Varnum honors retiring judge, benefits legal self-help center


by Cynthia Price

It was the perfect storm of factors for Varnum Law Firm to make a difference in Ottawa County legal services.

First, 20th Circuit Court Judge Calvin Bosman was retiring. The well-respected judge had been on the bench for 36 years and was well-known to the Ottawa County legal community, including Varnum attorney Mark Hills.

Second, the Ottawa County Legal Self-Help Center, less than a year old, is in need of support to carry on its crucial work helping people negotiate the legal system and deal with filling out forms that will be necessary to allow the smooth operation of their court appearances should they choose not to be represented by a lawyer.

And, closing the circle, Judge Bosman is a staunch supporter of the Self-Help Center, which inspired Hills to suggest that Varnum make a donation in the judge’s name.

As Hills explains it, at the Ottawa County Bar Association annual bench-bar meeting in October, Bosman told several funny stories and then turned serious. Knowing he was going to be forced to retire due to age limitations when his current term ended on Dec. 31, he said he felt strongly that all those practicing in the county should support the Legal Self-Help Center, whether through monetary donations or volunteering.

The result is that the Legal Self-Help Center is $1000 richer, and Judge Calvin Bosman has been honored for his service over the years.

The primary user of the Legal Self-Help Center is someone who chooses to represent himself or herself in the court system in non-criminal matters. The Center’s well-trained volunteers are available to potential patrons on a walk-in basis, and are, according to Coordinator Peter Armstrong, most often referred through the Friend of the Court.

In fact, Armstrong says that almost all of the over 2500 people served in 2010 came from referrals rather than from patrons’ actively seeking out the services. These include referrals from judges — often based on someone coming in for their final court session and not having the correct documents — and from local community agencies and, occasionally, Legal Aid.

Armstrong works part-time, with the remainder of his week devoted to a budding law practice in Grand Haven. The Center has just hired a second coordinator, Sheri Szymczyk, who started last week
Their primary function is to work with the volunteers and ensure the patron contact runs smoothly and within the limitations of the Center. Armstrong says that the majority of the volunteers are Thomas M. Cooley Law School students.

Approximately 90% of the people they help have cases in the domestic relations area.

Armstrong says that he feels the Center is cost-effective, since it reduces the number of cases which must be adjourned, an expensive proposition.

As for Bosman, at the ripe old age of 75 he will be able to spend more time with his children and grandchildren, and with his wife. The couple lives in the Grand Haven area.