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State Bar of Michigan members will gather at the Amway Grand Plaza in Grand Rapids on Wednesday, Sept. 29 to honor the best in the legal profession. Six major SBM awards will be presented at a special banquet held in conjunction with the SBM Annual Meeting, which will take place Sept. 29-Oct. 1.

Roberts P. Hudson Award

James C. Cotant, partner at Bensinger, Cotant and Menkes, P.C., believes it is an attorney's duty to treat colleagues with courtesy and respect, to mentor young lawyers, and to act as examples of integrity to the public.

He is a living example of each of these virtues. Cotant has served as chairman of the Attorney Grievance Board Gaylord Hearing Panel since 1980, on the ADR Section of SBM since 2000, on the SBM Representative Assembly, and as past president of the 46th Judicial Circuit Bar Association.

He was elected to the Federation of Defense and Corporate Counsel on the fast-track process. His trustworthiness, discretion, patience, and consideration have made him into one of the top civil probate mediators in northern Michigan, and he has mediated over 150 cases since 2002.

Cotant has also done significant service to the public, serving as vice president of the Otsego Memorial Hospital board, on the Gaylord Industrial Development Commission, as chairman of Directors for Alpine Regional Education Center, and on the boards of directors of the Otsego County United Way and Big Brothers-Big Sisters.

Frank J. Kelley Distinguished Public Service Award

Judge Donald A. Scheer has devoted his 43 years to serving the public.

It began when he earned a Purple Heart for his service as a commissioned officer in the U.S. Marine Corps. Since then, he has served as a law clerk for Monroe County Indiana's prosecutor's office, the attorney for Fremont, Indiana, and worked as a felony court trial deputy with the prosecutor's office in Grant County, Ind., before becoming a public defender for the same county.

He joined the U.S. Attorney's Office in the Eastern District of Michigan in 1986, and was appointed a Magistrate Judge in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan in 1994.

But more important than his longevity in public office is the quality of the work he has done there. He has a reputation for being a humble, diligent public servant who exhibits the highest standards of integrity, fairness, and leadership.

Edward Zelenak has dedicated his career to serving both his life-long home of Lincoln Park and his ancestral home, the Slovak Republic.

In 2001 he was named honorary consul for the Slovak Republic in Michigan and Wisconsin, and legal advisor for the country's embassy in Washington, D.C. and consular offices in New York.

In these roles, for which he is unpaid, Zelenak strengthens ties between his two homes. Locally, Zelenak has served as city attorney for Lincoln Park since 1978, city attorney for Southgate for 18 years, and as special city attorney for Ecorse in 1999, when the city was under the control of a court-ordered receiver.

Zelenak has been pioneering as a municipal attorney, and drafted the first Driving While Intoxicated (DWI) cost recovery ordinance in Michigan.

He has also used a 25-year second career as a Michigan-based broadcaster and public affairs director to inform the public about the law and criminal justice.

Champion of Justice Award

Charles Borgsdorf has been with Hooper, Hathaway, Price, Beuche and Wallace for 34 years, serving as the firm's ethical overseer while also managing significant aspects of its business.

An early promoter and provider of Alternative Dispute Resolution, Borgsdorf has served as a case evaluator in the Washtenaw County Circuit Court for more than two decades.

But it is the depth and breadth of his four decades long pro bono and community involvement and commitment to legal services for the poor that single him as an outstanding champion of justice. Among his many community contributions, Borgsdorf is on the board of the Legal Services of South Central Michigan (LSSCM), and has chaired it eleven times.

The organization has thrived under his leadership, growing from a four-county program with a $200,000 budget to a 13-county regional program that also administers two statewide programs with an annual budget of just under $6 million.

Gerard Mantese and John Conway successfully prosecuted a class action lawsuit in favor of autistic children that resulted in a landmark settlement last June, requiring Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan to reverse its policy and to provide Applied Behavioral Analysis Therapy for autistic children.

Such therapy, previously denied because Blue Cross considered it ''experimental," has been shown to be beneficial and needed early in life.

Since the settlement, the two have responded to scores of inquiries from around the nation from families wanting to access insurance coverage for the treatment of their autistic children. Conway, a solo practitioner in Royal Oak, has been a passionate advocate for children's healthcare for many years.

He has given freely of his time, working pro bono during hours convenient to his clients - early mornings, evenings and weekends. Mantese is the founding partner of Mantese Honigman Rossman and Williamson, P.C.

He spent over 300 pro bono hours in the 1990s establishing the First Step legal advocacy project which provides free legal advice to those who have suffered domestic violence.

Attending law school can be an elusive goal for many, especially African Americans and Mexican Americans.

Increasing diversity in the legal profession and access for the unrepresented are goals that lie at the heart of Cooley Law School Dean John Nussbaumer's 33-year long legal career.

He often analyses, writes and lectures about such issues and seeks out every avenue that will facilitate change.

He recently hosted the Council on Legal Education Opportunity (CLEO) Sophomore Summer Institute -- a national program that has helped over 8,000 disadvantaged groups succeed in law school.

And with his help, Cooley graduates more minority students than any other law school in the country except for Georgetown University.

Nussbaumer works passionately and tirelessly to innovate and to make a difference -- whether its mentoring a law student, participating in pro bono or community service projects, or overseeing clinics that help domestic violence victims, families, seniors, and soldiers.

James Olson realized early in his career that he could use the law as a tool to protect the woods, water, and lifestyle that make Michigan so unique.

Ever since, he has been at the forefront of environmental policy. His hardest earned legal victory was an epic ten year legal battle in Michigan Citizens for Water Conservation v Nestle Waters North America.

A David and Goliath story, Olson and his citizen group clients took on one of the world's largest corporations.

Despite the extraordinary disparity in resources - Michigan Citizens for Water Conservation actually held bake sales to try and raise funds - Olson prevailed.

Far from winding down, Olson is now in the center of what could turn out to be the hardest and most important achievement of his life yet: formally and legally codifying that the Great Lakes are held in the public trust for current and future generations.

Judge Wendy Potts' leadership, innovative solutions and ability to mold and hold together fragile coalitions have led to major victories that have improved the administration of justice, not only in Oakland County, where she finished a six-year stint as chief judge earlier this year, but throughout the state.

Last January, funding was being pulled from the county Drug Treatment Courts. Judge Potts pulled together a coalition of Detroit's most involved citizens to create the RESTORE Foundation to fund the Drug Courts.

The new board of directors obtained IRS approval for a non-profit designation and raised over $100,000 in donations within six months of RESTORE's creation.

Judge Potts was instrumental in funding a scholarship for Drug Court graduates who wanted to complete their formal education. She also served on Governor Engler's Task Force on Domestic Violence in 1994, which resulted in statutes creating the Personal Protection Order.

Kimberly M. Cahill Bar Leadership Award

The Ingham County Bar Association has made its community a priority by stressing programs that aid access to justice and mentoring young lawyers and students.

For nearly 20 years, ICBA has held an annual Bench-Bar Conference in order to strengthen communication in Ingham County's justice system.

ICBA also staffs an office in a county court building with volunteers to answer questions about the legal system.

It partners with Ingham County Bar Foundation to expand the availability of legal services, promote legal education of the public, and support at least 17 local charities.

ICBA has also made mentoring of young students, law students, and young lawyers a priority.

In 1994 ICBA established a program to bring lawyers into schools to teach elementary students conflict management skills.

This program evolved into Teen Court, which gives young people with first time misdemeanor offenses an alternative to criminal court proceedings.

John W. Cummiskey Pro Bono Award

The numbers are truly impressive: 150 cases; 131 hours in 2009; over 300 hours since 2003. That's the amount of voluntary pro bono work Eric I. Frankie has taken on from Legal Services of South Central Michigan (LSSCM) since 2003.

Most of his cases are closed with fully favorable decisions.

That's no small feat, considering 145 of his cases have been social security disability cases, which typically go to complex administrative hearings, and the other five cases have been difficult contested post-domestic violence family law cases, almost all of them high-conflict litigation cases.

He also makes top-tier financial contributions to LSSCM and holds regular office hours at their Ann Arbor offices.

Frankie, a solo practitioner, doesn't have partners to support his efforts.

He focuses on labor law, social security disability, and worker's compensation litigation, and is of counsel to the Rasor Law Firm in Royal Oak.

Liberty Bell Award

Since 1967 Audrey Nesbitt Gray has been the driving force behind a booklet called ''You and the Law.''

Created by SBM and the Michigan Lawyer's Auxiliary, and currently in its eighth edition, this 32-page manual is distributed to ninth-grade classrooms across Michigan.

Gray also introduced ''The Late Show'' in the Kalamazoo County Juvenile Home in 1993.

In this program, adults read to children in the home two evenings a week.

Because of its success, a library named for her was established in the home in 1995, and, with Gray acting as an advisor, the program expanded to South Haven, Kent County, Midland, and Saginaw.

Gray has also served on Gov. Blanchard's Advisory Board on Drug Free Schools, SBM's Task Force on Substance Abuse, and spearheaded an anti-drug rally at the Silverdome.

She has spent decades on the MLA board, serving as its president and chair for juvenile services.

Published: Mon, Sep 20, 2010


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