'Miracle' worker: Wright Scholarship honors the legacy of 'great general in battle for children'


Julianne Bursinger, pictured front row second from left, was recently honored as the first recipient of the Daniel J, Wright Scholarship. On hand for the ceremony were (front row, l-r) Detroit Mercy Law Dean Jelani Jefferson Exum, Maura Corrigan, Lisa Gigliotti, and J. Patrick Wright; (back row) Tom Ryan, Kelly Wagner, and Marcia McBrien.

Photo courtesy of Detroit Mercy Law

Family and friends of the late Daniel J. Wright, known for accomplishing the “Michigan Miracle,” gathered on Friday, Nov. 18, at the University of Detroit-Mercy School of Law to witness the first presentation of a scholarship named in his honor.

Julianne C. Bursinger, a Detroit Mercy Law student and former teacher at the Grand River Academy, is the first recipient of the Daniel J. Wright Memorial Endowed Scholarship in Child Welfare at the University of Detroit-Mercy. Bursinger graduated from the University of South Carolina with a B.A. in Fine Arts in 3D Studies and also earned a Master of Fine Arts from the Cranbrook Academy of Art. Bursinger, who serves on the Hamtramck Beautification Commission, plans a career in child advocacy and family law. 

The Wright Scholarship was created to honor Wright as “a great general in the battle for Michigan’s children” and to support future child welfare leaders, explained Hon. Maura D. Corrigan (UDM Law ‘73), who, with Wright’s brother J. Patrick Wright, led the effort to create the Wright Scholarship. Corrigan, Wright, and Detroit Mercy Law Dean Jelani Jefferson Exum presented a ceremonial check to Bursinger, whose family also was present.

Corrigan was Chief Justice of the Michigan Supreme Court when, in 2002, she tapped law school classmate Wright, then a Michigan Supreme Court Commissioner, for a daunting task: The conversion of multiple county child support systems to a single statewide system that would meet federal guidelines. The state of Michigan was threatened with $178 million in federal penalties should the conversion effort fail – and at the time, few expected it to succeed, Corrigan explained.

“This was a 20-year problem,” Corrigan told the audience at the Wright scholarship presentation. “Dan personally visited county commissions all over the state and persuaded them to convert to the statewide system. The federal authorities lifted all the penalties and called the conversion ‘the Michigan Miracle.’” In recognition of his achievement, Michigan Lawyers Weekly named Wright a “Lawyer of the Year” in 2002.

Later, as head of the Michigan Supreme Court’s Friend of the Court Bureau, and then as director of the Court’s Child Welfare Services Division, Wright continued to work for Michigan’s children and families. He launched “adoption forums” to make it easier for children in foster care to find permanent homes and advocated for legislation giving children more power in the legal decisions affecting their futures. Wright also was part of the Michigan Underground Economy Task Force, a group that sought to find ways to keep parents from hiding assets and income to avoid paying child support.

Before joining the Michigan Supreme Court as a Commissioner in 1989, Wright was a partner in the Detroit law firm of Gromek, Bendure and Thomas and also spent six years with the State Appellate Defender Offices in Detroit and Ann Arbor, where he represented impoverished defendants.

Corrigan continued, “Those of us who knew and loved Dan and witnessed his energy, his can-do spirit, and his empathy wanted to support a new generation of children’s welfare advocates.” 

The scholarship committee set an initial goal of $50,000, but ultimately raised $100,000 from Wright’s family, friends, law school classmates, and former colleagues, Corrigan noted. 

J. Patrick Wright, who also spoke at the scholarship presentation, said his brother explored careers in journalism and music, and could have been outstanding in either field, but decided on law, where he “had a successful career both in and out of the courtroom,” Wright said. 

Daniel Wright also had a cherished hobby: Video poker. He enjoyed trips to Las Vegas where he “loved beating the system,” Patrick Wright said. 

“But Dan was not motivated by money or personal gain. What motivated him was the feeling that he was doing something good with the way he spent his life. And he found the greatest fulfillment in his life was looking after the well-being of needy children,” Wright said. 

The Wright scholarship is offered to students at Detroit Mercy Law, the School of Business, and the College of Liberal Arts at the University of Detroit-Mercy. 

In addition to Corrigan and J. Patrick Wright, the scholarship fund committee included Wright’s law school classmates Daniel Clinton and former State Bar of Michigan President Thomas J. Ryan, and Wright’s former colleagues Lisa Gigliotti (UDM Law ’93), division director and administrative law judge in the Michigan Office of Administrative Hearings and Rules; attorney Marcia McBrien, former Public Information Officer of the Michigan Supreme Court; and Kelly Wagner, who succeeded Wright as director of the Child Welfare Services Division. The committee was assisted by Detroit Mercy Law Director of Development Julie A. Hein.

Daniel Wright died at age 63 on July 31, 2012, in Lansing after a long illness. The Daniel J. Wright Lifetime Achievement Award, of which he was the first recipient, was established in 2011 to recognize an outstanding advocate for Michigan’s children and families. 

To donate to the Daniel J. Wright Memorial Endowed Scholarship in Child Welfare, please visit  https://lawschool.udmercy.edu/alumni-giving/gift-giving/current-campaign-giving-opportunities.php. 

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