State Bar streamlines awards banquet, honors broad range within profession


 legal news photos by cynthia price

by Cynthia Price
Legal News

The night before she was sworn in as the 81st President of the State Bar of Michigan (SBM), Lori A. Buiteweg spent a few hours zipping energetically around the annual awards banquet presenting the SBM awards individually to the champions and heroes being honored.
The banquet, which takes place each year as part of the SBM Annual Meeting, this year was held on October 7 at the Suburban Collections Showcase in Novi.

At times locating Buiteweg, a matrimonial lawyer from the firm of Nichols, Sacks, Slank, Sendelbach & Buiteweg in Ann Arbor, felt a bit like trying to figure out who has the football while watching from the sidelines. Despite the slightly daunting physical nature of the task, she handled it with aplomb and grace.

That was not the only change in the banquet procedures. Instead of recipients giving an acceptance speech, each was the subject of a pre-taped video created before the fact.

Some took full advantage of the opportunity. Former SBM President Edward Pappas received the highest award SBM gives, the Roberts P. Hudson Award, for his long service to the legal profession and to the public, including chairing the SBM Judicial Crossroads Task Force and, currently, the 21st Century Practice Task Force Special Committee on Building a 21st Century Practice.

Pappas pretended to look out at himself from the video and, among other things, expressed embarrassment that in both cases he was wearing the same suit and tie. “I’ve always said two Eds are better than one,” he continued, deadpan.

He received the first award, and was a tough act to follow. One who rose to the challenge was personal injury plaintiff’s attorney and advocate George T. Sinas of the Sinas Dramis Law Firm, chosen by his peers on the opposite side at the Michigan Defense Trial Counsel to receive the Respected Advocate Award. 

After noting that it made the moment even more special to share the Respected Advocate Award with Bob Riley, someone he very much respects and admires who was selected for the corresponding defense bar award by the Michigan Association for Justice (and who returned the compliment during his own video speech), Sinas said:

“This award is... a commitment by our respective Associations... to certain basic principles that many in our society today seem to have forgotten... [T]his award embraces the venerable notion that adversaries can share common ideals; that they can be guided by a code of mutual respect; that they can advocate their causes vigorously but not at the expense of honor; and that they can be equally committed to the attainment of the very same goal—a fair and just society for all.

“[O]ur respective organizations... proudly share a mutual, unyielding commitment to the principle that our nation cannot succeed in its pursuit of liberty without a vigorous civil justice system. Unless the protection of our civil justice system remains a fervent mission for all lawyers, the existence  of that system will become a faded memory—and so too will our unique form of democracy.”

All of the awardees were eloquent and grateful — and sometimes as humorous as Pappas.

Others included three winners of the Frank J. Kelley Distinguished Public Service Award: James L. Shonkwiler (posthumously), a court-appointed indigent defense counsel who spent his retirement working to reform Michigan’s indigent criminal defense system; Timothy A. Baughman, of the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office in the 1970s ad chief of research, training, and appeals starting in 1985, now an adjunct professor at Wayne State University Law School; and the Hon. Adam A. Shakoor, the first Muslim-American judge in the U.S. or Canada at the time of his appointment to the Detroit court in 1981, who implemented a drug docket and environmental court that cleared a 10-year backlog of cases and made other improvements before leaving to become Detroit’s deputy mayor/chief administrative officer.

Four individuals received the Champion of Justice Award: medical malpractice and defective products attorney and author of eight books for plaintiffs’ attorneys David W. Christensen; assistant U.S. attorney Stephanie Dawkins Davis, who goes above and beyond in crime prevention and community outreach;  attorney Nora M. Hudson, who has worked in the Franklin Park/Grandale area of Detroit since 1988 and helped her community with its struggles; and human rights activist Alicia J. Skillman.

Receiving the John W. Reed Lawyer Legacy Award was Professor Joseph Kimble, who teaches legal writing and drafting at Western Michigan University Cooley Law School,  and who promised in his speech to continue writing the well-loved Michigan Bar Journal “Plain Language” column.

Paul E. Scheidemantel of Clark Hill won the  John W. Cummiskey Pro Bono Award for giving an average of 300 plus hours a year to pro bono work. 

The Kimberly M. Cahill Bar Leadership Award went to the St. Clair County Bar Association, which runs a moot court program in 9-11 schools yearly. The video featured high school students testifying to how much this meant to them.

And Matthew R. Branding, a Caro High School government teacher who gives of his personal time to enhance the education of his students, was given this year’s Liberty Bell Award.