Westside attorneys continue to fare well in state appointments

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PHOTOs COURTESY OF BOLHOUSE, BARR AND LEFERE and MIKE REID

by Cynthia Price
Legal News

The Snyder administration is evidencing a strong effort towards maintaining geographic balance in its appointments to Michigan boards, commissions, and tribunals.
Recent appointee Mike Distel agrees. “I think the people in the Appointments Division want to be sure people on these boards are from different parts of the state.
“Of course, I don’t think that was the only thing that qualified me,” he adds with a brief laugh.

Distel, who practices in commercial/civil litigation and workers’ compensation and employment at Bolhouse, Baar and Lefere, will serve on the Military Appeals Tribunal, which hears and reviews court-martial decisions if an accused member of the military requests it.

That tribunal is housed in the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs, and has been part of state government since 1980 (PA 523, section MCL 32.1067). There are five members who conduct reviews in panels of three. The Michigan code of military justice governs its procedures.

That code covers those in state military forces, which “means the national guard of the state...and any other military force organized under the laws of the state.”

While Distel did not apply specifically to be on the Military Appeals Tribunal, the position requirements are for a “practicing lawyer,” with a preference for civilian attorneys.
In addition, his entire career has prepared him for such reviews. “I’ve got 20 plus years of due process experience – the focus of my practice has been in litigation and appeals and due process issues, and I’m familiar  with any kind of procedure that involves making sure that an accused has adequate due process.”

Distel’s career took an unexpected turn with the recent dissolution of Nantz, Litowich, Smith, Girard & Hamilton, where he worked in litigation and dispute resolution for public sector employees among other specialties. He feels he has found a good home at Bolhouse, Baar & Lefere, which specializes in business law and financial casework. “My level of experience fits nicely into what this firm’s needs were, and it’s a good fit for me too.”

At Bolhouse, he represents financial institutions and businesses in both negotiating, and resolving disputes for, business contracts, as well as collection of past due debts, commercial loan workouts, and secured transactions. He also represents business clients and employers in defense of workers’ compensation claims and other employment-related issues.

He received his Juris Doctor from the University of Detroit, where he  was a Law Review case and comments editor, after majoring in international relations for his bachelor’s degree at Michigan State University’s James Madison College.

“It’s hard for anyone to know how much work is going to be involved in this,” Distel observes. “I don’t think there will be dozens of cases a year, but since no one knows when appeals will come up, they aren’t able to give me a firm estimate.” He stands ready to participate in as many reviews as he is assigned.

Though Distel already had a background of participation in state government procedural concerns, he advises others to take advantage of the opportunity to serve even if they are not sure where their specific interests lie. “It seems to me that it’s something people should be encouraged to do, a great way of giving back to the community.”
The Appointments Division, whish is part of the governor’s office, makes that application process easy. There is a form at http://www.michigan.gov/
snyder/0,4668,7-277-57738---,00.html (a page that also has applications for judicial openings subject to appointment).

The website includes a rationale for the Appointments Division: “Governor Snyder is committed to utilizing the strength of human resources in Michigan to help reinvent this state. Through appointments to the numerous Boards and Commissions, the Governor will give Michigan’s citizens the opportunity to help develop policy-making and program-implementing decisions. The Appointments Division is responsible for seeking qualified candidates to fulfill these responsibilities.”

In contrast to Distel, East Grand Rapidian Michael Reid of the Accident Fund Insurance Company of America, applied specifically for the position he will be filling on a board with the lengthy title of Self-Insurers’ Security Fund, Second Injury Fund, Silicosis, Dust Disease, and Logging Industry Compensation Fund Board of Trustees. “I specifically requested this board when I saw that opening come up,” said Reid, whose role on the board will be to represent the insurance industry.

 That board of trustees oversees the Funds Administration, which is supported by insurers who write workers’ compensation policies and employers who self-insure their workers’ compensation liability. The contributions assessed cover all benefits paid by the Funds Administration as well as all administrative and litigation costs.
“This board is unusual among state boards,” Reid comments, “in that we’re trustees of this fund. So I have a responsibility to these funds and to the people who put the money into the funds. I take that responsibility very seriously.”

As for Reid’s career in insurance, his law degree has been instrumental.

After graduating from the University of Michigan with a bachelor’s degree in philosophy and obtaining his law degree from the University of Detroit Mercy, he practiced as an associate at Driggers, Schultz and Herbst for only a little less than two years, working in commercial litigation and securities arbitration.

“Then I ended up working in the insurance claims field, initially using my law degree to handle litigated claims, but after that I got into management.” He moved from a job at Sedgwick Claims Management Services to Accident Fund, which has its headquarters in Lansing.

As of last October, he was promoted to the position of Director of Litigation, Subrogation and Medicare. “A large portion of my job right now is to manage 18 staff counsel at our offices throughout the U.S., and working with outside counsel, also across the whole country. I have to be an attorney to be in this position, so I’ve come full circle.”
Reid says he has attended two board meetings so far. “One of the first things we had to do was hire a new administrator for the fund,” he says.

The board work will involve half-day meetings every other month, and Reid anticipates approximately three or four phone calls during that time frame to address issues that come up.

 Distel’s appointment is for a four-year term ending in 2016, while Reid is filling a vacancy so his current term runs through 2014. Both were subject to the advise and consent of the Michigan Senate.