Brady wins Marion Hilligan Award, reflecting lifetime of community service



by Cynthia Price
Legal News

From Outstanding Young Man in Grand Rapids of 1979 to the St. Thomas More Award from the Catholic Lawyers Association of Western Michigan in 2008 and the Grand Rapids Bar Association’s Donald R. Worsfold Distinguished Service Award in 2009, James Brady has seen his preeminence and dedication recognized again and again.

This year, Western Michigan University-Thomas M. Cooley Law School continued the tradition by giving Brady its Marion Hilligan Public Service Award at the Law Day Celebration May 1.

The award is named after the first Associate Dean of the Grand Rapids campus, who did the early work on its development. After her death in 2007, WMU-Cooley Grand Rapids decided to give an award in Hilligan’s name for “contributions by a lawyer in public service to area governmental bodies or community organizations, reflecting greater individual responsibility in promoting public health and welfare through law.”

Brady says that he did not know Marion Hilligan personally, but “I did my research. She was the former mayor of Portland [Michigan] and very active in the community as well as in the law school.

“I can’t think of a better way to honor someone than to name an award after them,” he added.

Jim Brady is an obvious choice, as Hilligan’s successor Associate Dean Nelson Miller points out. “Jim doesn't just go through the motions in public and professional service, he rolls up his sleeves and accomplishes things for the public,” Miller comments. “The fact that every lawyer organization of which he has been a member has already recognized him... is what makes us all think of Jim for the Hilligan Public Service Award.”

Though his legal skill and success are unquestioned and his contributions to the legal profession are many, Brady stands out most notably in his contributions to the community.

“I believe a lawyer has a special responsibility to give back — I’ve talked to a lot of young lawyers about that over the years,” he says.  “As an attorney you have a unique skill, you should be out in the community.”

Brady, who is currently the Office Managing Member of Dykema Gossett’s Grand Rapids office, says he started out on the right foot working at a firm with Ed Twohey (who still practices at Twohey Maggini) and Robert Benson, the retired judge. They mentored him well, he says, not only in the law but in emphasizing the importance of contributing to the community.

To list just his current involvements, Brady is the chair of Emmanuel Hospice, a board member and former chair of St. Ann’s Skilled Nursing Home, and a board member of Catholic Charities West Michigan.

He served Western?Michigan University for many years, and was on the WMU Foundation board from 2010-2011. Brady received his bachelor’s degree from WMU, followed by his J.D. from the University of Notre Dame.

The position he has held at Dykema Gossett since 2010 is split approximately into thirds: one-third entails administration of the Grand Rapids office, one-third ongoing white collar defense (and occasionally other types of cases), and one-third devoted to community and professional service.

“I credit Dykema for this, allowing me to devote so much time on that,” Brady says. “I still have significant cases in white collar defense, but there’s a lot of good help here because there are such good lawyers in this office and throughout Dykema.”

Brady spent most of his career at Miller Johnson, starting in 1981. He still thinks of Miller Johnson as “family,” and recognizes that having such attorneys as Stephen Bransdorfer, Jon Muth, Jon March and Gordon Quist as colleagues, along with the spirit of pro bono advocate John Cummiskey, continued and strengthened his commitment to the community.

Leaving Miller Johnson stemmed in large part from Brady’s reputation in such service. “I wasn’t dissatisfied at Miller Johnson,”?he explains. “I was just kind of sitting in my office when the then-chairman of Dykema Gossett, Rex Schlaybaugh, called me and started asking me questions about Dykema in Grand Rapids. They knew that this is a great area that expects its professional offices to make a commitment to the community, so they asked me about becoming the managing member. I really had to think about it, but I talked it over with my family, and I just thought it was a terrific challenge at this point in my career.”

Brady also developed the White Collar Criminal Defense and Internal Investigations practice for Dykema nationally, but stepped down as chair this past year.

His long experience with white collar crime stems primarily from his early career serving on the opposite side. Brady was appointed by President Jimmy Carter as the U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Michigan, serving from 1977 to 1981.

“That was a wonderful job. If people ask me what was your best job, it’s hard for me to say, but I loved working with all the great lawyers there —  [now-Judge] Janet Neff, Agnes Kempker Cloyd, Don Davis, who later became the U.S. Attorney, Terry Dillon, Bob Greene — all of them. We had a very busy office and we were in court all the time.”

The team prosecuted fraud, embezzlement, grand jury investigations, money laundering, counterfeiting, and many other cases, which gave him a deep understanding of federal matters and how to prevent falling afoul of the government.

Brady is well-known for his mentorship of less experienced lawyers, which was another reason for his receiving the Hilligan Award. He also has taught at WMU-Cooley and contributed widely to statewide educational groups like ICLE.

Brady continues to do pro bono work, recently assisting on the ACLU-led suit by the Valdez family against the U.S. Immigration and Custom Enforcement, charging poor treatment in a mistaken identification case. “Rhett Pinsky represented the mother, who made the main complaint, and I just represented two sisters who were young and concerned about coming forward” he says.

A Grand Rapids native, Brady raised three children here with his wife. Two of them became lawyers: Monica Sekulich, Senior Vice President and General Counsel at DP Fox, and Michael Brady who works for Warner Norcross and Judd in Southfield. His other son, Paul, is a salesperson, “taking after both of his grandfathers,” according to Brady.

“I’ll speak for my wife, which I don’t often do,” he says, “but with seven grandchildren around, we couldn’t be happier. We’re very, very fortunate.”