Attorney general pours coffee, shares stories and viewpoint

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– LEGAL NEWS PHOTO BY CYNTHIA PRICE


By Cynthia Price

Legal News

A variety of responses showed on the faces of those attending the Grand Valley Metropolitan Council luncheon Monday as Attorney General William Schuette came around to each table and served them coffee.

Some were amused or delighted, others looked a bit embarrassed, some seemed in awe, and a few appeared not to know who he was.

But the first thing Schuette did as he took the podium to give the keynote speech was explain to everyone the tradition behind his coffee service.

In 1984 at the age of 31, Schuette ran for United States Congressional Representative. His opponent was “well-entrenched,” according to Schuette, and the young candidate encountered many obstacles in getting the constituents to listen to him — until he hit upon the idea of going from table to table in local restaurants offering to refill patrons’ empty coffee cups.

He won the seat.

Since then Schuette has spent his career in public service. This included two additional terms in the U.S. House, through 1991, and an unsuccessful challenge of Carl Levin as one of two U.S. Senators from Michigan.

He then served as Director of the Michigan Department of Agriculture until 1993; from 1994 to 2002, he was a member of the Michigan Senate. He then was elected judge in the Michigan Court of Appeals, where he served until 2009, after which he joined Warner, Norcross and Judd.

Schuette received his J.D. from the University of San Francisco School of Law, after attending Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. for his undergraduate degree.

He started his tenure as Michigan Attorney General in 2010, and clearly has an affinity with Gov. Rick Snyder and the administration he ushered in at the same time.

“In January of 2011, we took our oath to the State of Michigan as a new team with a common purpose — to rebuild our state. We want a Michigan that’s safer, a Michigan with less rules, less taxes, less regulation, less government. And  a Michigan that has more jobs, more paychecks, and more freedom. Freedom is at the very core of what we think people in Michigan should have,” Schuette declared at the  luncheon.

Prior to that, he said it was good to be back in West Michigan, where he married his wife, the former Cynthia Grebe. The two grew up together in the Midland area, but Schuette  claims, “She ignored me for twenty years.” It was not until Grebe was a newscaster on WOTV 8 that his pursuit of her ended in success. “”People in this area say to me, oh yeah, you’re the guy who took Cynthia Grebe away from us.”

He also recognized Kent County Commissioner Harold Voorhees as a personal friend, and noted the presence of current State Representative Amanda Price and Senator Dave Hildenbrand, both of whom he congratulated for their good legislative work at points during his speech.

Schuette talked about the urgent need to keep Michigan from losing population and said his focus is on safety so potential new Michigan businesses can feel comfortable asking people to work here.

“As the chief law enforcement officer in the state, I work with 275 aggressive lawyers who fight to uphold the constitution,” Schuette said. “The variety of issues I come across is truly  amazing and no two days are the same; there’s always something new in the ‘legal smorgasbord’ that I call the AG office.”

Addressing crime has been a top priority for AG Schuette. The governor has just signed into law (on Oct. 1) legislation that Schuette had advocated, requiring mandatory prison time for repeat violent offenders in addition to the sentence for their convicted underlying crime. “That’s a statement that public safety counts for Michigan. We can’t have a full and complete recovery in Michigan until we have a recovery in public safety. If families can’t send their kids to school safely, they’ll go elsewhere,”Schuette said.

His focus on human trafficking has already resulted in successful prosecutions, he told the luncheon gathering. He has also made it a priority to prosecute corruption in the public sector, including the high-profile case where Republican Thaddeus McCotter is alleged to have turned in false documentation for his re-election bid.

Schuette has also joined with other state attorneys general in lawsuits that are less about preventing crime than about other types of citizen safety. These include playing an instrumental role in the recent foreclosure settlement and prosecuting mortgage scam artists, as well as suing the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (for whom he had some negative words) to force development of a plan to prevent Asian Carp from entering the Great Lakes.

The Grand Rapids Bar Association co-sponsored the luncheon with the Grand Valley Metropolitan Council, a council of governments “dedicated to enhancing the qualify of life of the people of our metropolitan area through collaboration among regional partners” which has been in existence since 1990. Established pursuant to Act 292 of 1989, and with John Weiss recently taking over as Executive Director when Don Stypula retired, Metro Council oversees such projects as the Lower Grand River Organization of Watersheds, REGIS (the county’s Geographic Information System), and the Clean Air Action program, as well as serving as the Metropolitan Planning Organization for transportation for the Kent County area, as West Michigan Regional Development Commission does for Muskegon County.