Revitalization: Mayor, Supreme Court justice appear at law school symposium

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 By Chelsea Maralason

Legal News

Inspiring the next generation of Detroit area lawyers to become community leaders was the focus of an appearance by Mayor Mike Duggan and Michigan Supreme Court Justice David Viviano at the University of Detroit Mercy School of Law on April 14. 

In the first of a series of symposiums focused on the diversity and revitalization of Detroit presented by the Arab and Chaldean Law Student Association (ACLSA), Viviano and Duggan made it clear that law and politics play an equally important role in community development and enrichment.

Aaron Hall, a third year law student at U-D Mercy, thought the program was interesting “to have both sides from the legal perspective … and to have a political perspective, both about the revitalization of Detroit,” he said. 

Viviano stated that lawyers have an obligation to see that the communities in which they reside benefit from their services, whether it is in a public service role, an elected position, or in an appointed capacity.

Viviano said that lawyers are able to, in a very personal way, help people through difficult periods to get their life on track. He also suggested that students consider other ways in which they can help the community and what positions to pursue once they graduate from law school. 

“If you join a law firm like I did, do pro bono work for people or community organizations,” said Viviano, “it might mean working at a nonprofit or even starting one … Of course, you might consider running for office or helping a candidate run for office. Making sure that we’re getting the best people into the public sector and into leadership roles to help revitalize the city of Detroit, the suburbs, the state of Michigan, and beyond.”

Michael Bussert, a second year law student at U-D Mercy, was among those on hand for the April 14 program featuring Viviano and Duggan. 

“I thought it was great; it was definitely interesting to see more of the law side with Justice Viviano” said Bussert. “It was a great balance between what’s going on in the city and the law.” 

The role that law students will play in the city’s future is vital to Detroit’s comeback, according to Duggan and Viviano. Viviano noted that law school “graduates are going to play a significant role in the revitalization of Detroit.” 

Duggan is supportive of improving Detroit at large, not just in the downtown and midtown areas, but all throughout the neighborhoods as well.  

“People have no confidence of what’s going on in their neighborhoods,” said Duggan, who believes that he and other governmental leaders have an obligation to change that perception. 

That change relies heavily upon future community leaders. Viviano pointed out that many of the major players working toward a better Detroit are lawyers, including Governor Rick Snyder, Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr, Mayor Duggan, and U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Steven Rhodes. 

Duggan used blight as an example of how to approach a vexing problem from a legal perspective. Blight has been an issue since Coleman Young was mayor and ever since his administration, the mantra has been to “knock down 10,000 houses,” said Duggan. After four mayors all said the same thing, Duggan thought to himself, “Lord, I need to run for mayor” in an effort to make some headway in addressing the problem.

“How can we go take these properties when they’re first vacant, well, we looked at the law,” said Duggan. “This is why the experiences you have in law school are so valuable.”  

Duggan and his staff found solutions after exploring the law, and are implementing a plan to tackle blight in a manner that will stand the test of time.

“Because people knew every other house on the block was being fixed up, they fixed theirs up,” Duggan said.  “I was amazed how many times somebody bought the house next door to their sister, or somebody who belonged to a local church bought the house near where their church was.”

Michael Sulaka, president of the ACLSA and emcee of the April 14 event, thought it was great to hear from Viviano and Duggan, an appointed and elected official “working at the highest capacity,” he said. “It was even better to have an opportunity to ask them questions directly,” which may be more difficult during a campaign, he added.

Stephen McCarthy, a second year law student in the audience, thought the symposium was a great opportunity to listen to two of the leading public servants in the state.

“I really enjoyed it,” McCarthy said of the symposium.  “I especially enjoyed hearing from the mayor, but I also enjoyed just the fact, being a law student, of getting to hear a Michigan Supreme Court justice speak.”