Law Day provokes thought, pride


by Cynthia Price
Legal News

Law Day 2011 was moving, emotional, challenging, and at times surprising.

This year’s designated theme was “The Legacy of John Adams, From Boston to Guantanamo” (about which see article below); the Grand Rapids Bar Association/Thomas M. Cooley Law School 2011 Luncheon and Awards Ceremony chose the sub-theme “Judging in West Michigan: Celebrating the Community Impact of Effective Judges and Courts.”

That is also the title of a new book published through Cooley Law School’s Grand Rapids Campus, and edited by Cooley’s Nelson P. Miller, Kara Zech Thelen, Christopher G. Hastings, and Devin Schindler. Each Law Day Luncheon participant received a free copy of the book.

Judging in West Michigan is a series of observations by local judges, reflecting on the ethics and spirit that characterize local judges. The book closes on an article the editors generated about President Gerald Ford’s appointment of U.S. Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens, a moderate who won bipartisan praise.

The luncheon proceeded from an introduction by Cooley’s Paul T. Sorensen to the presentation of several awards. Current Grand Rapids Bar President Susan Wilson Keener moderated the award presentations.

Charles E. “Chip” Chamberlain and Patrick F. Geary co-chaired the Law Day Committee and selected the winner of the Liberty Bell Award. Geary himself presented the Liberty Bell Award, which goes to a non-lawyer or non-profit that has contributed greatly to the cause of justice or to public awareness about the legal system. This year’s award went to CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates) of Kent County, which “empowers everyday citizens to become appointed members of the Kent County court system in order to act on behalf of abused or neglected children...” Sigrid Valk-Feeney, CASA Board President, accepted.

Keener recognized attorneys with 50 years in practice, which included Bruce A. Barnhart, Hon. Robert A. Benson, Robert J. Eleveld, and William S. Farr, as well as Roger W. Boer, who could not attend.

The President’s Award went to Randall L. Velzen. There were tears in many an eye as Velzen praised his wife Laurie, a paralegal, by saying that she did not win awards as he did, because she had spent her time and talents raising their children.

It was surprisingly impressive to hear Timothy J. Orlebeke of Kuiper Orlebeke list the lengthy number of projects his partner Jack L. Hoffman, winner of the Donald R. Worsfold Distinguished Service Award, had spearheaded or participated in.

Cooley Law School gave its Marion Hilligan Public Service Award to the Hon. Patrick C. Bowler, who was also the keynote speaker.

Bowler’s address emphasized his post-retirement travels around the country promoting the Drug Treatment Court Program, which have shown him that there is a growing part of the population which struggles economically, and is in danger of being left out of the legal system.

Grand Rapids Bar Association President-Elect Mark R. Smith closed by asking, “What better way to spend Law Day than in the presence of these giants of our legal profession?”