Former assistant prosecutor honored with McCree Award

By Tom Kirvan

Legal News

As a trial lawyer, and by all accounts a very talented one at that, Marty Reisig was trained to ''look back'' when he embarked upon a case, piecing together facts like a legal jigsaw puzzle.

Now, in his principal role as a mediator, Reisig is in a position to ''look forward,'' viewing legal matters in an altogether different light, hoping to reach a consensus on the value of ''making things right.''

Reisig is this year's recipient of the coveted Wade H. McCree Jr. Award sponsored by the Federal Bar Association for the Eastern District of Michigan.

The McCree Award for the Advancement of Social Justice is named after the former U.S. Court of Appeals judge who served as U.S. Solicitor General during the Carter Administration. The list of past recipients includes such legal and political heavyweights as former Governor William Milliken, U.S. Court of Appeals Judge Damon Keith, former Detroit Mayor Dennis Archer, former U.S. Attorney Saul Green, and the late George Romney, three-term governor in Michigan and former secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Reisig, a graduate of Oak Park High School and Oakland University, received his law degree from Wayne State University in 1970. A longtime Birmingham resident, the 66-year-old Reisig began his legal career at the State Appellate Defenders Office, arguing cases before the Court of Appeals and the Michigan Supreme Court. In 1972, he joined the Federal Defenders Office in Detroit, representing indigent defendants in cases before the federal district and appellate courts. Six years later, Reisig took a different career track, joining the U.S. Attorney's Office in Detroit.

During his six years with the U.S. Attorney's Office, Reisig served as Chief of the Economic Crimes Unit, earning special commendations from the Justice Department for successful prosecutions of tax, Medicaid, bankruptcy, and corruption cases. He gained particular acclaim for gaining the conviction of a noted bankruptcy attorney charged with undermining the blind draw system of selecting judges to hear bankruptcy cases.

While in private practice as a criminal defense attorney, Reisig began what would become a 15-year legal odyssey to ''end the draconian '650' mandatory drug lifer law'' in Michigan.

''Almost 90 percent of those serving life sentences were indigent,'' Reisig said of the widely criticized law that imposed a life term on those convicted of possessing or dealing more than 650 grams of a controlled substance. ''Prosecutors had complete control over sentencing and judges could not consider the defendant's history or role in the offense. The vast majority serving life sentences were low level 'mules' and drug addicts.''

His persistence in pressing the case before state legislators finally paid off when the mandatory life sentence provision without the possibility of parole was repealed in the late 1990s, leading to further sentencing reforms in 2002.

Also during the '90s, Reisig, as chair of the Oakland County Bar Association's Criminal Law Committee, spearheaded efforts to ''improve the level of indigent representation in Oakland County,'' leading to changes in the lawyer assignment system by judges. It was a cause he also championed on a statewide level, helping draft proposals seeking greater ''parity between defense counsel and prosecution resources.''

Published: Mon, Mar 19, 2012