Retiring prosecutor receives sentimental send-off; roast

Jackson Co. Prosecutor Hank Zavislak hopes to stay involved

By Jo Mathis

Legal News

For 33 years, Hank Zavislak has played two key roles in enforcing the law in Jackson County.

Last Thursday, friends and colleagues gathered at the Jackson County Country Club to honor the former sheriff and retiring prosecutor as he leaves the work he's loved for so long.

"I'm very humbled by having had the opportunity to lead two great organizations," told the crowd. "It's been a great, great journey."

There were plenty of law enforcement officers on hand to greet Zavislak, 64, who served as the Jackson County Sheriff for 22 years. He left that role in 2002 when he was appointed to replace John McBain, who was elected Circuit Court judge.

Zavislak's successor, the newly elected Jerry Jarzynka, thanked him for being a great boss and mentor.

"I'm eternally grateful to you for what you've done," he said, after presenting a toast.

Amidst the many compliments about Zavislak's strengths as a leader were roast-style ribbings.

Mark Blumer joked that when Zavislak was trying to "save" him from retirement by bringing him to Jackson as an assistant prosecutor, Blumer felt the need to tell the staunch Republican that he was a Democrat.

"His reaction told me everything I needed to know about Hank," Blumer quipped. "He went, `Shhhhhhh!'"

Daniel Heyns, a former Jackson County Sheriff who worked with Zavislak and is now director of the Michigan Department of Corrections, called Zavislak his mentor; a statesman; a good father; campaign advisor; opinion-setter; supporter of good causes; and "community organizer in the Zavislak sense, not the Obama sense."

"He was a great personal counselor for me and a loyal friend," Heyns said. "But on the other hand, I have so much material for a roast. And if the roles were reversed, I'm sure that Hank would take advantage of some of this. And in fact, I think when I left, he did."

So he told three quick stories to prove that Zavislak said could be divided in three categories: Go get him before he hurts himself. Go get him before he hurts any of us. And go get him before he hurts the jail.

Heyns recalled the time Zavislak bought grapefruits from a charitable group for all the prisoners in the jail. Unfortunately, they flushed the rinds down the toilet, backing up the plumbing system.

"It was a total disaster!" Heyns said.

Noting that his new job comes with connections to the license plate factory, Heyns held up a license plate with the word HANK on it, and joked that the man who created the plate was put in the slammer by Zavislak.

"The first (plate) he punched out, I had to veto because it was really inappropriate," he said, to laughter. "In fact, you'll faint! So he sends this to you with his best wishes."

As he went from table to table greeting guests, Zavislak told The Legal News that his post-retirement plans aren't firm, other than he wants to spend more time with his four grandchildren and continue to stay involved.

"I love this community, so I'll still be a part of it," he said.

Will he miss the day-to-day work of a prosecutor?

"I've been really blessed, because I tell people: I would go back to any place I've worked since college with the same bosses and be perfectly happy," he said, noting that his entire career was spent in criminal justice and law enforcement. "A lot of people can't say that."

Zavislak's wife of 17 years, Lynn, called the day a wonderful tribute.

"He talks about all these people quite a bit and has high regards for them," she said. "It's a compliment to my husband and the wonderful people we have in the community."

In his remarks to the crowd, Zavislak said he's encouraged by the recent elections of Jarzynka and Jackson County Sheriff Steven Rand, and is confident both will do a great job for the county.

Speaking to The Legal News last spring after announcing that he would not seek re-election, Zavislak agreed that it's unusual for anyone to serve as both sheriff and prosecutor. He compared the positions of sheriff and prosecutor to a fisherman who uses a different type of fishing line, bait and technique to catch walleye and salmon.

''But you are still fishing,'' he said. ''It really was a continuation of my career. I really am a cop at heart who happens to be a lawyer.''

Published: Thu, Dec 6, 2012