Attorney has pursuaded two courts that a patient's car is not a public place

 By Steve Thorpe

Legal News
 
Lansing attorney Mary Chartier spends some of her days with appellants, but it could have just as easily been appetizers.
“I really wanted to start a restaurant,” she says. “A lot of folks in my family owned or worked in restaurants.”
Her parents had their sights set on her becoming a college girl, so a compromise was reached.
“My parents were mortified that I didn’t want to go to college, so we finally agreed I would go to Michigan State for a year. If I didn’t like it, I could go to culinary school. Well, I loved it. I loved the whole college environment.” 
That enthusiasm turned into stellar grades and a whole world of possibilities for graduate school opened up.
“I did so well that I began to think, ‘Gosh, maybe I could do the law.’ ”
Chartier graduated summa cum laude from Thomas M. Cooley Law School where she served as Editor-in-Chief of the Law Review and was a National Moot Court champion. She also earned 11 certificates of merit during law school and was an honors scholar.
Another unanticipated turn in her life was the decision, with acquaintance and fellow law student Natalie Alane, to start their own law firm. 
“When Natalie and I started the firm, we had been in law school together but didn’t really know each other,” Chartier says. “When we worked together at the Court of Appeals, we became friendlier. I had a clerkship lined up with Justice Cavanagh and he had another opening. I suggested he interview her and he then hired her.”
The two women were eventually on a panel of law clerks at Cooley and were talking about their experiences. 
“Someone said to Natalie, ‘What do you want to do when your done with your clerkship?’  Chartier says. “And she looked over at me and said, ‘I’m going to open a practice with Mary.’ We laughed for a bit and then she leaned over to me and said, ‘I’m serious.’ That started the conversation.”
Their practice initially was tiny, but both attorneys had confidence that better things were ahead.
“We started with just the two of us,” Chartier says. “We had a little office and had one printer with one tray, so if you wanted to print on letterhead, you’d have to say, ‘I’m going to print on letterhead!’ and then switch back so we wouldn’t waste it. Then we hired Kim and evolved from there. We now have five attorneys, four full-time staff and three part-time. We’re very much a team and we’re looking to continue to grow.”
They eventually grew into their present home, a Queen Anne-style mansion at 403 Seymour Avenue in Lansing that houses the law firm and is more than a century old. It was once the home of Michigan State University benefactor Frederick Jenison and later the headquarters of the American Lung Association. The home was nominated as one of five restoration projects by Preservation Lansing in 2012 and the law firm was recognized for their work on it.
The firm has a strong commitment to serving the community as well as its clients and has been honored by the State Bar of Michigan with the Pro Bono Circle of Excellence Award in 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2013.
Passionate about criminal defense, Chartier has represented clients accused of white collar crimes, drug conspiracies, bank robbery, criminal sexual conduct and homicide.
She is admitted to practice in the State of Michigan, the United States Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, the United States District Court for the Western District of Michigan, and the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan.
Chartier has become an acknowledged expert on marijuana law and recently won a medical marijuana case on appeal that involved whether the interior of a registered patient’s car is a “public place” under the Michigan Medical Marihuana Act. The patient, a 67-year-old man who had survived a coma after a car accident, was “medicating” in the passenger seat of his car in a casino parking lot. Chartier has now been successful in convincing two different courts that the interior of a patient’s car is not a “public place” under law.
Chartier has also taught advocacy to federal practitioners at The Hillman Advocacy Program, an annual three-day seminar that provides courtroom training to trial lawyers. Participants hone their courtroom skills under the guidance of some of Michigan’s top trial lawyers. The program offers a 3-to-1 student to teacher ratio in the courtrooms of U.S. District Court. The program has received national recognition and has the active support of the state and federal judiciary. 
Asked to cite her legal influences and mentors, she immediately points to Supreme Court Justice Michael F. Cavanagh.
“The biggest influence on the type of person and the type of lawyer I would like to be was Justice Cavanagh,” she says. “Natalie, my business partner, and I both clerked for him for four years. The normal clerking time with him is two, but we got along so well that I stayed on.”
Chartier also appears to be president of her partner’s fan club.
“My business partner has had a big influence on me,” she says. “Natalie’s a great friend and a phenomenal lawyer. It’s like playing tennis … you always want an opponent who’s better than you are. She’s got a brilliant legal mind and that makes me strive to be better.”
Chartier doesn’t believe that there is an ideal number of attorneys in the firm’s growth forecast, but she knows they don’t want to sacrifice the advantages of their current size in a quest for success.
“Initially we thought we would grow, but for about three years we made a conscious decision to keep it at two,” she says. “Natalie and I wanted to maintain the quality and wondered, if we grew, what would our role be. Would we still be attorneys, or more involved in running a business? Ultimately, we realized that we both love practicing, but we also love mentoring. It’s nice to feel you’ve played a role, even it it’s small, in someone being very good at what they do.”
One thing she knows for sure: The stress, anxiety and long days that have gotten them to where they are now has been worth it.
“It’s extremely exciting. You think, ‘Gosh, we started this business with just two people and now look at it.’ “

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