President-Elect: Clark Hill attorney chosen for ABA leadership role

By Tom Kirvan
Legal News

In this presidential election year, Detroit attorney Reggie Turner is a president in waiting.

Of the American Bar Association, that is.

Turner, a Detroit native and a product of Cass Tech High School, recently was selected as president-elect nominee of the ABA, the largest organization of lawyers in the world. A longtime partner with Clark Hill, Turner will assume the president-elect responsibilities after the close of the 2020 ABA Annual Meeting in Chicago this summer.

His year as president-elect will set the stage for Turner’s rise to the top of the ABA in the summer of 2021, when the University of Michigan Law School alum leads the 400,000-plus-member organization.

“I am humbled to take on the president-elect role and then the president’s responsibilities,” Turner said. “I am following in the footsteps of some real giants in the legal profession, including Dennis Archer, George Bushnell, and Wallace Riley, all from Michigan.”

The current president-elect of the ABA, Trish Refo, also has a Michigan connection. A partner at Snell & Wilmer in Phoenix, Refo is a 1983 graduate of U-M Law School, where she was taught by such “legends of the law” as Professors John Reed, Jerry Israel, and Ted St. Antoine.

And yet it was Archer, the first person of color to serve as president of the ABA, who helped encourage Turner to become involved in bar association work and pro bono causes.

“He has been an incredible mentor throughout my legal career and was instrumental in imparting upon me the value of serving the bar,” Turner said of Archer, ABA president in 2003-04 and State Bar of Michigan president in 1984-85. “He has done so much, first as Detroit Mayor and then as a Michigan Supreme Court Justice, to elevate the standards of public service. His work has inspired me from the time I was in law school.”

In fact, it was as a law school student that Turner first crossed paths with Archer, who at the time was president of the State Bar.

“He talked about professionalism, diligence, duty, service, and honor, and he answered our questions with patience and candor,” Turner told the ABA House of Delegates at its midyear meeting in Austin, Texas on February 17.

In many respects, Turner has mirrored Archer in his commitment to public service, beginning his legal career as a law clerk to Archer at the Michigan Supreme Court. The two-year assignment helped propel Turner to a job with Sachs Waldman, where he honed his courtroom skills while representing the union side of labor law clients.

In 1996, Turner accepted a White House Fellowship, serving as an aide to Housing and Urban Development Secretaries Henry Cisneros and Andrew Cuomo, while also assisting with a Presidential Task Force headed by President Bill Clinton’s Chief of Staff Leon Panetta.

“The task force was formed in the aftermath of rioting in St. Petersburg, Florida, and focused on the need to rebuild areas affected in the city and also to restore relations with those most impacted,” said Turner. “It was especially challenging work.”

After joining Clark Hill in 2000, Turner served on the Detroit Board of Education for three years and in 2003 was appointed to Michigan State Board of Education by then Governor Jennifer Granholm. He was elected to a four-year term on the State Board in 2006.

“Education is one of the most important services our government provides, and the privilege of serving in educational leadership has been challenging and rewarding,” Turner said.
“We have to work toward true equality in educational opportunity, which has been elusive, particularly for children in poverty.”

A graduate of Wayne State University, Turner also has served as secretary of the Wayne County Airport Authority, as secretary of the Wayne County Business Development Corporation, and as chairman of the City of Detroit Board of Ethics.

His leadership skills have been particularly evident on behalf of the Detroit Institute of Arts, according to Eugene Gargaro, longtime chair of the DIA board.

“Reggie is one of those magnificent fellows in life who doesn’t have ‘no’ in his vocabulary,” Gargaro said of his trusted DIA colleague. “He has been a long serving board member, counselor, legal adviser, and leader. Reggie, throughout all his service to the DIA, has been the voice of reason when things get difficult.”

Gargaro and Turner played pivotal roles in helping the DIA pass a tri-county millage in 2012, co-chairing the successful campaign that has provided the cultural institution with a steady revenue flow each year. The millage, which is set to expire in 2022, will be up for renewal this March, two years ahead of schedule. And Gargaro and Turner once again are co-chairing the effort to secure voter approval of the 0.2-mill package.

“This millage has put the DIA on solid financial footing and is essential to maintaining the level of services that the community has come to expect,” said Turner, the recipient of the 2013 Lifetime Service Award from the DIA.

A board member at Comerica Inc. and Masco Corp., Turner is a past president of the National Bar Association and the State Bar of Michigan. In those roles, he regularly met with political VIPs and twice has testified before the Judiciary Committee of the U.S. Senate.

In 2003, Turner appeared before the nation’s highest court, successfully arguing in favor of the University of Michigan’s affirmative action policies (Grutter v. Bollinger).

During his tenure at Clark Hill, where he is a member of the Executive Committee, Turner has seen the firm grow from 90 to more than 650 attorneys.

“We now are a national and international firm, with 25 offices across the U.S., as well as offices in Ireland and Mexico,” Turner said. “Most of the expansion has been through acquisitions, but we have grown even during the difficult times surrounding the recession.”

John Hern, chief executive officer at Clark Hill, said Turner “is a natural, gifted leader, with a deep and enduring commitment to the community and the bar.”

Said Hern: “His leadership has positively impacted our firm; the Detroit community; the local, state and national bar; and business boardrooms across the country. All of us at Clark Hill are thrilled that he has been chosen to lead the ABA, and expect that he will bring his deep commitment to service, as well as integrity and vision, to this role.”

At Clark Hill, Turner has carved out a reputation as a highly respected corporate litigator, government affairs advocate, and strategic adviser to a number of Fortune 100 companies.

Turner’s parents were both public servants, which undoubtedly helped fuel his lifetime desire to “do good” in the community.

One of four siblings, Turner and his wife, Marcia, have two daughters, Nia, 28, and Imani, 21.

Turner’s wife, formerly a senior sales director for the Detroit Newspaper Agency, is a vice president and general sales manager for Fox Sports Detroit, which broadcasts games for the Tigers, Pistons, and Red Wings.

“I am truly blessed with a wonderful family, and they have been very supportive of my work in the community,” said Turner.

“It has helped make it all worthwhile.”


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