Showing the way: Attorney has relished his various leadership roles

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Attorney Jeff Leib holds a prized 1979 photo of his father, Samuel, upon receiving his 50-year pin from the State Bar of Michigan. Leib, shown at left in the black and white photo, also sports a 50-year pin from the State Bar, receiving his honor in 2018. At various times, father and son each served as general counsel for Frank’s Nursery & Crafts, which at its peak had more than 130 outlets across several states.

– Photo by Tom Kirvan

By Tom Kirvan
Legal News

As would be expected of a former baseball player at Michigan State, attorney Jeff Leib has been particularly adept at covering all the bases over the course of his legal career.

He has been an assistant prosecutor, a legal adviser to probate judges, and a successful private practitioner for the past 45 years, scoring several victories before the Michigan Supreme Court. For good measure, he also has served in every office, including president, of both the Southfield and Oakland County Bar Associations, in addition to chairing the State Bar of Michigan’s Committee on Crime Prevention.

In 1971, he was elected the first president of the Optimist Club of West Bloomfield and, shortly thereafter, was chosen the first president of the Greater West Bloomfield Chamber of Commerce, later becoming the first recipient of its Businessperson of the Year Award.

In political circles, Leib was instrumental in the successful passage of the Headlee Amendment in 1978, serving as state co-chairman of the drive to place a constitutional limit on property tax levels.

In recent years, Leib has continued his good works in the community, serving as one of the founders of The Rainbow Connection, a charity that grants the wishes of terminally ill children and was the brainchild of the late L. Brooks Patterson, longtime Oakland County Executive.

His leadership also is in evidence in the field of education, where Leib is the current board president of Hanley International Academy, a public charter school in Hamtramck, authorized by Grand Valley State University.

In short, Leib has personified the leadership expression, “knows the way, goes the way, and shows the way.”

Leib, whose father was an attorney, appeared destined for a career in genetics before courses in chemistry gave him second thoughts.

“Those courses made me think twice about my pre-med major,” Leib said with a smile. “I decided it probably would be smarter if I switched into the business school, where I had more of an aptitude for the coursework.”

The decision helped pave the way for his eventual enrollment in the University of Detroit School of Law, where he was classmates with L. Brooks Patterson, who died of pancreatic cancer last month.

“My dad, of course, was my legal role model, although he didn’t steer me into a career in the law,” Leib said. “He wanted me to be happy in whatever career I chose and didn’t push me to follow in his footsteps.”

His father, Samuel W. Leib, was one of nine children and worked his way through college and the University of Michigan Law School by washing dishes, earning his law degree in 1929 just before the stock market crash and the onset of the Great Depression.

“He began his law career at a time when the economy was falling apart, but he had the smarts and the work ethic to eventually become successful,” said Leib of his father, who was just the second in his family to attend college. “I learned so much about life from him and my mother (Lois), who worked hard to send two of her brothers through medical school.”

Leib’s father was active in the Shriners organization and later represented the fraternal society in various legal matters related to the popular Shrine Circus. While working for his father’s firm, Leib also got in on the act, so to speak, by handling several high profile cases, including one involving Hugo Zacchini, who gained fame as the first human cannonball.

“The case revolved around Zacchini’s contention that a television broadcast company had misappropriated his likeness by filming him being shot out of a cannon without first securing his permission,” Leib explained.

Fortunately for Leib, the case was settled quickly after it became clear that Zacchini had prevailed in a similar suit against Scripps-Howard Broadcasting Co., a 1977 legal battle that was decided by the United States Supreme Court in a 5 to 4 ruling.

“It was nice to have a Supreme Court decision in hand,” Leib said with a wink.

Leib would enjoy his own Supreme Court triumph in 1982, albeit at the state level. In the case of In re Benker Estate Counts v. Benker, Leib successfully represented the widow of a former executive with the Ex-Cell-O Corp., nullifying a prenuptial agreement that would have left virtually his entire $640,000 estate to his daughter.

The Supreme Court decision reversed a Michigan Court of Appeals ruling that had overturned the judgment of the probate court. On the losing side of the case was John J. McDonald, who later would serve with distinction on the Oakland County Circuit Court before passing away last month some 9 years after retiring from the bench.

“It’s been a precedent setting case for years in the area of prenuptial agreements,” Leib said with a sense of pride. “The Supreme Court ruled that the agreement was drafted to ‘maintain the status quo’ and was meant to be ‘an arm’s length transaction,’ which is the antithesis of a prenuptial arrangement. The Supreme Court rightly found that the agreement failed to disclose the size of his estate, which could have influenced my client in signing the prenup.”

Leib grew up in the Dexter-Davison area of Detroit in an “old Jewish neighborhood” and graduated from venerable Mumford High School.

“I was part of the Class of ‘59 and we recently celebrated our 60-year reunion,” said Leib.

Following his graduation from Mumford, Leib enrolled at MSU, enjoying several years on the Spartan baseball squad before deciding to concentrate on his studies.

“I was good, but not great,” Leib said of his talents on the baseball diamond, noting that the Spartans had a “very good team during those years,” producing such Major League pitchers as Dick Radatz and Ron Perranoski.

It was at MSU where Leib met his future wife, Bryna, whom he married in 1965. The couple has three children and five children. Their son Larry is an attorney with his father in Farmington Hills, while their daughter Jayme Kirschner is the former co-owner of Imelda’s Closet in Birmingham. Their second daughter, Jodi Cohen, is a marketing specialist with M-1 Imaging.

“I count my blessings everyday to have such a wonderful wife and such a terrific family,” Leib said. “They are my pride and joy.”

Leib’s love for his alma mater also runs deep, as he has been a member of the MSU President’s Club, its Development Board, Ralph Young Board of Directors, Varsity “S” Club, and the President’s Cabinet. He and his wife are now members of the John Hannah Society at MSU, an organization that recognizes the generosity of donors to the Big Ten university.

In fact, the longtime West Bloomfield resident has such cache at MSU that the likes of Tom Izzo, Mark Dantonio, and George Blaha recorded video clips for Leib’s grandson Garrett Kirschner when he celebrated his bar mitzvah.

While he was a member of the Spartan baseball squad, Leib and his teammates experienced their own version of the Academy Award winning movie “Green Book,” which traced the travels of noted African American pianist Dr. Don Shirley as he performed in concert through the segregationist South during the early 1960s.

“One of our players was black, which made our playing trip through the South particularly challenging because of the Jim Crow laws,” said Leib. “Like in the movie, we had to find motels where we all could stay and restaurants where we all could eat. We weren’t going to leave our teammate to fend for himself. It was a great example of being part of a true team.

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