Grand Rapids hosts successful State Bar Annual Meeting



By Cynthia Price
Legal News

Another State Bar of Michigan  (SBM) Annual Meeting has come and gone in Grand Rapids, and it was a good one for showcasing the legal profession in West Michigan.

Even before dinner, a posthumous award was given to Michael C. Chielens, formerly Director of Legal Aid of Western Michigan, and the second to the last award went to Tom Behm, who is one of the two prestigious Respected Advocates for 2014.

In between the two, Carl Ver Beek won the Roberts P. Hudson Award, as reported in Wednesday’s edition.

As is traditional, one of the last acts in office for the SBM President is to serve as master of ceremonies for the awards presentations, assisted by the incoming top officer. Brian Einhorn, still President when the banquet took place on Sept. 17, asked Margaret Nichols, President of the Michigan State Bar Foundation (MSBF), to come to the podium to present two Access to Justice Awards.

Nichols spoke briefly about Mike Chielens and the wonderful work he had done at Legal Aid before his untimely death in November 2013.  She then invited his wife, Jan Earl, and daughter Hannah to accept the award. Since Nichols was a personal friend of Chielens, it was an emotional moment.

The other ATJ posthumous award winner was Holli Wallace, and prior to that, Wallace Riley gave the MSBF Founders Award to the Hon. Hilda Gage, who is also deceased.

In giving the Respected Advocate Award from Michigan Defense Trial Counsel to Tom Behm, Ray Morganti (MDTC Immediate Past President) noted that Behm was the second recipient of that award from his firm, Gruel Mills Nims and Pylman. Bill Mills had won the award in 2009.

The Michigan Association for Justice gave the other Respected Advocate Award to  John McSorley.

After dinner, Einhorn and incoming President Thomas C. Rombach gave out several other honors.

Another with a West Michigan angle was the presentation of a Liberty Bell Award to Ann Arbor 17-year-old Matilyn Sarosi. Readers of the Grand Rapids Legal News may recall that Sarosi authored an amicus brief for the Michigan Supreme Court (MSC) when it considered whether to make Miller v. Alabama’s prohibition on mandatory life without parole for juveniles retroactive. Miller Johnson attorneys Jon Muth and Patrick Jaicomo advised the young woman, along with her attorney aunt.

Sarosi, despite the fact that she was not aware before coming to Grand Rapids that she would be asked to speak, gave an enthusiastic endorsement of the legal profession. “I’ve looked around all night at all these people doing all these great things, and I think you should be really proud of what you do,” she said.

Others receiving awards included: Francine Cullari, another Roberts P. Hudson recipient; Corbin R. Davis, MSC clerk, the Frank J. Kelley Distinguished Public Service Award; Champion of Justice Awards to Bridgette Carr, Brian Morrow, Michael Pitt, the team of Kenneth Mogill, Dana Nessel, Robert Sedler, and Carole Stanyar, and Dawn Van Hoek; the John W. Cummiskey Pro Bono Award to Susan Kornfield; the Kimberly M. Cahill Bar Leadership Award to Thomas McNeill; and another Liberty Bell Award to teacher Gary Lasceski.

The following day, Thomas Rombach was sworn in as 80th SBM President by MSC Chief Justice Robert P. Young, Jr. Rombach is a solo practitioner from Macomb County who represents criminal and civil litigants, and a proud Cooley Law School graduate.

Einhorn devoted a large part of his farewell speech to the issue of whether the State Bar should remain mandatory, all-consuming during his presidential year, and Rombach pledged that he will continue the fight for it to remain so.

Also sworn in: President-Elect Lori A. Buiteweg; Vice-President Lawrence P. Nolan; Secretary Donald G. Rockwell; and Treasurer Jennifer M. Grieco.


Mr. Rombach will lead an organization of over 43,000 members that works to improve the administration of justice, promotes the legal profession, and builds public understanding of the legal system. He has been involved in State Bar work for almost a decade and has served on many of its committees and groups. He was elected to the SBM Board of Commissioners in 2006 and has served as treasurer, secretary, vice president, and president-elect.


He is an elected member of the National Conference of Bar Presidents and an elected member of the American Bar Association House of Delegates. He was the chairperson of the SBM Representative Assembly in 2002-2003. He has served as president of the Macomb County Bar Association and as a member of the Macomb County Board of Commissioners. He has also served on the boards of directors of 15 charitable and civic organizations.


He received his bachelor’s degree from Michigan State University and his law degree from Thomas M. Cooley Law School.

Vanessa Peterson Williams, of Southfield, has been sworn in as the chair of the State Bar of Michigan (SBM) Representative Assembly for 2014-2015. The Hon. Cynthia D. Stephens officiated at the Sept. 18 ceremony, held during the SBM Annual Meeting at DeVos Place in Grand Rapids.


The 150-member Representative Assembly (RA) is the final policy-making body of the State Bar. It was created in 1971 by the Michigan Supreme Court at the request of SBM's Board of Commissioners in order to increase geographical representation and member participation in SBM policy. Ms. Williams represents Oakland County.


Ms. Williams served as editor-in-chief of “The Brief,” journal of the Tort Insurance and Trial Practice Section of the American Bar Association, and has also served as president of the Association of Defense Trial Council, a member of the board of directors of the Detroit Metropolitan Bar Association, and she serves on the ABA House of Delegates. She is a fellow of the Michigan State Bar Foundation and a fellow of the American Bar Foundation.


Since 2013, Ms. Williams has been the vice president, chief legal counsel and global privacy officer at iHS Automotive in Southfield.