A 'Lynch-pin': Former financial analyst found his legal calling in court service

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By Tom Kirvan
Legal News

It was October 19, 1987, a day otherwise known as “Black Monday” for investors in the stock and commodity markets.

Rich Lynch, general counsel for Third Circuit Court of Wayne County, remembers it well, watching helplessly from the floor of the Chicago Board of Trade as the markets unexpectedly cratered, sending financial shockwaves around the globe.

It proved to be a life-changing day for him.

At the time, Lynch worked as a financial analyst in the early stages of a career that already had taken a surprising turn for a John Carroll University grad who majored in history.

“I originally thought I would pursue an academic career teaching history after obtaining a Ph.D.,” Lynch said. “I always was an avid reader and enjoyed studying, so that kind of career path made a lot of sense to me.”

What might not have made sense is that there were few good-paying jobs in the teaching field, forcing Lynch to try his hand in the world of finance where greater opportunities awaited.
And greater risk as well.

“Black Monday was a reckoning for a lot of people in the investing field and I was one of them, where I decided that I didn't want that kind of stress in my life on an ongoing basis,” said Lynch of his reasoning for eventually enrolling in law school.

It was a wise move, leading to a now 33-year legal career that began with the Oakland County Circuit Court, where he served in various clerking and administrative capacities over a 26-year period. While there, Lynch made an early impression on Oakland County Corporation Counsel Judy Cunningham, who worked for the county for more than three decades before retiring in 2014.

“I have had the privilege and pleasure of knowing Rich Lynch for more than 30 years,” said Cunningham, a past president of the Oakland County Bar Association. “When I first met him, Rich was serving as court clerk to Oakland County Circuit Judge Hilda Gage. With Judge Gage, Rich could not have had a better role model. Eventually he became a staff attorney and later moved to court administration where he managed the Civil/Criminal Division and also served as the court’s judicial assistant.

“When I learned that Rich had moved to Wayne County to serve as general counsel for the Third Circuit Court, I could not have been more pleased for him,” Cunningham said. “His experience with courts and judges combined with his legal expertise made him perfect for this new job.” 
Cunningham, who spent 14 years as corporation counsel and was the first woman to hold the job, said that Lynch “understands what it is to be a public servant,” particularly during a time of political divisiveness in the country.

“He is kind, caring, empathetic, thorough, and brilliant,” Cunningham said of Lynch, who will turn 57 in December. “He listens to and understands people and I’m sure his staff in Wayne County as well as the judges appreciate his leadership and expertise. Incidentally, he also has a wonderful sense of humor. While he may appear quiet and unassuming, do not underestimate him or his resolve to do the right thing for the right reasons and the most good. 

“The Third Circuit is fortunate to have Rich as its general counsel,” Cunningham added. “And I consider myself lucky to have known him as a colleague and friend these many years.”

Lynch, in turn, said he considers Cunningham among his legal mentors, along with the late Judge Gage, Oakland Circuit Judges Nanci Grant and Denise Langford Morris, and retired Oakland Probate Judge Eugene Arthur Moore.

“I consider myself extremely fortunate to have learned and worked with each one of them during my time in Oakland County,” Lynch said. “They set a high bar in terms of public service.”

One of three children, Lynch grew up in the Chicago area after his father Joe, a metallurgical engineer with Republic Steel, was transferred from the company’s plant in Canton, Ohio. Another job transfer years later eventually brought the Lynch family – including his mother Pat and siblings Maureen and Tom – to Metro Detroit.

Lynch met his future wife, Vickie, during his senior year at John Carroll, one of the top Jesuit universities in the country.

“She has been an incredible wife and mother to our two sons, Brian and Kevin,” Lynch said of his “soulmate,” who works at Beaumont Hospital in Royal Oak. “I hit the ‘Lotto’ with her, as she sacrificed a lot during the first 10 years of our marriage when I was getting my master’s in history and then my law degree.”

A Detroit College of Law alum, Lynch said he “treasured” his years working in Oakland County, where he regularly crossed paths with Kevin Oeffner, chief administrator of the Circuit Court operation.

“Rich is one of the finest lawyers and managers I’ve ever had the pleasure to work with,” said Oeffner, court administrator for the past 22 years.  “Any organization would love to have people with his qualities, experience and knowledge, but the thing I most admire about him is that he is as decent, kind, trustworthy, and honest as they come.

“One of the ‘bluest’ days I have had was when he told me that he was going to accept the legal counsel position with the Third Circuit Court,” Oeffner recalled. “Great for them; not so for us. But I was happy for him as he was so deserving. Thankfully we keep in touch regularly and he is always willing to give me advice. There is literally only one bad thing I can say about him – he roots for Notre Dame football.”

Lynch was appointed general counsel for the Third Circuit Court in 2014, a judicial operation with nearly 60 judges.

“I have a most interesting job that touches upon every facet of the largest circuit court operation in the state,” Lynch said of his legal responsibilities that at various times can require a healthy sense of humor. “Ours is a court with 58 judges and, remarkably, no one ever second-guesses my opinion,” he added with a wink.

“In all seriousness, I am surrounded by extremely talented and dedicated people at the court who are committed to serving the public good,” Lynch said. “There is a certain calling to be involved in public service work, and I can say without hesitation that we live up to that ideal here.”
Helping forge a spirit of cooperation among some 600 staff members can be a daunting task, particularly since Lynch is charged with handling negotiations with three bargaining units at the court.

“We go into each negotiation with a strong sense of purpose and good faith,” said Lynch, noting that court officials adhere to a strategic planning approach throughout the bargaining process.

Such a test of wills may come naturally for Lynch, a veteran of several triathlons, including a combined 70.3-mile Half Ironman that featured a 1.2-mile swim, 56-mile bike ride, and 13.1-mile run.

“I’m a ‘recovering runner’ after several knee surgeries, so I’ve taken up the sport of triathlons for my fitness enjoyment,” said Lynch, who plans to enter a Half Ironman in Chattanooga, Tenn. next May. “Vickie and I really enjoy exercising and traveling, so scheduling one of these events each year allows us to experience both at once.”

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