61st District Court's newest judge Distel confident and enthusiastic about serving

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LEGAL NEWS PHOTOS BY CYNTHIA PRICE

by Cynthia Price
Legal News

“I’ve been really excited to get up every morning and see what’s new,” says Michael J. Distel, the 61st District Court Judge whose January 31st swearing-in meant the court was fully staffed for the first time in over a year.

Governor Rick Snyder made the appointment as of Dec. 12, 2014. Judge Distel will have to run again in November 2016.

At the lovely, family-oriented investiture ceremony, Daniel Christ,  who attended University of Detroit Law School with Distel, was the Master of Ceremonies. The Bloomfield Hills attorney later became Distel’s brother-in-law, and commented, “I’ve seen over the years his intellect, his humility, his temperament, and his general decency as a human being, which I think all mean that the governor made an extremely wise choice.”

The ceremony continued with Judge Distel’s twin sons Jack and Ryan Distel, along with their cousin Alec Distel, an Eagle Scout, leading the Pledge of Allegiance; remarks by Michigan Court of Appeals Judge Michael J. Riordan, Mark R. Smith of Rhoades McKee, and brother David J. Distel of O’Keefe Consulting’s Grand Rapids office; administration of the oath of office by 61st District Court Chief Judge Jeanine N. LaVille; presentation of the robe by Distel’s wife Meghan, his sons and daughter Hallie; and his own remarks as a new judge.

Before adjourning to a reception at the University Club, Hallie returned with a group of her classmates to sing God Bless America. As Judge Distel explained, all of the group of six also participate in the constitutional challenge We the People, where high-schoolers learn in-depth about the document that founded and supports the U.S.A. Distel said he has been deeply impressed by the knowledge of the East Grand Rapids We the People team; and the young women were wonderful singers as well.

“This was a big day for my family,” Distel says. “I wanted to be inclusive of my children.”

During the ceremony, much was made of a hockey team Distel started with a few others while at law school. His brother Dave played on the team, along with several who have remained Distel’s closest friends. Not only did the team play and compete, the founders “decided if we were using the school name for the team, we would do fund-raising events for the school,” as Judge Distel puts it.

“We started out playing Wayne State and it was really something all of us like to do, an excuse for getting together and getting exercise. Judge Riordan was on it, [Court of Appeals] Judge Chris Murray was the goalie... I?was really surprised to find out that it’s still going.”

Dave Distel fondly recalled sharing that and many other hockey games over the years with his well-respected older brother, along with a childhood in Southfield that was far from a silver-spoon upbringing. “Our parents showed us love, sometimes tough love, and they embraced the values Mike has shown; he was always able to rise above, look at both sides calmly,” he said.
“We couldn’t be prouder of him,” his brother added.

Dave also eventually followed his brother Mike to the Grand Rapids area. Daniel Christ noted during his introduction, “When we heard that Mike was going to move to Grand Rapids after law school, we really wondered why on earth he would do that. Now, 25 years later, I?wonder, ‘Why didn’t I do that?’”

Distel’s relationship with Grand Rapids began even before graduation when he had summer employment with Clary Nantz and Wood.

It was then that Distel first met Mark Smith, whom he calls his professional mentor. Despite an offer in the Detroit area, Distel decided to go with Clary Nantz after law school.

In the mid-1990s, Distel left Clary Nantz and formed a firm with his associate Scott Bowen, who left not too long after to first serve on the bench in Wyoming (now as a state lottery commissioner). An attorney named Karl Numinem came on board for a while, but after Numinem moved to the Upper Peninsula, Distel joined a law firm that had come out of the old Clary Nantz days: Nantz,  Litowich, Smith, Girard and Hamilton.

He was back with his old mentor Mark Smith.

At the ceremony, Smith observed, “I’m not always a fan of the judicial appointment process, but with both Mike and Jennifer Faber, the governor got it just right.”

As many know, in 2011 Nantz Litowich also dissolved, and Distel moved on to Bolhouse, Baar and Lefere PC, just recently renamed Bolhouse Baar and Hofstee. All the while he maintained his reputation as an attorney of excellence, working on creditor’s rights and workers’ compensation defense.

Judge Distel, whose undergraduate degree was from Michigan State University, also serves on the state’s Military Appeals Tribunal and on the State Bar Civil Procedure and Court Committee. He says most of his other community involvements have centered around his children, including fund-raising for various projects.

Now that he has been on the job for a few weeks, he comments, “It’s a very fast-paced job with a high volume of cases, so adjusting to the pace of it is probably one of the biggest challenges. But obviously it’s been great, very rewarding and fulfilling, and it hasn’t been dull in any way.

“I have wonderful colleagues who are very accommodating in allowing me to observe how they conduct their courts,” he continues. “It’s been nice to see what seems to be most efficient and appropriate by shadowing them. I’m not quite as efficient yet, but every day brings something new and interesting.”

Both at the investiture ceremony and now, it is of utmost importance to Judge Distel to honor his predecessor on the bench. “I know I can’t replace Judge Logan. I was at his retirement dinner and it’s just amazing how many people he affected in such a positive way, not only organizations, but individuals. I don’t know if I can ever get to his level,” Distel says.

“But I’m looking forward to working hard every day to be sure the level of justice is maintained in his courtroom,” the new judge adds.