Former federal prosecutor to join the ranks of book authors


 By Tom Kirvan

Legal News
As the former chief of the Criminal Division for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Detroit, Alan Gershel could write a book about his career prosecuting cases, many of the high profile variety involving drug dealers, corrupt public officials, and various white collar scam artists. 
Given the subject matter and the cast of characters involved, the book would have the makings of a best-seller.
But instead, Gershel’s first foray into the world of book publishing will take a decidedly different turn, one down a well-traveled academic road in which he and two colleagues hope to shed new light.
Gershel, who is enjoying a second career as a professor at Cooley Law School following his retirement from the U.S. Attorney’s Office in 2008, is teaming with Cooley colleagues Ronald Bretz and Patrick Corbett to write a textbook on criminal law that is expected to be published next summer. The textbook will rely heavily on the “real-world” experiences of the three authors, each of whom spent the bulk of their careers in courtroom settings before assuming their teaching roles in criminal law and criminal procedure, according to Gershel.
“The goal is to create a new criminal law textbook that will have practical applications for students,” Gershel said. “There certainly are no lack of textbooks on the market, but we are striving to develop more of a practical approach to the study of criminal law, presenting a variety of hypothetical cases to illustrate how various aspects of the law apply.”
In the syllabus to his criminal law class, Gershel provides an “overview of the concepts” students will be expected to know by the time they complete his course, stressing the importance of “analytical thinking” and “your problem solving ability in the context of a concrete factual situation, not your ability to simply memorize and regurgitate the so-called blackletter rules” of the law. Expect the planned textbook to follow a similar track.
Gershel, a graduate of Northeastern University in Boston who earned his law degree from the University of Detroit in 1978, was first approached about the textbook project last July.
“I was sitting on my deck when I got a call from Pat (Corbett) about the possibility of collaborating on the textbook project,” Gershel related. “The opportunity intrigued me, and I guess I must have had a weak moment when I said ‘yes’ to the idea.”
Corbett, a Michigan State alum who graduated from the University of Notre Dame Law School, has taught at Cooley since 2001. He spent a decade as a federal prosecutor in Detroit, working in the general crimes unit and then the economic crimes unit, handling cases involving mail fraud, wire fraud, money laundering, arson for profit, and the like. In 1999, he was hired by then Michigan Attorney General Jennifer Granholm to help launch the High Tech Crime Unit at the AG’s Office, serving as deputy chief of that division for two years.
Bretz, also an MSU alum who received his law degree in 1976 from Wayne State University, served as an assistant defender with the State Appellate Defender Office for two decades before joining the Cooley faculty. An expert in the field of serology and DNA scientific evidence, Bretz frequently lectures on the topics, and has successfully argued a case before the U.S. Supreme Court.
As would be expected, the three law professors are evenly dividing the writing tasks for the textbook, which is yet to be titled. The writing assignment for each, some seven chapters at approximately 150 pages apiece, is daunting, Gershel admitted.
“Suffice to say, it will be my winter project,” he said with a grin. “I’m just getting into the batter’s box with it now, but once the outline is developed and the research work is completed, I expect that the writing will begin to flow. The best part of it is that I’m working with a couple of very bright guys who each bring special insights and certain expertise to this project. We all expect to learn a lot.”
Perhaps just as much as the students who read the finished product.