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Prosecutor turns into criminal defense attorney

By Jeanine Matlow
Legal News

Layne Ashley Sakwa may have made the move from one side of the courtroom to the other, but her core values remain the same. The associate attorney with Fried Saperstein Abbatt in Southfield – a firm that handles everything from personal injury cases to divorce and business law – works in its criminal defense section.

Though Sakwa says being a defense attorney switches your paradigm, her background is a bonus.

“You need two sides to make the system work. It enables you to see both sides to come up with the best solution for your client. If everybody does their job the way they should be doing it, justice will be served,” says the former prosecutor. 

Sakwa was fascinated by law and the constitution from a young age.

“I watched ‘The TODAY Show’ instead of cartoons,” she says. “When I was 10, I wanted to be Sandra Day O’Connor. I never wavered.”
Helping others would also come early on for Sakwa.

“My mom believed in community service and volunteer service. She took me with her and led me on my path for both,” she says. 

A graduate of the University of Detroit Mercy School of Law, Sakwa serves as a Steering Committee member on the Oakland County Coordinating Council Against Domestic Violence and does pro bono work for HAVEN, an organization that helps victims of domestic violence and sexual assault.

She is also the secretary of the Women Officials Network, an organization that fosters women running for political office and advancing in their professions.

In 2004, Sakwa won the Spirit of Detroit Award. Eight years later, she was named one of the Most Esteemed Women of Michigan by the Gary Burnstein Community Health Clinic. In 2014, L. Brooks Patterson named her one of the Elite 40 under 40 in Oakland County. 

Running for Oakland County Circuit Court judge at the age of 32 was a life changing experience for Sakwa.

“I met thousands of people and I was able to learn from the experience,” she says.

On a personal note, Sakwa loves to travel and she stays fit with spinning classes at Real Ryder Revolution in Beverly Hills.

“It never gets easy, but it’s something that everyone can do at their own pace, on their own bike, with no competition,” she says.

Sakwa’s mom even joins her for her early morning routine.

“I don’t know where the day is going to take me,” says Sakwa. “I want to be available for my clients. Spinning helps me focus my energy for the day and keeps me fit…because I love to eat!”

The self-confessed foodie leaves the cooking to her husband, Tony Averbuch, the Franklin-Bingham Fire Chief and Michigan Disaster Medical Assistance Team (MI-1DMAT) leader.

Sakwa, who also lives with her stepdaughter, Julia, and a dog named Kate, credits the firm with being very family-oriented and encouraging other activities outside of work.

“They want us to be involved in the community,” she says. “That’s how I learn the skills I need in the courtroom.”

Harold Fried, partner with Fried Saperstein Abbatt, has nothing but praise for the Sakwa.

“Going from a prosecutor to defending people is a difficult transition. Few do it easily, but Layne is a big picture person. She sees people for what they are. She doesn’t judge them,” he says.

“She’s an incredibly quick study and she has a thirst for learning. She genuinely wants to help her clients,” he adds. “She has amazing people skills, an analytical mind and great trial skills.”

On a lighter note, Fried says Sakwa has a great sense of humor, “She’s very funny. She’s the office comedian.”

Though he’s worked with many bright and talented attorneys during his more than 40 years in the field, he says, “She is certainly one of the brightest young lawyers I’ve ever known.”