Up to the task: New president of foundation ready to face challenges


By Tom Kirvan
Legal News

He has been accorded “SuperLawyer” and “Best Lawyers in America” status among his legal peers, yet Birmingham attorney David Plunkett is off to a somewhat inauspicious start – through no fault of his own – as the new president of the Oakland County Bar Foundation.

Little more than six weeks into his new role as the head of the nonprofit, Plunkett was tasked in mid-August with delivering some bad news to the Oakland County legal community, announcing that its popular and aptly named “Signature Event” for 2020 would be cancelled due to continuing concerns over the coronavirus pandemic.

“Not a great way to start my term,” said Plunkett of the decision to shelve the foundation’s chief fund-raising event for the year. “But everyone associated with the foundation is confident that it was the right decision to make in light of all the uncertainly surrounding the spread of the virus. It just didn’t make sense to take any unnecessary chances.”

Such wisdom is a character trait that Plunkett may well have inherited from his father, the late Thomas Plunkett, a former Oakland County prosecutor who spent the bulk of his career in private practice as one of the principals in the Birmingham firm of Williams, Williams, Rattner, & Plunkett. The elder Plunkett died in the fall of 2017 at age 78 after an 18-month battle with esophageal cancer, leaving a void at the firm and in the hearts of his wife and two sons.

“I always knew my dad was a well-respected, accomplished lawyer, but it wasn’t until I returned home in 2004 to practice with him that I realized the depth of respect and admiration that he enjoyed from members of the bar,” said Plunkett, like his father a partner in the WWRP firm. “I can’t count the number of times lawyers, judges, and clients have gone out of their way to tell me that my dad was the most decent and honorable lawyer and person they ever encountered, that they sought his advice on the most difficult of issues and that he had helped guide them various ways. 

“On my first motion in a Michigan court, the judge asked if I was related to Tom Plunkett. When I told him I was his son, the judge told a crowded courtroom on motion day that all the lawyers present should wish they were half the lawyer and gentleman that my dad is. He then summarily denied my motion. So much for reflected glory.”

The new OCBF president, who earned his bachelor and law degrees from the University of Michigan, spent the first nine years of his legal career in Washington, D.C. and Chicago before joining the Birmingham law firm that bears his father’s name as a partner. It was a move motivated by a desire to return to his roots in Birmingham and for a coveted opportunity to practice in the same firm as his father.

“It really was a chance of a lifetime to practice with him, someone who made his mark in public service as a prosecutor before going into private practice,” Plunkett said of his father, who last year was posthumously honored as the first “Legend of the Law” by the Oakland County Bar Foundation. “It was an honor to be involved in cases with him, to have the opportunity to run ideas by him, to get his feedback on legal strategy. He never was shy about using a red pen on my work.

“On the other hand, I will never forget one case in which I asked him to look over a brief that I had prepared,” Plunkett recalled. “I figured it would elicit a fair amount of feedback, ways to make it better. Instead, he carefully looked it over and handed it back to me, saying ‘I wouldn’t change a word.’ That was one of those special moments in life for me.”

Others came when father-and-son represented the telecommunications company SkyTel, which was sued in federal court by former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick over the release of sexually explicit text messages in 2009. Some of the messages from the city-issued pager contained evidence of an affair between Kilpatrick and his then chief-of-staff Christine Beatty, both of whom eventually pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice and perjury charges.

“The case was front page news for months, and involved a series of interesting constitutional issues involving the right to privacy and First Amendment freedom of press claims,” Plunkett said. “There were multiple suits going on in state and federal courts, and we were able to fend off those legal challenges against SkyTel.”

Since joining the Birmingham firm in 2004, Plunkett has developed a national litigation practice, handling contract disputes, zoning and land use matters, employment law, intellectual property cases, and real estate and insurance issues.

“Over my years here, I’ve also had the chance to expand my practice to serve as a de facto outside counsel for some of my clients, advising them on a wide range of business matters to help keep them out of court. That’s been a particularly gratifying part of my practice.”

In fact, Plunkett said he takes “special pride” in helping clients minimize potential legal exposure in cases involving business and family disputes.

“I have to be frank with them and say, ‘the fact that you’re sitting in my office means that we have a problem,’ but it’s also a problem that can be legally addressed so that they can continue to live their lives.”

Married and the father of two children, Plunkett met his wife, Patricia, in Chicago while attending a charity bowling event. Coincidentally, she also had Birmingham roots, graduating from Marian High School before earning her bachelor’s degree from U-M and master’s from Michigan State University.

“We graduated from high school two years apart and we earned our degrees from U-M a year apart because I spent a ‘gap year’ working in Washington as an intern for U.S. Senator Carl Levin, which was an absolutely amazing experience,” said Plunkett. “Senator Levin took the time to get to know us, and gave us the opportunity to work on some substantive matters in addition to the typical grunt work.”

Plunkett’s wife, meanwhile, was about to embark on an impressive corporate career in human resources, working for such business titans as Amoco, Chase, Comerica, and Visteon.

“She’s had a very accomplished career in her own right and now has her own H.R. consulting company,” Plunkett said.

“I’m very proud of her.”

As he is of their children, Nicky, a 13-year-old student at University of Detroit Jesuit Academy, and Lizzie, an incoming sixth-grader at Derby Middle School in Birmingham.

“They are great kids and keep us hopping with their school and sports schedules,” said Plunkett, who has doubled as a coach of his children’s basketball, baseball, softball, and football teams.

As a student at Brother Rice High School, Plunkett was a three-sport performer, excelling on the football, basketball, and track and field teams. In his sophomore and junior years, Plunkett was a teammate with Brother Rice great B.J. Armstrong, who enjoyed a sparkling NBA career with the Chicago Bulls and a certain fellow named Jordan.

“We made the state semis my sophomore year in 1984, thanks mainly to B.J.,” said Plunkett of the former University of Iowa great who was part of three NBA championship teams with the Bulls. “He made everyone on our team look good.”

Now, Plunkett is focused on continuing the good work of the Bar Foundation, which has been led over the past year by Dickinson Wright attorney Lynn Sirich.

“We’ve had a long list of terrific presidents and trustees,” Plunkett said of the OCBF. “Jerry Fisher initially invited me to get involved with the foundation and I became part of the executive committee at past-president Eric Pelton’s urging when Kaveh Kashef was president. I did a lot of listening and learning during those years, and now I aim to contribute all that I can to continue the important work and mission of the foundation.”


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