New chapter: Former U.S. attorney charts next course in her career


Oakland County Commissioner Bill Dwyer (right) honored former U.S. Attorney Barbara L. McQuade (left), Eastern District of Michigan, for her years of outstanding public service. On Thursday, March 30, in the Oakland County Board of Commissioners’ Auditorium in Pontiac, he presented a proclamation that also recognized her place in history as the first woman to serve as the U.S. attorney in Michigan’s Eastern District as part of Women’s History Month. “U.S. Attorney Barbara McQuade is a trailblazer and an outstanding public servant. She has served with great integrity and has demonstrated exceptional leadership during her tenure. I am proud of her accomplishments and the impact she has made in the law enforcement community. Her contributions to protect citizens and bring criminals to justice will be her greatest legacy,” stated Bill Dwyer.

– Photo by John Meiu

By Linda Laderman
Legal News

Barely one month after Barbara McQuade was asked to resign, without notice, from her position as U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan, the former prosecutor is preparing to join the faculty at her alma mater, the University of Michigan Law School, where she plans to teach in the fields of criminal law, criminal procedure and national security.

While McQuade’s resignation from the U.S. Attorney’s Office was one she said she anticipated, what she did not foresee was the abruptness that would characterize her final day.

“After having been asked by this administration to hold over, I was abruptly asked to leave at 4:30 on a Friday afternoon,” McQuade said. “This showed a lack of understanding of the office.”

As a result of the sudden terminations on March 10, some 46 U.S. Attorney’s Offices throughout the country were left without a lead attorney, creating a situation that has not yet been remedied, according to McQuade.

“It is customary for new presidents to appoint new U.S. attorneys, but U.S. attorneys are not usually asked to resign so abruptly and before their successors are identified. A more orderly transition could have avoided unnecessary disruption.”

Still, McQuade said she is not worried about the continuity of the workflow of her former office.

“The U.S. Attorney’s Offices are being capably run by acting career professionals. In Detroit, Dan Lemisch, an outstanding career prosecutor, is serving as acting U.S. attorney.”

Of her time at the U.S. Attorney’s Office, McQuade said, “I miss it terribly. I’ve loved every minute of it.”

McQuade was appointed as U.S. attorney in 2010 by then President Barack Obama, where she worked on many high profile cases like the “Underwear Bomber” incident when an al-Qaeda
member, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, tried to bring down a Northwest Airlines flight on Christmas Day 2009 and the prosecution of former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick who was charged,
convicted and sentenced to 28 years in federal prison for his role in a public corruption scandal.

“I think that the conviction of former Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick is part of Detroit’s recovery story,” McQuade said. “Public officials know from the Kilpatrick jury’s verdict that the people of Detroit will not tolerate corruption.  The people deserve better, demand better, and are getting better government.”

For McQuade, choosing to teach rather than joining a law firm, represents an opportunity to continue to address the critical legal issues that face established and emerging members of the legal profession.

“Teaching gives me a chance to make a positive impact on law students and to help them have a firm understanding of the Constitution,” said McQuade, a former attorney with Butzel Long in Detroit. “We have seen attacks on the legitimacy of the institutions that protect us – our free press, open elections and independent courts. I want to empower law students to fight back against all of those damaging forces.”

Issues like the blocking of former President’s Obama’s nominee, Merrick Garland, to the U.S. Supreme Court, have contributed to rifts in our democratic form of government, causing “understandable outrage,” McQuade said.

“Our democracy depends upon an informed citizenry and a system of checks and balances, yet we live in a time when it is difficult to discern fact from fiction and we have individuals in power who exploit that phenomenon. We have become so polarized that we are unwilling to engage in genuine debate and listen to counter arguments.”

Since she left the U.S. Attorney’s Office, McQuade has been speaking to groups across the state, where she often emphasizes that women need to seek leadership roles in their professions and communities.

“I advise women to avoid common pitfalls, such as eliminating themselves from opportunities by failing to apply and waiting to be asked to seek leadership opportunities.  I also advise women to seek out mentors who are different from them,” McQuade said. “Some of my best mentors have been men, including men of a different race, religion and age than me.”

Though much has changed as far as opportunities for women are concerned, McQuade admits there remains room for growth.

“While women have made a great deal of progress in my lifetime, we still lack representation at the highest levels of the private and public sectors.  We still live under rules created by men when men worked and women stayed at home,” McQuade said. “For example, child care should not be a woman’s issue. Most men and women I know raising families today would prefer a set of workplace rules that allow men and women to prioritize child care. We need to work together to change outdated models.”

Often mentioned as the “first woman” to serve as the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan, McQuade thinks it’s time for that distinction to becomes less of an issue.

“I think it’s very sad that in 2017 we’re still talking about first women. I’m working hard to make sure gender isn’t an issue,” McQuade said, adding that she is indebted to the women in public service who preceded her. 

Citing former Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm and Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy, McQuade said, “I am grateful for the women who came before me. I stand on their shoulders.”

Notwithstanding that the women McQuade mentioned are elected officials, the new U-M law professor said she has no intention of running for an elected position.

“There are many ways to serve,” said McQuade, who is married and the mother of four children. “By teaching, I can do what’s right, not necessarily what’s popular.”