WCBA President Delphia Simpson is eager to see more women and more members of color representing law firms of all sizes


By Jo Mathis

Legal News

The Washtenaw County Bar Association's new president is excited to be leading what she believes is the best bar association in the state.

Delphia Simpson says it's programs such as the WCBA's Bias Awareness Week that makes it one of the most progressive, inclusive bars around.

"I am so honored to take this leadership role as President of the Washtenaw County Bar Association. I am looking forward to meeting, listening and working with all the outstanding attorneys in Washtenaw County," says Delphia Simpson, a Washtenaw County Senior Management assistant public defender who was recently sworn in to her new role leading the WCBA.

Simpson has served on the WCBA board for 11 years and has chaired several committees. She has also held leadership roles in several other local non-profits.

WCBA Executive Director Kyeena Slater said Simpson is well respected by her peers.

"I am sure she will continue to expand opportunities for our members to become more involved with the community," Slater said.

Washtenaw County Public Defender Lloyd Powell says Simpson has served "outstandingly" as his senior management assistant public defender for more than a decade.

"And thus it is with great confidence and pride that we all predict that she will be a splendid president of our Washtenaw County Bar Association," he adds.

Simpson said her predecessor, Pat Conlin, did a great job at the helm and she hopes to continue the five-year plan he started to keep the WCBA moving.

About 700 of Washtenaw County's 1500 lawyers belong to the WCBA, and Simpson would like to see that number grow.

She'd especially like to welcome more women and people of color, as well as attorneys representing a wider variety of practices and everyone from the sole practitioner to members of the largest firms.

Simpson also wants to develop information technology services for members, and enhance WCBA web site to explore such things as paying dues online, the ability to make reservations for Bar Association events and attend Webinars.

Simpson grew up in Ann Arbor, the chatty extrovert in a family of introverts.

After graduating from Pioneer High School, she studied political science and English at Spellman College in Atlanta.

After college, she enrolled in The University of Maryland Law School in Baltimore, with a goal of continuing her passion for public service.

She started out practicing family law at the Legal Aid Bureau of Maryland.

"It opened my eyes to the importance of free or low cost legal services and mental health services, and how that could really help people's lives."

She had no intention of moving back to Michigan. But after 10 years studying and then working in Baltimore, she changed her mind.

"My Midwest roots were calling me back," she said. "And my whole family is here. It's nice to live near family."

Also, her big brother, District Court Judge J. Cedric Simpson, made a very persuasive argument about the benefits of practicing with the exceptional attorneys in Washtenaw County.

So Simpson worked as a family law attorney with the Michigan Poverty Law Program in Ann Arbor, which allowed her to work with legal offices throughout the state.

After four years there, she worked for two years as the ACLU's racial justice staff attorney. That's when she met longtime Washtenaw County Public Defender Lloyd Powell, who shares her interest in addressing racial injustice.

"In the African American community, there's a perception that the legal system doesn't work for them," she said, noting that when police officers stop black drivers for no apparent reason, that perception intensifies. "It's important for me to make sure law enforcement works for everyone."

This topic can get a bit heated at the family dinner table.

Simpson's husband of three years, Garth John, is a Highland Park police officer. And he sees things from the other side.

"We see a lot of things very differently," she says with a smile. "He of course thinks I have an excuse for everyone's behavior; that I'm a softie. And I see him as ... `Maybe you shouldn't arrest everyone!' What was the probable cause? Why did you stop that person? What was the legal reason?'"

She says it's not her job to determine her clients' guilt or innocence, but to zealously represent them, making sure their rights are preserved. Her fellow public defenders are all "smart, supportive, committed, and outstanding advocates for their clients," she says. And they make sure they start with a presumption of innocence.

"We live in a country where everyone is entitled to a defense," she says.

Simpson says she is not a softy; that she believes people should face the consequences of their behavior.

"But nothing more," she says. "I want to make sure their rights are protected; that they receive due process; that the Constitution works. We can't have a two-tiered system where the rich get one punishment and the everyone else gets the book thrown at them. Equality and fairness happen when the poor and powerless are given the same treatment as the wealthy and well-connected."

The couple live in an Ann Arbor condominium with their new puppy Zeus, a frisky Rottweiler/shepherd mix that John rescued on the job.

Simpson also spends a lot of time with her sister, two brothers, two nieces and a nephew, who live in the area.

With a job she loves, close ties to family, friends and the community, and a new position heading the WCBA, Simpson has a lot to smile about these days.

As she puts it: "I'm glad I moved back."

Published: Thu, Aug 15, 2013