. Corrigan (UDM Law ’73) is leading the effort to create the fund. She was Chief Justice of the Michigan Supreme Court when, in 2002, she tapped law school classmate Wright to pull off a “miracle.”

“At the time, it seemed impossible that all the state’s counties could meet the federal deadline,” said Corrigan, who later served as director of the Michigan Department of Human Services. “But Dan was a tremendous diplomat and a man of his word. He persuaded the counties to come on board despite all the difficulties involved.”

Federal officials acknowledged at the time that it took a “miracle” for the state to meet the deadlines, Corrigan added.

J. Patrick Wright, Wright’s brother, said, “I am not surprised that Dan pulled off ‘The Michigan Miracle.’ Dan had tremendous drive but very little ego. He never talked about himself. So, it is comforting to know his memory and bountiful legacy of helping children in need will continue in the education of children’s advocates at the University of Detroit-Mercy.”

As head of the Michigan Supreme Court’s Friend of the Court Bureau, and later as director of the Court’s Child Welfare Services Division, Wright continued to work for Michigan’s children and families. He launched “adoption forums” to make it easier for children in foster care to find permanent homes and advocated for legislation giving children more power in the legal decisions affecting their futures.

To honor his work in child welfare, the state created the Daniel J. Wright Lifetime Achievement Award in 2011. The award recognizes an outstanding advocate for Michigan children and families.

But Wright’s friends, many of them former colleagues, wanted to do more, said Kelly Wagner, who succeeded Wright as director of the Child Welfare Services Division.

“We started thinking about the best way to honor Dan’s legacy,” explained Wagner. “And what better way of doing that than to support the next generation of child welfare advocates?”

Julie A. Hein, director of development for Detroit-Mercy School of Law, said that financial need is a serious barrier to students who want to pursue a career in child welfare, advocacy, and policy. 

“The Wright Fund scholarship can have a tremendous impact for these students and, by extension, the field of child welfare,” Hein said.

The Wright scholarship will be offered to students at the School of Law, the School of Business, and the College of Liberal Arts at the University of Detroit-Mercy. The Wright scholarship fund committee hopes to raise $50,000 over three years to fund the scholarship.

In addition to Corrigan, Wagner, and J. Patrick Wright, the scholarship fund committee includes Wright’s law school classmates Daniel Clinton and former State Bar of Michigan President Thomas J. Ryan, and Wright’s former colleagues Lisa Gigliotti (UDM Law ’93), division director and administrative law judge in the Michigan Office of Administrative Hearings and Rules, and attorney Marcia McBrien, former Public Information Officer of the Michigan Supreme Court.

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