Ann Cooper honored for work with 3Rs program, and years of service to GRBA

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Ann M. Cooper, Of Counsel at Drew Cooper and Anding, with the Grand Rapids Bar Association’s President’s Award, and its president, Tom Behm

LEGAL NEWS PHOTOS BY CYNTHIA PRICE

by Cynthia Price
Legal News

Ann Cooper does not think she should have gotten the President’s Award from the Grand Rapids Bar Association on Law Day for her work with the 3Rs civic education at Ottawa Hills High School.

“I don’t think this really deserved an award,” Cooper says. “The 3Rs allowed me to work with the people I love in the bar and in the community. I enjoyed it; it was my pleasure. It’s not like some other awards — it seems like this one was just for being helpful.”

But  Cooper has clearly gone above and beyond in her helpfulness, and that is exactly what the award is for. It is “given  annually to recognize special contributions and unique service to a Grand Rapids Bar Association member in service and on behalf of the Grand Rapids Bar Association. It signifies unusual and extraordinary help and assistance that has been given generously...”

While the award carries the sense that the “help and assistance” was given in the previous year, there is generally also a feeling that it recognizes a spirit of service to GRBA over the years as well.

Ann Cooper fits the bill no matter how one looks at it.

Over the years, in service to the GRBA?alone, she was a trustee, served on the search committee that resulted in hiring Executive Director Kim Coleman, and was also a member of the committee that explored equitable jury representation in Kent County. She has been on the GRBA Diversity Committee since its inception, and was a co-chair of the Diversity Roundtable.

She won the Donald R. Worsfold Distinguished Service Award from the GRBA in 2007, and the Young Lawyers Section has honored her as well.

Those are just a few of the many awards and honors she has received over the years, which also include being named a State Bar of Michigan Champion of Justice in 2002, an Outstanding Alumni Award from Michigan State University in 2003, and the Civil Rights Award from the City of Grand Rapids Community Relations Commission in 1998.

Her service to the state is also exemplary, including being on the State Bar of Michigan Board of Commissioners for three years; serving on the Open Justice Commission, on the Michigan Supreme Court Task Force on Gender Issues in the Courts, and on the Equal Access Initiative; was a member of the U.S. Sixth Circuit Judicial Merit Selection Panel.

She also found time to serve on the board of the Women Lawyers Association of Michigan, and was its  secretary in 1986-1987.

Cooper’s professional contributions are so impressive that it would seem as if she would have little time for her practice, but she has also been an exemplary attorney in Employment Law, also working on police misconduct cases.

In addition to receiving her undergraduate degree from Michigan State, Cooper went to Bryn Mawr College for an M.A. and the?University of Michigan Law School for her J.D. She was a Fulbright scholar and author for the Institute of Continuing Legal Education.

In 1991, she co-founded Drew Cooper and Anding, and has been with the firm ever since, going to Of Counsel status in 2009.

The firm has provided her the opportunity, in collaboration with Drew and the other attorneys, to further her beliefs through her work. The firm description includes: “Whether a large corporation or an individual client, we are committed to zealously advocate our client’s interests, ever mindful of the true ends of justice.”
But Cooper has also been able to indulge her passion for working on initiatives that forward civic education, jury participation and gender and race inclusivity, among other causes — almost too many to list.

“At one point I was part of a group spearheaded by a judge in Berrien County, Mabel [Johnson Mayfield], and we developed a jury curriculum and took it around to various high schools. At the end of the semester, the kids who’d studied it came into the courthouse for a whole day and spent time with different judges and saw some trial situations and how juries work... so it’s been a long wonderful involvement my whole career,” she says.

That work served as a prelude to Cooper’s participation in the 3Rs program started by the Grand Rapids Bar Association two years ago. Cooper loves to talk about the program, which she thinks has benefited the attorney participants and the students alike.

The 3Rs (which stands for Rights, Responsibilities and Realities) civic education program was the brainchild of former GRBA President Mark Smith and the product of a committee he chaired which looked at all the options, settling on a previously-developed curriculum from the Cleveland Bar. It brings a group of lawyers into Ottawa Hills High School ninth grade social studies classes one day a month for the whole school year.

As Cooper put it in an article she wrote, “The goals of the program are to provide some engaging exploration of U.S. Constitutional rights and responsibilities, while opening the door to consideration of career possibilities and necessary education and preparation.”

The teacher is Whitley Eager and  Natasha Neal is the liaison with the Grand Rapids Public Schools. Cooper is able to be there all day as the other lawyers come and go, supplying continuity and relieving the GRBA?staff. “I’m just kind of a background person, who can see what’s going on all day and maybe what changes could make it better,” Cooper says.

At the end of the year, students engaged in a debate at Cooley Law School. Stephen Drew, Cooper’s law firm partner, GRPS Superintendent Theresa Neal, and Behm served as judges. “Tom and Steve questioned those kids just like real judges,” Cooper says, “and the kids did really well!”

The second year has ventured further from the Cleveland model, tailoring it to local needs as the leadership gets to know the school district and students better. Tom Behm, with Cooper’s help, came up with a series of fact patterns for several hypothetical situations involving imaginary students Sam and Natasha, which Cooper feels has made it more meaningful for the students.

“I just think it’s a great, great program, and I think it works,” she says. “There’s so much talk about the school to prison pipeline and while this doesn’t have to do with that directly, but I think it’s a way of building community to school relationships and that really helps.”

“The 3Rs is all about the Constitution and rights and responsibilities, but some of the focus is also on the relationships that each lawyer or law student has with the students. I have to laugh because every once in a while a lawyer will be sick or for some reason not be able to come, and the kids say, ‘Where’s my lawyer?’”

She adds, “The first year was exciting, and this year was even more exciting. I think it means something to the students, and I’m really looking forward to next year.”

Cooper and her attorney husband Robert, the subject of a Grand Rapids Legal News article in July 2014 when he passed the 50-year milestone in legal practice, live in Grand Rapids and spend time during nice weather at a cottage in Grand Haven, including extended visits with their two children and three grandchildren.